By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/23/2019
Occurred: 9/14/2013
Topics/Keywords: #Arizona #FossilCreek #Montezuma'sCastle #Tuzigoot Page Views: 2911
Keith and I knock a couple more sites off the old bucket list!

Even though the weather has cooled a bit—a trifle, an infinitesimal yet measurable amount—it's still damned hot here in the Greater Phoenix area. So I suggested another campout to my friend, Keith, as a way to get to where it's cooler for at least a few hours. Keith agreed, and so we set out yesterday (Friday) evening after his last class, without even having decided where, exactly, we were going to go.

We settled on a return to Fossil Creek, knowing it would be cool at night, yet warm enough to swim during the day.

The moon shines above our campsite.

As we have every single camping trip, we arrived at our destination after dark. We have now set up the tent in the dark so many times, I'm not sure I'd know how to do it in daylight!

We had taken Keith's SUV (mine is still filled with inflated river floats), with the camping gear in the same plastic crates I've been using for at least 4 years. (I bought the tent, though, sometime in March or April, the old one having pretty much fallen apart.) We lucked out, it being Friday and after Labor Day, so that we found the Sally Mae campsite unoccupied and grabbed it. We'd eaten dinner on the way, so once the tent was set up—a matter of 20 minutes, tops, and that long because we weren't rushing—we relaxed in the camp chairs and enjoyed the half moon hanging over the tent, the flickering from distant heat lightning, the rush of the nearby creek, and the soughing of the breeze through the trees, while quietly discussing Nietzsche, Native American philosophy, and ancient histories.

I woke briefly in the night, after the moon had set. We hadn't bothered to put the fly over the tent, so I could see the stars glittering brilliantly through the screen roof. Even without my glasses I could make out Orion's belt.

In the morning, I awoke, soon followed by Keith, and we breakfasted on pastries we'd bought on the way, completely forgetting the bananas I'd also bought. Then we made the short hike down to Fossil Creek.

Your friendly blogger and his friend Keith soaking in Fossil Creek.

I had been here before, in 2010, with my grandson Zach and a couple of his friends. It's a beautiful and secluded spot that is seldom crowded; and, in fact, there was just one couple down there—albeit, with at least six dogs who each came up to us and gave us a thorough sniffing. But they were nice, both the dogs and the humans, who introduced themselves as Josh and Harmony. They asked if Keith and I had dogs, apparently assuming we lived together. The pools at this spot are hidden from each other, so when Keith and I found a place to hang out, Josh and Harmony were out of sight from us (and we from them, obviously).

Keith likes to soak, and I like to swim. So we each did what we liked in the Arizona sun, which for me meant trying to swim upstream against the current, like a giant pink salmon struggling to spawn.

Your friendly blogger trying to swim upstream.

Presently we decided we were getting hungry and hiked up to camp for more Danish. (The bananas, which had been baking in a bag in the back of the SUV didn't seem too appetizing.) We planned to return for more playing in the water, but then Keith discovered his battery was dead—he'd left the doors open a little too long, he guessed—so we had to ask fellow swimmers for a jump. Josh and Harmony had already left with their cast of Lady And The Tramp, but fortunately another family had taken their place. The dad obligingly came up and gave us the jump, and Keith and I broke camp and drove out, since by now it would be after 2 pm before we could return to Camp Verde, the nearest town, to eat real (non-pastry, non-hot-bananas) food.

It was still early for us to return to Chandler, however. So I mentioned Montezuma's Castle, which is quite near Camp Verde. This is an ancient cliff dwelling, founded about a thousand years ago, and active for about 400 years before the residents all packed up and moved away. Since Keith is mostly Navajo, Montezuma's Castle was inhabited by his direct ancestors; and he was excited to see it.

Montezuma's Castle

Montezuma's Castle, named by European Americans in the 1860s, is not a castle and has nothing to do with the Aztec emperor, or anyone else named Montezuma. It's credited to the "Sinagua" Indians, and that wasn't what they called themselves, either. (They were, essentially, the Anasazi people; but they didn't call themselves "Anasazi", either. That name was given them by the Hopi/Navajo, meaning as it does "enemy ancestors", which suggests the Anasazi were no strangers to family feuds which may be what tore the culture apart.)

Montezuma's Castle

Basically, the place is an ancient high-rise apartment complex that, at its height in the 1300s, provided homes for a couple hundred people.

The Sinaguas' southern cousins, the Hohokam, had previously dug irrigation canals off the nearby Verde River. Although the Sinagua specialized in rain-only agriculture, as do the Hopi of today, they did make use of the water in the canal and in the river in their daily lives.

Verde River near Montezuma's Castle

Montezuma's Castle National Monument is easily accessible, and requires only a 20-minute walk or so to see. Obviously, no one is allowed to actually enter the dwellings—it wouldn't be safe, and the soft limestone rock of which they are built needs continuous "stabilizing" so that simple rainwater doesn't erode it away. But a detailed diorama, built in 1951 when the Park Service closed access to the dwellings, shows how the interiors looked and how the residents used them.

Montezuma's Castle diorama

But even a person with no interest in archaeology or Native Americans or soft limestone, can enjoy visiting the monument simply for the lovely environment: the trees, the grass, the scenery, even the considerately-placed benches.

Keith photographing a stand of trees at Montezuma's Castle.

Still, we still had time left after we'd spent all the visiting we wanted here. So we drove a few miles to Clarkdale to visit another Native ruin, Tuzigoot.

Tuzigoot, occupied by the Sinaguas for about the same period as Montezuma's Castle, is a set of 110 limestone-block dwellings built on a limestone and sandstone ridge. The central rooms have higher ceilings and are presumed to have had public functions. But the Sinaguas didn't spend a lot of time indoors. And who can blame them, with the views afforded them from their roofs?

View from Tuzigoot. View from Tuzigoot. View from Tuzigoot.

There isn't much left of the dwellings, of course—only the walls. These weren't as protected from the elements as the cliff dwellings of Montezuma's Castle.

Ruins at Tuzigoot.

There are no doorways. The Sinaguas built hatchways in the roofs. In times of peace, folks climbed up ladders to the roofs, then down ladders through the hatchways into their own homes. Their equivalent of locking up for the night, was to simply pull up the outer ladders.

Like Montezuma's Castle, this monument is easy to reach and visit for most people. The path is paved and well-maintained; but sections of it are a bit steep for those who aren't steady on their feet. Still, there are handrails everywhere and plenty of room for faster-footed people to pass slower folk.

Keith at Ruins at Tuzigoot.

Things must have been fairly peaceful most of the time, here, based on the fact that there are no fortifications around the agricultural areas surrounding the dwellings.

Agricultural site at Ruins at Tuzigoot.

This wasn't my first trip to Tuzigoot. I had visited in 2000 with my family, including my then-infant grandson, Zach, who even though he couldn't walk, seemed to be fascinated by the architecture, eagerly touching and seemingly studying everything he could reach.

Zach checks out Tuzigoot in 2000.

Anyway, I took one last shot of the distant mountains, and Keith and I headed back to the Valley.

View from ruins at Tuzigoot.

By the time we made it to the 101 Loop, the sun had all but set, illuminating the clouds as if they were in a medieval manuscript.

Sunset-lit cloud. Sunset.

It was, of course, full-on dark by the time we got to my place in Chandler. We unloaded the camping gear and various random plastic bags. I made sure Keith took the box of Danish home to share with his brother (so I wouldn't be tempted to eat any more).

After he had left, I discovered the ill-fated bag of bananas—which weren't so ill-fated at all. In fact, they are in perfect shape, and will do for tomorrow's breakfast!

—A food the Sinagua certainly never enjoyed.