Montezuma's Castle and Montezuma Well
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Montezuma's Castle isn't really a castle, and it hasn't got anything to do with Montezuma, but it's a fascinating place to visit! The 5-storey, 20-room cliff dwelling looks just gorgeous carved into the limestone rock. The colors of the multi-layered rock are so lovely you won't want to leave. Built by the Sinagua Indians over 600 years ago, it is now a national monument, which will ensure its preservation. To view it, you pass through a small museum and walk out to the paved loop. You can then view Montezuma's castle up close. Check out the gift shop on your way out. We bought a children's book, Cactus Hotel, and we have loved it and reread it so many times since then!
Montezuma's Castle is not an isolated dwelling. In fact, it was one of a whole series of dwellings extending along the Verde Valley waterways. The dwellings are never more than two miles apart, and the inhabitants probably formed a large community and shared food. At the top of the castle there is a small ruin that has views over the entire valley. A sentry perhaps stood guard and made the people feel safe. The people climbed from room to room using ladders, and entered the castle through T-shaped doors, that are not found in other areas. The high position of the castle on the cliffs kept mosquitoes and gnats away, and afforded pretty views of the river below. When can I move in?!
Veterans of the Mexican-American war found the castle in 1874. It had been abandoned by the Indians 500 years earlier possibly because the soil was depleted from growing corn. The veterans called it Montezuma's Castle because they didn't believe the Indians had the knowledge to build such a structure. They assumed the Aztec king Montezuma must have had something to do with it.
Another cliff dwelling in the area is Montezuma's Well. This one is almost nicer because it's not a tourist area. There is a short dirt path to the top of a hill. From the top you look down on a huge natural limestone pool, or sinkhole, below a steep cliff. The sinkhole was formed by the collapse of an immense underground cavern. At the top of the cliff, to your left, is a recess where there are cliff dwellings in the rock. Looking up at the rim, you start to wonder how on earth they lived up there without falling down. How did they keep their toddlers up there? Well, we'll never know, but it's a magical place! We found it while getting lost on our way to Montezuma's Castle. It just shows- it's not always that bad to get lost!
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The cliff dwelling, high in the gorgeous multi-layered rock.
Follow the signs to Montezuma's Castle National Monument from Highway 17. It is 3 miles from the highway, on Montezuma Castle Rd. Take exit 289, and then turn left at the fork in the road. There is plenty of parking, and there are restrooms. It costs $5 per person to enter. Children aged under 16 enter for free.
Montezuma's Well is 11 miles from Montezuma's Castle. It is on Beaver Creek Rd, 4 miles off Highway 17. Take exit 293 to the east. At both forks, take the left one. The road is more rugged than the road to Montezuma's Castle. Entrance is free.
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Overall Visitor Rating: Unrated.