Monday, February 20, 2012

Cliff Dwellings

"Montezuma Castle" and "Montezuma Well" are complete misnomers.  The former is a remarkably well-preserved cliff dwelling (not a castle) built and later abandoned by the pre-Columbian Sinagua people (not the Aztecs).  The latter is not a well, but a huge natural reservoir of fresh water created by a collapsed limestone cavern.  They are both part of a large network of caves, pit houses, cliff dwellings, and pueblos that were inhabited by the now vanished Sinagua people from ca. 800 until ca. 1400.

We visited these sites on our way home from California.  They are located just off I-17 about 45 miles south of Flagstaff, Arizona.  Montezuma Castle is a beautifully built masonry structure built into a cave opening high up on a limestone cliff.  It consists of about 20 rooms and once housed around 200 people.  The cliff overlooks a tree-filled valley watered by an all-seasons creek.  The people farmed fields that they irrigated with a system of canals and ditches.  They also hunted large and small game, fished, mined salt, raised cotton, and traded with neighbors.

Montezuma Well lies a few miles to the north.  It is fed by a spring that delivers more than 1.5 million gallons of fresh, warm water every day.  It is 370 feet in diameter and 125 feet deep.  No fish can live in the water because it is too rich in carbon dioxide, but the water has supported human life for centuries.  The cliffs around the huge basin have cave dwellings, masonry cliff houses, and the ruins of a stone pueblo up on the rim.  An irrigation ditch leading from the Well is more than 1000 years old.  The water flowing from the Well is still crucial to livestock and farming operations in the valley.

Here are a few pictures:
Montezuma Castle and Well