Although located at different sites, two of these unique wonders were designated as one National Monument: Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well. European-Americans mistakenly named these spectacular sites for the Aztec emperor Montezuma, but they were built and inhabited by the ancient Sinagua. And while Sinagua means “without water”, this definition seems far from the truth.
Montezuma Well National Monument
Experience a peaceful place with stunning geology and ancient history at Montezuma’s Well, just 11 miles northeast of the more popular Montezuma’s Castle. Like cenotes in Mexico, the collapsed limestone cave exposes a subterranean water source. Over a million gallons of 74-degree water emerge each day from an underground spring.
Beginning in the eight century, the Sinagua, Hohokam, and other early residents constructed canals to irrigate their crops with the artesian well water. An ancient pit house, cliff dwellings perched along the rim, and even ruins protruding from caves provide a glimpse back in time. Sections of the canal still supply water to many neighboring farmers and ranchers to this day.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Sheltered by and carved 100 feet up into a limestone cliff face, Montezuma’s Castle is one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America. The five-story structure with dozens of rooms can no longer be accessed by the public, but this magnificent Sinagua building nestled in the side of Beaver Creek Canyon is a sight to behold.
Gazing at the impressive, cliffside structure, I wonder what type of construction can withstand so many years, so amazingly well. Its placement high in a natural alcove protects the castle from the elements, including flooding from Beaver Creek. Using stone-and-mortar masonry, the walls consist of limestone pieces found at the base of the cliff, along with mud and clay from the bed of Beaver Creek. Arizona Sycamore trees—possibly my favorite species of tree—are also incorporated into the structure. Sycamores are scattered around the canyon floor and their white-gray, multi-colored bark looks like designer camouflage. These magnificent trees use as much water as the weight of the leaves every hour of the day.
Have fun time-traveling to these ancient wonders of our world! Grab your binoculars to take advantage of some of the best birding in the country. Go on a cool day or in the morning and bring plenty of water, especially for Montezuma Well. Throw on sunscreen and a hat for good measure. Sections of Montezuma Well may be difficult for young children and others. And while both locations allow dogs on leashes, some of the Well trails are too steep for older dogs. If you skip the picnic and leave the dogs at home, stop by Robbie’s in Rimrock or Sutler’s Steakhouse in Camp Verde after your adventure.
As an Arizona native & Camp Verde resident, I absolutely love our little town. From the central location & desert riparian habitat to the history, attractions, & people, I’ve certainly found my home. With a dozen years of professional experience in content writing, I graduated Summa Cum Laude from Arizona State University, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Human Communication & Mass Communications.