Although it’s fascinating to learn about the Verde Valley’s Sinagua Indians from history books, it’s much more memorable to visit the land they walked and cultivated and to see the remains of their dwellings.
The Verde Valley has nearly 50 Sinagua Indian ruins; but two of them—the most picturesque—are national monuments, open to the public.
They leave a lasting impression on all who see them.
Tuzigoot is a small but lovely, terraced pueblo perched on a 120-foot-high ridge in Clarkdale, Arizona. It blends in elegantly with the contours of the land, overlooking the lush Tavasci Marsh to the East and facing the imposing Black Hills to the West. Historians believe the Sinaguans choose the site for its commanding view, as much for the surrounding beauty as for protection. At the height of its occupancy, the Tuzigoot pueblo had 110 rooms, including second and third-story structures. These dwellings were constructed over several generations.The first rooms were built around 1000 A.D., and the last were built just before the Sinaguans mysteriously disappeared from the Verde Valley in the 1400s.Entry was by ladders through openings in the roof. Most of the rooms are ruins with walls and no roofs, but the National Park Service has revived one of the two-story structures. It is possible to climb inside and marvel at the long-lasting building techniques and to get out of the midday sun. A staircase goes to the rooftop where there is a stunning 360-degree view of the Verde Valley.
Visitor Pathway at Tuzigoot
There are two paved trails at Tuzigoot—the Ruins Loop trail (a little steep in places) and the Tavasci Marsh Overlook trail which is away from the pueblo. Each trail is 1/3-mile in length, with exhibits along the way that describe the cultural and natural history of the site. Some of the vegetation the Sinaguans gathered still stands, such as saltbush which they used for dye, food and medicine.
A small museum is located at the Visitor Center, with exhibits describing Sinaguan life and crafts--from weaving to stone working.
What does "Sinagua" mean? It is Spanish for “without water.”
What does "Tuzigoot" mean? It is Apache for “crooked water.”
Was it really Montezuma’s Castle? No. It’s not a castle and Montezuma was never there.
In Camp Verde (just minutes by car from Tuzigoot) is Montezuma Castle, widely believed to be the best-preserved cliff dwelling in North America.
The 20-room, five-level apartment--like structure is built in a natural recess in a limestone cliff, which is 100 feet above ground.An overhang provides protection from the elements and the structure is positioned to take advantage of passive solar heating in the winter.
A close look at the cliff dwelling
Amazingly, the interior of the castle remains almost completely intact, including many of the original ceiling support beams—even though they were installed more than 800 years ago.
Entrance to the ruins is possible, but public tours stopped in 1951 because of structural damage by visitors and concerns about the public’s safety.
Still, visitors can get a good look at Montezuma Castle from the paved, flat trail that is adjacent to the visitor center. It is well-shaded by sycamore, walnut and mesquite trees and goes near Beaver Creek.
To the left of the castle are the remaining ruins from another pueblo--a six-story, 45-room dwelling that was built at the base of the cliff but which was destroyed by a fire in the late 1400s.
There are two very impressive exhibits at the monument:
- a diorama/audio program on the trail, which is a cutaway model of the castle and has an imaginative reconstruction of daily Sinaguan life and - extensive displays at the Visitor Center.
Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle are managed by the National Park Service and there is a small admission fee. There is a discount for visiting both monuments within a week.
Small gift shops in both visitor centers carry books and souvenirs.Rangers are available to provide more information and to lead occasional tours
Montezuma Well is part of the Montezuma Castle National Monument. The funnel-shaped pool is a limestone sink, 55 feet deep and 368 feet across. It was formed when an immense underground cavern collapsed thousands of years ago.
Subterranean springs feed the well daily with more than a million gallons of water charged with carbon dioxide. Unique species of aquatic life live in the well.Water, which flows out from a side cave, was used by the Sinagua Indians to irrigate crops.There are also remains of an earlier Indian tribe-- the Hohokam. A Hohokam pit house near the well was built about 1100 A.D.