by Wendy VanHatten
Southern Sinagua farmers built this five-story 20 room dwelling between 1100 and 1300 south of Flagstaff, Arizona. It occupies a cliff recess 100 feet above the valley floor.
Early American settlers assumed it was built by the Aztec, naming it Montezuma Castle. One structure, called Castle A, is badly deteriorated. It was once an imposing five-story apartment-like building with around 45 rooms. Many entrances are still visible.
Reliable water could be found in the creek and fertile land on the nearby terrace. Close is Montezuma Well, a limestone sink formed long ago. It is still fed by continuously flowing springs. Crops, consisting of corn, beans, squash, and cotton, were irrigated by a canal system with its waters. The pit house dates to about 1050. Dwellings near it range in size from one-room houses to larger pueblos.
Between 1125 and 1400 about 100 to 150 people lived here.
No one knows why the Southern Sinagua people migrated away by the early 1400s. Speculation includes overpopulation, depletion of resources, disease, spiritual beliefs, or conflicts.
Both the castle and the well have visitor centers with exhibits showing how the people lived in the area.
If You Go: Located 50 miles south of Flagstaff off I-17. It’s hot, so be mindful of the sun and heat.