Right before Christmas 2020, we visited Montezuma Castle National Monument in Campe Verde, AZ. This was my 2nd trip, but none of my other family members had ever been there.
I remembered the castle vividly from my first trip, but I didn't remember that there was water there. I don't think we walked on any trail to the Montezuma Well. The well trail was closed and I don't know if it's because of construction or Covid. That will give us a reason to go back when friends visit that have never been there before.
Why is it Called Montezuma Castle?
That was a mistake made by early American settlers, who thought this ancient monument was built by the Aztecs for the Aztec emperor, Montezuma. That was proven untrue, and it's highly unlikely Montezuma ever set foot in the area.
Montezuma Castle History
The cliff dwelling was built somewhere in the timeframe of 1100 and 1350 A.D., by the Sinagua Indians. They were peaceful farmers and there isn't a lot known about them.
Because artifacts were found that were not native to the area, it has been surmised that Montezuma Castle was an area where trade took place. The Sinagua didn't just farm, they were also craftsmen and weavers.
It is also not known why they left their cliff dwellings. There are many guesses from too much arsenic in the water, overpopulation, environmental changes, religious reasons, social conflict - the guesses continue. But they left around 1425 A.D.
Montezuma Castle is 5-stories and has 20 rooms. The cliff it was built into is made of limestone.
On my first trip, I didn't realize that as you walk down the path, behind holes that you'll see, are unexcavated parts of the dwelling. I'm not sure if the 20 rooms are just what has been uncovered so far. With all of the time that has passed, why hasn't the rest of the dwelling been opened?
As you can see from an artist's rendering below, the excavated area is called Castle A. Is there a Castle B or C?
One of Our Nation's First National Monuments
President Theodore Roosevelt named Montezuma Castle as one of four of the first national monuments in our nation on December 8, 1906, after the Antiquities Act was passed. He felt it was of the greatest ethnological value and scientific interest.
Unfortunately, looting occurred before this declaration. There were few artifacts left in the cliff dwelling. But by 1933, with better transportation, it became a tourist attraction, and now around 350,000 people visit the site annually.
In the beginning, tourists were even allowed inside! There were ladders that had to be climbed to gain access. But with age and too much human traffic, damage was happening and I'm sure it wasn't very safe. That was ended in 1951.
It's a Great Place to Visit From the Phoenix Area
Depending on where you are located in the Phoenix Area, Montezuma Castle National Monument is about 1.5 hours away. It doesn't take long to get through, so it could be a stopover for a trip even farther North. I think the time we stopped there on our Girl's Week Away, we were headed to Sedona, AZ.
There is a visitor's gift shop on site and I believe it was open, but since we were distancing we didn't go inside. I don't know when the Montezuma Well trail will be opened.
2800 Montezuma Castle Hwy, Camp Verde, AZ 86322
Phone: (928) 567-3322
Hours: 8:00-5:00 Monday-Sunday
Call for holiday closures, but it appears it is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day