Montezuma Castle, constructed by the Sinagua people around 1150, is made from mud and stone. The ceilings and floors are reinforced with dry branches, twigs, grasses, and reeds. Some of the internal beams, which hold up the multi-story structure, are visible at right. The beams were cut from Arizona sycamore trees.

Photograph by Kimberly Dumke

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    • Montezuma Castle, in central Arizona, became one of the United States' first national monuments in 1906. National monuments, which also include Devils Tower in Wyoming and the Statue of Liberty in New York-New Jersey, are similar to national parks.
    • Montezuma Castle is the remains of a settlement inhabited by the Sinagua people from the early 1100s to around 1425.
    • Although Montezuma Castle National Monument includes a huge natural sinkhole (Montezuma Well), ancient irrigation ditches, and the remains of underground "pit houses" that predate the Sinagua, its most striking feature is the castle itself, above.
    • Montezuma Castle was a cliff dwelling housing about 50 people. Residents of the apartment-style structure used long ladders to reach their high-rise homes.
    • Until 1951, visitors to Montezuma Castle National Monument also used ladders to access the cliff dwelling. However, thousands of tourists trekking through the site began to wear down the delicate adobe structure. Ladders were removed and visitors can no longer directly access the castle.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    adobe Noun

    building material made of sun-dried clay, sand, and straw and usually shaped into bricks.

    ancient Adjective

    very old.

    cliff Noun

    steep wall of rock, earth, or ice.

    Encyclopedic Entry: cliff
    delicate Adjective

    fragile or easily damaged.

    dwelling Noun

    a place to live.

    irrigation ditch Noun

    channel dug between a source of water and crops. Also called an irrigation canal.

    national park Noun

    geographic area protected by the national government of a country.

    Sinagua Noun

    people and culture native to the southwestern U.S. who flourished between the 1100s-1400s.

    sinkhole Noun

    hole formed in a rock or other solid material by the weight or movement of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: sinkhole