Rachel Baldwin

Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well

Rachel Baldwin
Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well

While boondocking in Sedona, we decided to take a day trip to Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well.  We’ve visited the Castle during previous Sedona trips so we decided to go to the Well first.  I checked online before we left to make sure both locations are dog-friendly and they are as long as the dog is leashed.  Both locations are also covered with the annual National Parks Pass.

 We pulled into the Montezuma Well parking lot minutes behind a school bus full of children on a field trip so we dawdled and tried to kill some time before following them up the hill to see the Well.  There’s a small visitor’s office at the foot of the hill but no restrooms or gift shop, just some brochures and maps.  This office also had a bulletin board with a nice big warning sign about possible rattlesnakes in the area and reminder to stay on marked trails only.  

 Upon seeing these sites for the first time, early Europeans named both Montezuma Well and Montezuma Castle for the Aztec emperor, Montezuma, due to the mistaken belief that he must have had something to do with their construction.  In reality, these areas were home to people dating back to at least 700 CE with the Sinagua becoming the primary occupants from 1100-1425 CE, well before Montezuma’s birth in 1466.  The Well is a natural limestone sinkhole that is fed over a million gallons of fresh water each day by an underground spring.  People have been using the water to irrigate crops for hundreds of years.  Ancient cliff dwellings still perch on the Well walls and there are ruins of other homes and rooms along the top of the Well rim.  There are also little stone rooms built into the cave-like swallet areas along the water’s edge.

 The walk along the rim of the Well is easy and you get great views of the cliff dwellings.  The signs along the path provide history of the area and interesting facts about the Well (it supports 5 completely unique species not found anywhere else on earth!).  A short path downhill to the shore of the water passes by stone rooms built into the caves along the water’s edge.  

The real magic is found by taking the path behind the Well down to the water’s outlet.  This trail leads down from the Well’s rim to the ancient canal that the Sinagua built hundreds of years ago and runs along a deep stream.  This little oasis is at least 10 degrees cooler than the Well trail above and the Park Ranger later told us that we could have let Jane cool off in the canal water if we had wanted.

 We left Montezuma Well and traveled the 11 miles to Montezuma Castle.  Castle is another misnomer, as this was more of a communal living space-4,000 square feet of living quarters, built directly into a sheer limestone wall about 90 feet from the ground.  The Sinagua most likely used ladders to access their home and the height protected them from enemies and more importantly, annual flood waters from Beaver Creek, adjacent to the cliff.  

Decades ago, tourists were allowed to climb ladders up to the dwelling and poke around for artifacts to take home as souvenirs until National Monument administrators realized that was a terrible idea.  Now, visitors to Montezuma Castle can walk along the base of the limestone cliff and gaze up at the ancient home.  It’s an easy walking tour and took us less than an hour.

 Both visits took under 4 hours and were really easy walks for us and for Jane. This wasn’t our first Montezuma Castle visit and likely won’t be our last although now we know to always make time for a visit to the Well also.