On my way back to Flagstaff I finally decided to stop at the ruins of Montezuma’s Castle, which neither belonged to the Aztec king nor served as a castle. Catchy, though. This is one of the most well-preserved southwestern ruins (according to the visitor’s center), though it is not difficult to see that. Sheltered by the overhanging cliff, all five storeys appear to have their original adobe covering the limestone masonry. All other ruins I have been to or seen have had their adobe worn off by weather and hundreds of years, but the Castle is still sharply defined.
The trail wanders along the base of the cliffside, giving the Castle an inherently monolithic and eminent atmosphere. Its base is thirty or forty feet off the ground, and the top of the cavity it’s built in is nearly 100 feet high. The location is pretty remarkable considering that the cliff is one of only a few in the area, and the shallow cave is quite unique. Not only is the cliff just right, but a short ways from its base is Beaver Creek which was flowing pleasantly during my visit. The surplus of water has caused a beautiful growth of all kinds of vegetation, like nice mesquites and giant white sycamore trees, not to mention all the little critters drawn to the shelter and shade.
The Castle was constructed by the Sinagua people (a bit contradictory, considering it means “without water” in Spanish), relatives of which also built the Walnut Canyon pueblos and the various sites around Wupatki. There are bits of this influence visible here and there around the Castle, though its scale and aesthetic are something unique. It could be that places like Wupatki once looked like this before age and looters got the best of them, but I think the environment around the Verde River combined with different materials (and sheer distance) made something special here.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of the Castle, it’s a beautiful place and quite accessible from I-17 if you’re passing through. This week I’ll be out shooting more than usual, so you can expect another 2-4 articles like this in the near future. Don’t be surprised if I miss a day here and there, though, it takes a very long time to fix up all the shots for the website (in fact, I should be working on the ones from today…).
All the photos above link to the gallery, which has its own brand-new category on the Flagstaff page (for lack of a better major location). Stop by, browse around, leave a comment if you’d like but most of all, enjoy!
EDIT – After a bit more research I have found that my statement regarding the original adobe covering the ruins is somewhat false. It appears that only the highest levels (those plastered in pale adobe) are original, likely from their increased protection in the cave. The lower reddish walls were plastered sometime later, perhaps as part of a restoration or preservation effort. There isn’t much structural change readily apparent, though, so the Castle likely looked much the same when it was lived in. Thought you’d like to know!