Ancient Ruins of Arizona's Verde Valley
Cottonwood Arizona, in the Verde Valley, was one of the stops on our spring road-trip. Located about 17 miles southwest of Sedona, Cottonwood is an excellent place to stay for access to Sedona, Prescott, Jerome and the ancient ruins of the Verde Valley. There are three ruin sites in the Verde Valley that are National Monuments. They are Montezuma Castle, Montezuma Well, and Tuzigoot. These sites were inhabited by the Southern Sinagua between 1000 and 1400. The Southern Sinagua were farmers, and the Verde Valley's water and soil gave them what they needed to thrive. These ancient farmers grew corn, beans, squash, and cotton in fields irrigated with canals. Their homes were a combination of pueblos and cliff dwellings, depending on the location.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Built in the recesses of a limestone cliff, Montezuma Castle is a five-story/ 20 room dwelling occupied sometime between 1100 and 1300. The cliff provides excellent protection from the elements, making Montezuma Castle one of the best-preserved dwellings in the southwest. The name of the castle comes from early American settlers who marveled at the structure and assumed it was of Aztec origin, giving it the name “Montezuma Castle”.
As we were visiting, we were amazed at its placement in the cliff and wondered how the inhabitants entered the structure. The castle sits high on the cliff with no obvious path; which leads to the conclusion that they were excellent rock climbers or had ladders to climb. Along the cliff face are small recesses, with rock and mortar walls making smaller rooms for living and food storage.
Further down the cliff are the ruins of what was once a five-story 45 room building, built at the base of the cliff using the cliff as the back wall. This structure, now deteriorated, is to the point where there are some remnants on the cliff and parts of a foundation extending out from the cliff face.
Montezuma Well National Monument
A lake that is a limestone sinkhole formed long ago is an oasis for birds and vegetation in an otherwise desert area. The lake is fed by a continuous spring coming up from its depths. The lake is somewhat circular and has high cliffs around its circumference. The cliffs are limestone, and have rock and mortar dwellings built along their walls. The lake drains at the south end of the lake through the limestone into Wet Beaver Creek, which flows down to Montezuma Castle. The Sinagua people dug irrigation ditches leading out from the lake’s exit point to water their crops.
Around Montezuma are ruins of Southern Sinagua dwellings, ranging from one-room houses to large pueblos. Cactus and desert vegetation cover the ruins today. A population of around 100 to 150 Southern Sinagua people inhabited this area between 1125 and 1400. The pit-house, dating back to about 1050, is another point of interest at Montezuma Well.
Tuzigoot National Monument
Built on a long ridge that rises 120 feet above the Verde Valley, Tuzigoot (Apache for "crooked water") is at the high point of the ridge and offers excellent views of the surrounding towns of Cottonwood, Clarkdale, and Jerome in the distance. The original structure was a pueblo, with a series of one and two-story buildings running along the ridge. Most of the rooms do not have exterior doors. Entry into these rooms was by ladder through the roof opening. The tower at the top of the pueblo is the location of the central rooms that served for public functions.
Tuzigoot was built between the years of 1000 and 1400, with the population starting at about 50 and growing to about 200 through that timeframe. The pueblo has a total of 110 rooms, which served the community.
All three of these National Monuments can be seen on a one-day visit, with plenty of time to stroll along the walkways and take in all of the sights of each location. We started our tour at Montezuma Castle, then went to Montezuma Well, and ended at Tuzigoot. Along the way we did notice others who were on the same schedule. At Tuzigoot we asked one family we kept running into where they were going next. The said "Back to Sedona," but later we saw them again at a viewpoint overlooking Jerome. We laughed and said, "We'll probaby see you later."
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