Off the beaten track: from cliff climbers to dinghies


(With special thanks to The Drifters, the 1950s/60s rhythm and blues band, for their big hits so many years ago and still going strong!)

When this “old world starts to get us down” we need something, whether it’s accepting a gift from Goddess Natura, like watching the recent Super Flower Blood Moon Eclipse, or compiling a list before kicking to the bucket of places to visit, such as the national monument of Montezuma Castle. Located in Camp Verde, 26 miles south of Sedona, Arizona, Montezuma Castle is home to the best-preserved prehistoric dwellings in North America. Designed by a group of veterans who reportedly shared the Drifters’ love of “Up on the Roof” (not funny?), Montezuma Castle was officially declared a national monument by President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt on December 8, 1906. .

The beauty of this magnificent place, located about 90 feet above sea level on a limestone bluff facing Beaver Creek, which flows into the Verde River, lies in the ingenuity of its creators, the fact that it has passed through centuries and its most unusual, almost spiritual primitiveness. .

A sense of antiquity is everywhere amidst these ruins, now under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, US Department of the Interior. The main five-story limestone, wood and mud structure, based on radiocarbon dating, is believed to have been built in the 1100s AD. Ladders were used to access the different levels. The dwelling, which appears carved into the side of a rock face, is believed to have housed around 35 people and was part of a larger farming community of around 150-200 people. The area is believed to have flourished until around 1350-1400 AD when for some reason it was abandoned, possibly due to drought, dwindling resources or clashes with the arrival of new inhabitants .

According to the National Park Service, the first inhabitants of the Montezuma Castle Monument Area were Sinagua (Sin-awe-wa), a pre-Columbian culture closely related to Hohokam (Huh-hoh-kuhm). The Hohokam occupied a large area of ​​south-central Arizona from Flagstaff south to the Mexican border, having originally migrated north out of Mexico around 300 BC to become skilled farmers of irrigation. Other indigenous peoples also occupied the area between around 1100 and 1425 AD.

Information from the National Park Service reports that the Yavapai (Yah-vuh-pai), a tribe of the Verde Valley, refer to the castle as “the home of the protectors of the Yavapai”. It is believed to have been built high up to protect it from unwanted visitors and to prevent flooding during the summer monsoons. The Hopi (Ho-pee) call it “the place where the stepladders go up” and note its “long and high walls”.

While today you cannot physically crawl up ladders to rooms on different levels, you can experience the castle by looking at the alcoves, nooks and cavates (hollowed-out sections of rock extending about 10 feet ), at a reasonable distance. A miniature on-site diorama of the castle, created by the National Park Service’s museum laboratory in Washington, DC, in the 1950s, gives the best perspective of what the structure looked like when cliff dwellers actually occupied the grounds.
Unfortunately, due to severe looting in the early 1900s, many artifacts originally used by residents have disappeared. Access is now limited to inspection, maintenance and research.

Visits to the interior of the house ended in 1951 because the castle was considered too fragile for all the activity. It’s amazing to see the old photographs of pre-era tourists crawling up ladders, sometimes with babies in their arms, as they visited, first-hand, the ancient ruins. Can you imagine that happening today in our world of “slip and fall” lawsuits? Ugh.

Early American explorers named the site after Montezuma in the belief that the Aztec Indians of Mexico had built them. According to the National Park Service, “’Montezuma’ and ‘Castle’ are misnomers. In the 1800s, European Americans were fascinated by the Inca, Maya, and Aztec civilizations and gave exotic names to southwestern sites, in this case for Emperor Motecuhzoma II, who lived long after the castle was built. . Rather than a castle, the structure has been compared to a prehistoric apartment complex!

The site is as intriguing as President Teddy Roosevelt who was so instrumental in declaring the area a National Monument and ultimately listing it on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. Why? Did you know that President Roosevelt lost his mother and wife 12 hours apart on Valentine’s Day 1884, in the same house? That he served as New York City Police Commissioner in an attempt to end corruption and received two letter bombs in the process? That he enjoyed escaping the White House for the occasional swim in the Potomac River? And that he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his service during the Spanish-American War? There’s more, but that’s for another day.

Right now we need to work on our to-do list, remember that “at night the stars put on a show for free” and enjoy a bit of nature, whether it’s bird watching in the backyard birdbath, to get some fresh air on the balcony, or to get “Away from the restless crowd / And all that noise of frantic running down the street (on the roof).”

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