Montezuma Castle and V-Bar-V Heritage Site

Cottonwood, AZ

This morning we drove about 15 miles south west to Camp Verde to visit Montezuma Castle National Monument.  Montezuma Castle is one of a number of well-preserved ancient dwellings in north central Arizona.  It is probably the most spectacular; an imposing 20 room, 5-story structure built into a recess in a white limestone cliff about 70 feet above the ground. When first (re)discovered the ruins were thought to be Aztec in origin, hence the name given to them by early explorers, but they are now known to belong to the Sinagua Indian peoples, the same group who built Tuzigoot, the site we visited yesterday.  The Sinagua farmed the surrounding land between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries before abandoning the area. The good state of preservation of the ruins is due in part to their protected location, shielded from rain and sun, and also the relatively early designation of the site as a national monument (in 1906).

Below is another “castle”, this one called “A” by archaeologists who excavated it in the 1930s.  This area is just a few yards to the south of Montezuma Castle, but sits at the base of the cliff.  The same group of Sinagua Indians occupied this area, but with 45 rooms it was much larger.

This area is not nearly as well preserved as the Castle, as some time before the Sinagua’s mysterious disappearance in the late 1400s a fire destroyed almost all interior features.  All you can see today are parts of a collapsed wall and a partially reconstructed foundation.

About ten miles to the north is Montezuma Well.   Formed long ago by the collapse of a limestone cavern, over one million gallons of water a day flows continuously into the Well. This constant supply of warm, fresh water provides an aquatic habitat like no other in the world, and has served as an oasis for wildlife and humans for thousands of years.

Montezuma Well

The constant supply of warm, 74 degree water was the life-blood of the people who made their home here. The rate of water flow into the well has not fluctuated measurably, despite recent droughts throughout the state of Arizona. This water leaves the Well by entering an underground stream on one side of the Well and flowing  through over 150 feet of limestone before re-emerging from the outlet into an irrigation ditch on the other side. Sections of this ditch date back over 1,000 years. The value of this water is recognized still today, as many residents of nearby Rimrock, AZ, rely on water flowing through the irrigation ditch for their gardens and livestock.

Sinagua dwellings built into the sides of the Well

We left Montezuma Well and drove north to visit the V-Bar-V Heritage Site.  The V-bar-V petroglyph site is the largest known petroglyph site in the Verde Valley of central Arizona, and one of the best-preserved. The rock art site consists of 1,032 petroglyphs in 13 panels. Acquired by the Coconino National Forest in 1994, the site is protected and kept open to the public by the US Forest Service.

The petroglyphs were created by Southern Sinagua residents between about 1150 and 1400 AD. The site was known to early American settlers, and became part of the historic V-bar-V ranch around 1907. The ranch headquarters were nearby, and the ranchers protected the site from vandalism. Some historic ranch buildings remain near the Visitor Center. The US Forest Service acquired the site in 1994.

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3 Responses to Montezuma Castle and V-Bar-V Heritage Site

  1. Marsha says:

    Montezuma Castle is one of the places I have always wanted to visit. I love visiting ancient dwellings. The Castle looks awesome. I try to use my imagination and wonder what it would be like to live there. Not sure I would have survived.

    I have never heard of Montezuma Well. It looks like it is beautiful with that deep blue color, and the mountains in the background.

    Now Sinagua dwellings looks like a place I would NOT like. Looks scarey to me.

    Looking at the petroglyphs is like reading a book. I think an elementary teacher would have a hayday with these. I bet the kids could make up stories by looking at the pictures and come pretty darn close to what they might really mean.

    Another wonderful post. I love learning about this great country of ours.

  2. Cyrille says:

    Your photographies are so acurate, so beautiful 🙂
    I’m French, my own camera was from another age !
    Thanks for the reminding….
    I just do there 15 days ago, I do almost the same way ……..
    Your photos are sparkles of what I saw ……no word to describe such beauty !!!! 🙂
    Thanks !


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