A real cliffhanger

Posted: January 16, 2014 in Photos, Travel
Tags: , , , ,

Quite a few people these days live or work in highrises, but the original highrise dwellers lived in cliffs. We visited one such cliff dwelling near Sedona, Arizona. Dubbed Montezuma Castle by the early American settlers in the area who erroneously assumed Aztec origin, this small cliff dwelling (about 35 people) and the area around it were populated sometime between 1100 and 1400 BC by the Southern Sinagua. Well-protected from the elements, it’s one of the best-preserved prehistoric structures in the Southwest.

The Sinagua were farmers and hunter-gatherers who built a riverside, five-story, apartment-style building with about 45 rooms. Ladders allowed access and could be pulled up at night or if danger threatened, although this was a peaceful time and area. The river provided water for farming on the fertile land and there were other Indians in the neighborhood. Game provided meat and the Indians mined a nearby salt deposit. Salt was likely used for trade.


We don’t know why the Sinagua chose to build and live in the cliffs, but ready-made shelter, proximity to their farm land, safety from floods, the winter heat and summer shade provided by a southern exposure are all possibilities. There was less building to do and more nooks and crannies for storage as well. Mud plaster was used and local trees provided beams. The darker color you see in the photos is modern patching. A type of bee was boring holes in the mud and then the elements were taking their toll on the outer layer of the three bricks, requiring repair.


This photo was taken in 1884.


The Indians made use of everything nature amply provided, including the mesquite tree.  Protein was provided by ground seeds and pods which make the meal used to bake into cakes.  Sap was used as candy, resin and adhesive while parts of the trees have medicinal qualities.



This diorama, was built years ago (in the 50’s, I believe), when it became apparent that visitors couldn’t continue to access the cliff dwelling without damage to the fragile environment.  You can see how life was lived and how the overhanging top of the cliff provided shelter from wind and weather.


This artist’s rendering is of a nearby area where more Indians lived.  In the early 1400’s, the Southern Sinagua left their pueblos, again for unknown reasons.  But they left behind a window into their culture that we can still enjoy today.


Interested in learning more? Click here for the official website or here for Wikipedia’s take.

  1. silent kim says:

    An interesting and fascinating history lesson. An amazing dwelling.

  2. M. R. says:

    Fascinating stuff … I once had a terrific 1st-person adventure game that Chic bought me, the name of which I don’t recall; it was divided into about 5 or so different adventures, and one was the Anastasi (?). Are they part of this lot?

  3. vbholmes says:

    Interesting, Janet. Sounds as if you’re having a.stimulating, as well as fun, sojourn in AZ.

    • I’m having a nice balance. Today we’re going to an art show in a tent, where some of the artists, besides just being there, are actively working on new pieces. I’ve been before and it’s always fascinating…and tempting, although most pieces are out of my designated spending range. 🙂 Sorry I haven’t been by to read your blog. I’ve gotten the email notifications, but internet time is so short here.


  4. Oh I wish I could visit this place once. Many thanks for such an interesting post, it’s on my (dream)-bucket-list now :o)

    • There are so many beautiful and fascinating things to see in this part of the country. Hopefully you’ll get there some day but in the meantime, I’m glad you could take a short trip with us.


  5. Joe Owens says:

    I love seeing things like this and learning more about the history of the united States. There is so much of interest in the annals of Native American history. You must be loving your visit this year as you continue to brings us such wonderful stuff.

    • I’m having a blast, Joe. I like the combination of time to relax and time to see things that aren’t a part of the Chicago/Midwest culture. I’m glad you’re enjoying the trip, too. Wish I could send you the weather as well.


  6. I enjoyed reading your post. I lived in Tucson for several years, and we often visited cliff dwellings, ruins, and petroglyph sites throughout the state. They are fascinating places. Sedona area is beautiful. I love Montezuma Castle. I recently posted some photos of it and other sites in response to a photo prompt. I don’t generally like to promote my own stuff, but If you’re interested, you can look at it here: http://chronicnonsense.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/weekly-photo-challenge-community-ancient-people/

    • I’m glad you shared your link, Lisa. Once I got there, I remembered the post. Those were lovely photos. This is such an interesting part of the US with so much history. I also love the architecture, art and jewelry.


  7. Amy says:

    Thank you for providing the history information!

  8. This was one of my favorite places to visit when I was little. Real castles. In the 50’s you could still climb all over these places with Park Ranger tours in the big ones – or the little ones on your own – there were maps showing where some were.

    • Although I was never here when I could go into the cliff-dwelling, I visited other cliff dwelling as a child that could still be visited. Amazing! The national park system is a treasure.


  9. Jaspa says:

    I loved our visit to Montezuma’s Castle a couple of years ago. For such a young country, the US has a surprising amount of (pre)history: http://jaspasjourney.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/american-pre-history-j/

  10. goodmanas says:

    I really enjoyed this post and the pictures. Thank you – it’s going on my dream bucket list too.

    • It’s a wonderful place to visit. If you go, be sure to allow time to see the displays in the small museum and read all the information posted along the trails. And of course, allow time to just relax and look around.


What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, that or the other thing.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.