Day Seven: Casa Grande Ruins and Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona (1975)

RetroSign2-1975After a week on the road, my 11-year-old self had unknowingly become an expert hotel/motel critic.

Day Seven (August 31, 1975):

“We went to rent a Ramada Inn. But we thought we’d go to another Ramada Inn because of the looks…This hotel is awful. We took all their stars away. Their (sic) terrible. No ice, soda…I burned and froze myself because of the water bath faucet which you turn down! I like all the other Ramada Inns. We’re staying here (Flagstaff) for just one day. I’ll be glad when we leave here. Tomorrow, we’ll be going to a different hotel. The air conditioner is doing its best.”

Regrettably, I hadn’t invented Yelp, TripAdvisor or the Internet back in 1975; otherwise, I would have had bragging rights for posting the very first review.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Located in Coolidge, Arizona off Highway 87/287, the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument offers a glimpse into how its early inhabitants, the ancient Sonoran Desert people, survived in the desert climate. They built an extensive system of canals for irrigation farming and traded with others.

Nobody knows the purpose of the Casa Grande (“Great House”), whether the compound was a permanent dwelling or simply a way-station for traders, or why they abandoned the place around 1450 C.E./A.D.

Artist's depiction of the Casa Grande ("Great House") compound as it might have looked in 1350 C.E./A.D. The ancient Sonoran Desert people abandoned the site around 1450 C.E./A.D. (Source: NPS)
Artist’s depiction of the Casa Grande (“Great House”) compound as it might have looked in 1350 C.E./A.D. The ancient Sonoran Desert people abandoned the site around 1450 C.E./A.D. (Source: NPS)
A protective cover over Casa Grande ruins. (Photo Credit: Greg Hume)
A protective cover over Casa Grande ruins. (Photo Credit: Greg Hume)

The only thing my bored little self wrote in my Journal was: “It was an Indian building ruins. We then started off to Denny’s to eat.”

Of course, that was a lot more writing than the Sonoran Desert people ever did in a thousand years – because they had no written language. Thus, the enduring mysteries of the place.

If I ever decide to build a palatial manor in the future, I think I will call it “Casa Grande” as well. And then if Molly Maid stops showing up and the place falls apart after my death, my estate can simply rename it “Casa Grande Ruins II” and charge admission.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

In 1906, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and the Antiquities Act, offered some protection to Montezuma Castle. The public could climb a series of ladders to view the rooms until 1951, when access was stopped due to extensive damage.
In 1906, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and the Antiquities Act, offered some protection to Montezuma Castle. The public could climb a series of ladders to view the rooms until 1951, when access was stopped due to extensive damage.

My family piled into the Avis rental car and headed to Montezuma Castle National Monument, a group of cliff dwellings dug into a towering limestone cliff. There are reportedly 20 rooms still visible, built by the Sinagua people over 800 years ago.

The main structure was built over the course of three centuries (around 1100 to 1425 C.E./A.D.). It is about five stories tall and has twenty rooms.

The name is something of a misnomer. The first European Americans to view the place in the 1860s thought that the Aztec emperor Montezuma was somehow responsible for its construction. The cliffside dwellings were actually abandoned 40 years before Montezuma was born.

The other unfortunate misnomer is the word “castle”. These are prehistoric high-rise apartments and not a castle in any sense of the word.

As my prescient little self wrote in 1975: “It was a cliff of prehistoric ruins. The castle was built by pre-Coumbian Indians during the 13th and 14th centuries. [Editor’s Note: Surely I must have been reading something.] But it really wasn’t a castle.

The monument is 45 minutes south of Flagstaff or 90 minutes north of Phoenix. Take Interstate 17 to exit 289, then half a mile east, then left onto Montezuma Castle Road.

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Our final stop of the day was Walnut Canyon National Monument, 10 miles southeast of Flagstaff, Arizona, near Interstate 40. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Walnut Canyon a national monument in 1915 to preserve the ancient cliff dwellings.

You can hike a trail (1.4 km/0.9 miles) into the canyon, passing 25 cliff dwelling rooms built by the Sinagua people. They lived there around 1100 to 1250 C.E./A.D.

My Journal simply notes that “(t)he trail was real steep.” I’m guessing we never made it all the way down to the canyon floor, over 6,300 feet below. We had better things to do, such as eating dinner at the “Pony Soldiers Hotel Restaurant”. Love the name!

Interactive Google Map of the places mentioned above:

Map-CasaGrande&MontezumaCastle

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