Landmark History: Tuzigoot

Tuzigoot - Looking Out
A view from the roof of the central structure of Tuzigoot.

The Landmark

Last I week I gave you the history of Montezuma Castle, a cliff-side dwelling built by the Sinagua people sometime around the 1100s. I mentioned in that article that the Sinagua people returned to the Verde Valley region of Arizona around the early to mid 1100s due to the fertile soil left behind by a volcanic eruption sometime around the year 1050 AD. Tuzigoot National Monument is another example of the structures built by the Sinagua people during this fertile period of the valley before they would migrate to other regions in the 1400s.

Tuzigoot has its own charm and style about it though. Instead of being built into the side of a cliff overlooking a creek, Tuzigoot is a 110 room pueblo structure situated atop sandstone and limestone ridge near a small cutoff from the Verde River. The monument is the best preserved pueblo ruin built by the Sinagua people in the region.

Offering expansive views of the Verde Valley, the small art town of Jerome and other surrounding cliffs, Tuzigoot is a great stop for landscape photographers. Like Montezuma Castle, Tuzigoot is an easy visit. Despite its position on a ridge, the small trail that takes you around the pueblo is mostly flat. Taking in the scenery and enjoying the small museum in the visitor’s center won’t take you more than an hour. It’s also a great stop on your way between Sedona and Phoenix.

While the route may seem a bit circuitous, you can easily visit both Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot as part of the “scenic route” to Sedona, which is fortunate because having a ticket to one of the National Monuments saves you $2 on your visit to the other (and admission is already fairly cheap).

The History

Tuzigoot’s history is similar to that of Montezuma Castle, but with it’s own set of unique details. Built by the Sinagua people in the early to mid 1100s, Tuzigoot is situated above the floodplain of the Verde River. Tuzigoot means crooked water in Apache, a reference to Pecks Lake which is Northwest of the ruins.

The Sinagua culture was largely based around agriculture and trade. Building Tuzigoot on its ridge ensured easy access to the surrounding fertile lands, while avoiding any potential problems with the structure being washed away by seasonal flooding. It also allows for a great view of the surrounding area, allowing for residents to keep an eye out for potential traders from as far away as Mexico. Bones from macaw parrots were uncovered at Tuzigoot, indicating these trade connections. Additionally, there is evidence that the Sinagua grew a species of cotton from South America, meaning that they were weaving before Europeans even came close to Arizona.

It is estimated that around 250 people inhabited Tuzigoot at its peak. Interestingly, very few of the tightly packed rooms appear to have any doors. The reason for this is that trap doors were commonly built into the roof of the room and ladders were used for entering and exiting them. While it may seem that Tuzigoot is situated ideally as some kind of fort and this roof access may have made it difficult for any potential invaders to access the dwellings, there is not much evidence of warfare in the area. Instead, these rooftop trapdoors were more likely built to keep animals out rather than any enemies. It is also believed that on upper floors, regular doors built into the walls of the structure were used.

As with Montezuma Castle, the Sinagua people would abandon Tuzigoot sometime in the early to mid 1400s. Again, the reason for this is not entirely clear; however it is likely due to a lack of resources or tensions brewing with other cultures in the area. It is believed that many of the Sinagua people would simply join other tribes, such as the Hopi. Tuzigoot would be largely forgotten until the 1900s.

The nearby town of Jerome was supported by copper mines discovered in the late 1800s. Mining would support the town through the early 1900s, but after the Great Depression, the ore deposits would run dry and population in Jerome would fall to less than 100 by the 1950s. These mines would have a lasting impact on the valley surrounding Tuzigoot as much of the mining waste was dumped nearby. The tailings from the mining operation are still vaguely visible; however, the area was recently replanted and much of the area’s natural beauty is returning.

Tuzigoot was excavated and opened to the public in the mid 1930s. Franklin D. Roosevelt designated it a National Monument on July 25, 1939. Unlike Montezuma Castle, some of the areas of the Tuzigoot ruins are still accessible to the public, especially the rooftop of the central structure. If your curious about the history of the native peoples of the American West or curious about the impact of the expansion westward, I highly recommend a visit.

What to know if you go

Unlike Montezuma Castle, you are up out of the valley on a ridge here. On a sunny day, you’ll definitely want sunscreen and probably a bottle of water. Your very exposed to the sun at this monument.

Entry costs $5 per person. Having a pass for Montezuma Castle saves you $2 per person (the same applies for having a pass for Tuzigoot and going to Montezuma Castle).

Places

Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot National Monument, Tuzigoot Road, Clarkdale, AZ, United States
1-928-634-5564

Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot National Monument, Tuzigoot Road, Clarkdale, AZ, United States
1-928-634-5564
http://www.nps.gov/tuzi/index.htm

Landmark History: Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle
Montezuma Castle, high up on its cliff.

The Landmark

Montezuma Castle is a great place for us to start our new recurring Landmark History series – this cliff-side dwelling has a long history spanning centuries and even an air of mystery about it.

Located in the Verde Valley in Arizona, Montezuma Castle is a permanent stone dwelling built nearly 100 feet up a cliff face. The dwelling is five stories tall and contains approximately 50 rooms. Other smaller more makeshift dwellings dot the cliff and the overall park contains other dwellings should you care to visit them; however, Montezuma Castle is definitely the main attraction. The cliff on which the castle is situated faces a stream known as Beaver Creek, which creates a bit of an oasis-like environment to the park.

This is an easy National Monument to visit – there’s very little walking and the short trail in the area is very accessible. The area also includes more preserved dwellings, but they are separated from the castle. If you are just looking for a quick stop on your way to Sedona from Phoenix (as we were) this is a perfect place to stop as it’s only a couple of miles off of the highway and only takes 30 minutes to an hour to enjoy your visit.

The History

While the structure itself is impressive – the storied past of Montezuma Castle is what makes it so fascinating. The Sinagua people began inhabiting the area, known as the Verde Valley, sometime around the 8th century. Evidence of permanent dwellings date back to around 1050 AD, though it was around this time that the eruption of a nearby volcano caused a brief period of abandonment of the Verde Valley.

Long term, this eruption likely had a positive impact on the valley: nutrient-rich soil deposits. The Sinagua people returned to the Verde Valley in the early to mid 1100s. The Sinagua culture was built on agriculture and the combination of the fertile, volcanic soil with the reliable waters of Beaver Creek made the valley a perfect place to settle.

Construction of Montezuma Castle is thought to have began early in this resettlement period. The positioning of the structure may seem inherently defensive; however, it’s more likely that the dwelling was built into the cliff to solve a much  more practical problem: yearly flooding of Beaver Creek during the summer monsoon season. Elevating the structure above the floodplain ensured that the dwelling was never washed away.

The dwelling was probably built overtime, added on to by subsequent generations, eventually growing in to the structure that we can view today. Eventually, Montezuma Castle would house up to 50 people. Verde Valley’s population would begin to decline sometime around 1300, falling gradually until the dwelling was abandoned early in the 1400s. This is where the mystery comes from for the Montezuma Castle.

The Sinagua are known to have migrated to other areas, though the reasoning behind it remains unclear. There are a number of likely causes for the migration: drought or other farming issues or tensions with the Yavapai people who had begun to inhabit the area may have driven them away.

Montezuma Castle would be rediscovered by various groups of settlers making their way west. In 1864, it would receive its present day name from King Woolsey in 1864 when he mistook the nearby pueblos at Montezuma Well for Aztec ruins, naming the site after several Aztec Emperors. This provides a perfect example of how historical gaffs can stick with a place forever.

The first dig at the Montezuma Castle site would be done in 1884. Unfortunately, early settlers known as “thieves of time” from around 1870 into the early 1900s would loot and ransack the sites, removing most of the historical artifacts from the area.

Still, the remarkable engineering of the Sinagua people has stood the test of time and the site is impressive to see today. This was recognized by Teddy Roosevelt who designated it as one of the original four National Monuments on December 8, 1906 under the American Antiquities Act. The castle would be later added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Sadly, structural concerns have closed off access to the interior of the ruins, which were open to visitors until 1951.

If you’re looking for glimpses into the history of the American West, Montezuma Castle stands as an example of the storied past of the United States and its original, native groups. Still today, Yavapai and Hopi people who trace their roots to this area after the Sinagua people left return to the site for various ceremonies. The area surrounding the monument is beautiful and perfect for those looking for an easy place to stretch their legs as they make their way across the great state of Arizona.

What to know if you go

Google Navigation only takes you to the front sign of the park area for Montezuma Castle, so don’t panic when your GPS tells you that you have arrived and all you see is a sign on the side of the road. Keep going – it’s not that much further.

Entry costs $5 per person. Having a pass for Tuzigoot saves you $2 per person (the same applies for having a pass for Montezuma Castle and going to Tuzigoot).

Places

Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Camp Verde, AZ, United States
(928) 567-3322

Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Camp Verde, AZ, United States
(928) 567-3322
http://www.nps.gov/moca/index.htm
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