I’ll admit it: I didn’t want to stop here because the name put me off. Montezuma Castle sounds like something a carnival tout came up with in the 1920s. I love ancient ruins and try to be respectful of the spiritual power that seems to reside in these ancient places. The name seemed tacky and disrespectful, and I was afraid that would permeate the site.
I didn’t realize that Montezuma Castle was one the original four national monuments created by President Theodore Roosevelt in celebration of the passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906. Despite the cheesy name, the site obviously has been seen as important for some time!
The “castle” (an ancient cliff dwelling) is located high in a canyon with lumpy white walls that appear to be made of meringue that was left out until it became dry and crumbly.
Abandoned about 600 years ago, this well-preserved cliff dwelling had 20 rooms and served as a home to the Sinagua people for several hundred years from approximately 1100-1400 AD. While this structure probably housed up to 50 people at a time, other, now collapsed, structures in the area provided additional housing.
Until the 1950s visitors could actually climb a series of ladders that allowed entry into the structure itself. That practice ended in order to preserve the site, but there are good views of it from the valley below.
Over time, others have shared my distaste for the name given to this site when it was first discovered in the 1860’s, but those efforts did not succeed. I suspect this wonderful little site is doomed to retain an inappropriate name for a very long time to come.
But don’t let that stop you from visiting.
Montezuma Castle National Monument is located just off I-17 south of Sedona, Arizona. It’s open daily, from 8-5.
A $10 fee is charged adult visitors who don’t have either a Montezuma Castle/Tuzigoot Annual Pass or one of the America the Beautiful Interagency passes. Ther e is no charge for children age 15 or under.
A small museum at the site has information on the Sinagua. The site also has a bookstore, restrooms, and a picnic area.