We were set up at the KOA campground in Flagstaff, Arizona for 4 nights and ready to visit some National Parks. Montezuma Castle was one of the well known cliff dwellings in the area and had always been on my list of places that I wanted to visit. Little known Montezuma Well is not that far away and also part of the Montezuma National Monument. Flagstaff is a good home base to a handful of National Parks in the area, as you will see with my next few trip reports.
We arrived at Montezuma Castle late in the morning and had a tough time finding parking. The parking area is really small and people were parking up the road already. We made one more pass around the lot and ended up finding a spot. I am not real sure what you do here if you happen to be in an RV or passing thru with a travel trailer.
It was quite busy inside the visitor center, but we had purchased a National Park Annual Pass at the Petrified Forest and were able to get through the line quickly. We had recently learned of the Junior Ranger Program and picked up the questionnaire packets for the kids to fill out. The questions were actually quite extensive and they told us that we can take them with us and then mail them in to get the kids’ badges.
I was getting antsy to get out and see the cliff dwellings myself and started herding Lynn and the boys out the door onto the walking path toward the castle. The first one you see is the famous cliff dwelling that you have probably seen pictures of in many publications. You can’t go in any of the cliff dwellings anymore to avoid breakdown and erosion of them. Years ago, they used to let people climb up into them on ladders. Now they are only entered for inspection and some preservation.
I read somewhere, and I can’t remember now if it was at Montezuma Castle or at one of the other National Parks… But, they have stopped doing reconstruction on old ruins and just do preservation now. I believe some of this has to do with respect of the original people that built these places. The original natives who built these homes had great respect for the land and leaving their homes and land in a natural state when they moved on. Many of the ancestors to these original tribes return to these sites each year to pay their respect.
It was really cool to see and you might get tired of hearing me say this, but I just really get enjoyment out of seeing and visiting places like this. I have so much respect for the people that built and lived in these dwellings and how they lived off of and respected the land so much. It is really hard to appreciate from pictures alone and you really need to go out and see these places in person. I only wish I had more time to learn about them myself. I am quite fascinated by them.
At any rate, we got a couple of photos of the site and just hung out a little bit. We stopped and read the kiosk signs to learn what we could in our short visit. The kids had a lot of questions and I think that is what really makes it enjoyable. They ask some great questions and it forces you to stop and do some reading to understand it yourself so you can answer them.
We continued our way around the path to the base of another dwelling that you could walk up to the bottom edge of. This one was not nearly as well preserved as the main Montezuma Castle, but it was neat that you could get right up next to it. You could see the remnants of its old walls working their way up the side of the cliff. It must have been a few stories high at one time. There were also remnants of much smaller 1 room dwellings scattered around the cliff edges, taking advantage of every nook and cranny of the cliff walls.
We take things for granted with our lumbar yards, manufactured cabinets and appliances; but these people built everything they owned and used, with their bare hands out of the very ground surrounding them. It is pretty amazing. I badly wanted to go inside and explore the cliff dwellings to really set myself back in time, but completely understand why they have been closed off to the public. It is great that they will be around for many future generations to visit and appreciate.
We found a bench to sit on and helped the kids work through their Junior Ranger booklets for a few minutes, but also wanted to see some other things that day and decided to keep moving. The next stop does not get nearly the attention that Montezuma Castle does, but is actually considered part of Montezuma National Park. It is called Montezuma Well and is less than 20 minutes from Montezuma Castle.
We arrived here to find a spot in a small parking lot and only a very small guard shack as a Ranger Station. There is a nice side walk path up to the top of the well, that is basically a very large hole in the ground that is fed by a spring underground. At the top, we found the Park Ranger with a spotting scope set up on an owl that was perched up in a spot on the edge of the wall. The Park Ranger was really nice and let the kids take a look at the owl through her spotting scope.
The water does not fill up the hole and the walls of the crater have a few cliff dwellings scattered around them. There was a trail down into the bottom of the well and I started working to recruit one of the boys to join me for the short hike down to the bottom. It isn’t that far, but you gotta climb back out of it and the kids are learning to pace their hiking out throughout the day. We still had another National Park stop after this.
Reid and I headed down the path to the bottom of the well to check things out. We found another dwelling at the bottom that you could walk right up next to. It was quite interesting to see old graffiti from the late 1800s. We think of that as a long time ago, but places like this were just being discovered by settlers during those times and they had treated the canyon walls like the bathroom wall of a rest stop. Times haven’t changed I guess…
We made our way back out of the well hole and headed back to the truck. We finished our way around the walking path on the way back to the truck to find a pueblo ruin on the hillside, just off the edge of the well. It is pretty neat, because you can imagine their being an entire community around this water hole. Glad we took the long way back to the parking lot!
We had some lunch on the tail gate of the truck in the parking lot and then on our way out, we also found the old irrigation ditch that ran from the water in the well. Apparently, a few of the locals along this old irrigation ditch still use some of the water for their gardens. I guess this well is pretty consistent with its water flow, even during all the times of drought.
Montezuma Castle and Well were both really neat and I may have actually enjoyed Montezuma Well even more than the Castle. I think only because it felt a bit more up close and personal and less people around. Montezuma Well was also in a bit more of a natural setting as the Castle had a much more touristy type feel to it. Regardless, I really enjoyed both places and it was a great up close and personal history lesson for the kids.
Our next stop was Tuzigoot National Park, but I’ll write that up on its own. It will probably be a little shorter, but it was really cool and deserves its own attention.
Montezuma Castle – www.nps.gov/moca/index.htm