If you’re looking for a vacation experience that will make you feel like royalty, you must visit Montezuma’s Castle, a ruddy, architectural wonder carved into the cliffs of Camp Verde, Arizona. Coupled with a quick jaunt to nearby Montezuma’s Well, this National Parks Registry site is only a day trip from Kingman and the Zuni Village RV Campground. Visitors can enjoy a packed picnic lunch at the onsite picnic facilities while learning about some of the amazing indigenous American culture and archaeology unique to The Copper State. Read on for more!
A Castle Fit for a King
The 150-foot limestone and mud mortar structure nestled high in the cliffs above Beaver Creek is certainly a dwelling fit for a sun god like Motecuhzoma II Xocoyotzin, better known as Montezuma. The five-story building is an architectural wonder for its time, built only with mud, thatch and wooden beams felled with nothing more advanced than stone axes. It also displays ingenious architectural designs like small, low doors to prevent loss of heat in its twenty rooms. For all its greatness, however, the reality is that the famous Aztec emperor likely never resided at the castle that bears his moniker. Montezuma’s Castle was actually constructed by the Sinagua people, a tribe of pre-Columbian farmers and hunter-gatherers.
One of America’s Crown Jewels
Even if Montezuma never visited Montezuma’s Castle or Montezuma’s Well, President Theodore Roosevelt ensured that this historic monument would be preserved as one of America’s historic crown jewels when he declared the castle as one of four of our nation’s first national monuments in December, 1906. Prior to the President’s declaration, the site had suffered from amateur archaeological looting and was in danger of disappearing into dust until the Arizona Antiquarian Association stepped in and repaired a large portion of the damage. When professional archaeological excavation unearthed “Castle A,” the forty-five-room structure became a tourist hotspot. Thousands of visitors could climb ladders to get a close-up of the “king’s castle” and the extensive collection of unearthed Sinaguan artifacts to learn how these skilled tradesmen lived. Today, visitors can peer into the past at the nearby Montezuma Castle Museum located at 2800 Montezuma Castle Road, Camp Verde, Arizona, 86322 and view the impressive monument from the hiking trail.
No Magic Mice—Just Turtles
There may be no magic mice at Montezuma’s Well, but the thriving ecosystem does have one thing Cinderella didn’t—turtles! The Sonoran mud turtle population at Montezuma’s Well, also known as the Sonoyta mud turtle, is one of only five populations of this particular species. The Arizona population is the only one located in the United States. The remaining four are located in Mexico. Visitors to Montezuma’s Well have a unique opportunity to view this endangered animal who can actually close its shell. But don’t get too close! The Sonoran mud turtle has another special ability. Disturb one and you might find yourself smelling more like a skunk and less like a princess. The turtle can emit a nasty musk if it feels threatened. Talk about shell-shock!
No Fairy Godmother Needed
You don’t need a fairy godmother to get to Montezuma’s Castle from Kingman. Just hop into your car (or pumpkin coach) and take I-40 E/US-93 S toward Flagstaff and Phoenix. Take exit 195 toward I-17 S and follow the signs towards Phoenix. Take exit 298 toward W. Middle Verde Road, then turn left onto Montezuma Castle Road. Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well are conjoined as one monument, though separated upstream by approximately six miles. Entrance to Montezuma’s Castle is $10.00 for visitors aged 16 and older. Children 15 years old and under are free. Entrance to Montezuma’s Well is free of charge for all. Visitors can view each of the archaeological sites after a brief hike along paved ⅓ mile trails. More information on both locations can be found at the Visitor Center at Montezuma’s Castle.
So, if you’ve always dreamed of what it would be like to live in a castle, see where fairy tales came true for the Sinagua people in Camp Verde, Arizona. Stop at Montezuma’s Castle and Montezuma’s Well on your next visit to Zuni Village RV Park in Kingman.