Sunday, October 21, 2012

Montezuma Castle & Well

Montezuma Castle is near the top of a Verde Valley cliff and is one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America. The area was briefly abandoned due to volcanic ash from the Sunset Crater Volcano. It is likely that the sediment from that aided in agricultural endeavors when the Sinagua arrived. During the interim, the Sinagua lived on the hills nearby and sustained themselves on agriculture dependent on rain. After 1125, the Sinagua resettled in the Verde Valley and used irrigation systems left by the Hohokam. The monument itself encloses 826 acres and lies at the intersection of the Colorado Plateau and Basin and Range physiographic provinces. The latest estimated date of Sinagua occupation for any site is for Montezuma Castle National Monument around 1425 AD. The population is thought to have peaked around 1300 AD.   The reasons for abandonment of their habitation sites are not yet known, but warfare, drought, and clashes with the newly-arrived Yavapai people have been suggested. The five-story stone and mortar dwellings contain 20 rooms and once housed about 50 people. A natural overhang shades the rooms and shelters them from rain. Another part of the cliff wall bears the marks of an even larger dwelling, which has not survived. Due to heavy looting, very few original artifacts remain. The discovery of Castle A in 1933 revealed many Sinagua artifacts and greatly increased our understanding of their way of life.
The castle was carved into the limestone of a high cliff. This shows that the Sinaqua were very daring builders. It took ladders to climb Montezuma Castle which made it incredibly difficult for enemy tribes to penetrate the natural defense of the vertical barrier.

Montezuma Well, a detached unit of Montezuma Castle National Monument, is a natural limestone sinkhole near Rimrock, Arizona through which some 1,400,000 US gallons  of water flow each day through two underground springs. It is located 11 miles  northeast of Montezuma Castle. The well measures in at 368 feet across and 55 feet deep. The water is highly carbonated and contains high levels of arsenic. At least five endemic species live (only) in the Well: a diatom, a springtail, a water scorpion, the amphipod (Hyalella montezuma), and the leech (Erpodbella montezuma) — the most endemic species in any spring in the Southwestern United States. It is also home to the Montezuma Well springsnail.

Montezuma Well's outflow has been used for irrigation since the 8th century. Part of a prehistoric canal is preserved at the picnic ground, and portions of the original Sinagua canal are still in use today.


The existence of the well was almost unknown to Anglo Americans before the publishing of Handbook to America by Richard J. Hinton in 1878.  In 1968, Montezuma Well was the subject of the first ever underwater archaeological survey to take place in a National Park, led by archaeologist George R Fischer.

The Yavapai people believe they emerged into this world through the well, and as such, it is a very sacred place to them.


In recent years Illinois Pondweed (Potamogeton illinoensis) has invaded the well. Weekly maintenance is required to keep water from the well flowing.

1 comment:

  1. Been there too, but a long time ago. Don't drink the arsenic-loaded water!

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