Arizona’s famous cliff dwellings

Livia Lowe, science editor

Cliff dwellings are ancient houses built in caves. Many Native American tribes used those as their housings for safety from flooding and other weather issues. There are three major cliff dwellings in Arizona: Montezuma, Tonto and Walnut Canyon. Each has deep histories in how they were constructed and their purpose, much of it still remains unknown.
Montezuma castle is Arizona’s most notorious cliff dwelling.
Located about 10 minutes outside of Camp Verde, Montezuma is five stories and has 20 rooms. First discovered in the early 1800’s, it was believed to be built by the Aztecs and was named after the emperor Montezuma but that was later disproved.
Sinagua Native Americans were the ones who built the structure around the 12th century. After about 3,000 years they abandoned it for reasons unknown. A small river, named beaver creek sits right under the dwellings to cool off and take a swim.
Unlike some of the other cliff dwellings, Montezuma is easy to access. It is just a half a mile walk from the park entrance and it is a small paved route. Admittance is $10 per person but anyone under 15 is free. The park also offers free admittance on holidays posted on the park website.
The Tonto cliff dwellings are located right outside of Roosevelt lake overlooking Tonto Basin. These dwellings have two parts to them, the upper cliff dwellings and the lower cliff dwellings. Just like Montezuma, Tonto was abandoned before it was finished being built. It was full of life for about 1,000 years and the reason for the sudden departure from the Salado Native Americans, who built the structures, is unknown.
To reach the dwellings, it is a three mile hike round trip. Unlike Montezuma, a tour guide and reservation is needed to visit the dwellings and there is a $10 entrance fee. Tours are only available from November to April.
Lastly, Walnut Canyon is eight miles east of flagstaff. Walnut cliff dwellings are composed of 25 different rooms spanning 20 miles but many of the rooms aren’t accessible to the public. It is not clear who exactly built these dwellings but it is believed to be ancestors of the Hopi tribe, the Sinaguan tribe later inhabited these dwellings after the Hopi had left.
The hike to the dwelling is only a one mile round trip but could be difficult due to the high elevation. A tour guide is needed to look at the dwellings as well as an $15 access fee. Tours are only available in the winter months, November through April.