Located in Casa Verde, Arizona, Montezuma Castle National Monument and the adjacent Montezuma Well is a popular and easily-accessible stop for those traveling between Flagstaff or Sedona and the Phoenix area. The average visitor will not spend much time at either of the two segments here, and it is not an area that is necessarily a destination in itself; however, as a quick stop off the interstate, the well-preserved Pueblo dwellings give a firsthand glimpse of a historic civilization.
Continuously constructed between 600 and 900 years ago and comprised of dozens of different rooms, Montezuma Castle is one of the largest Pueblo cliff dwellings in the American Southwest. The structure was built into the protection of the limestone walls, so it is one of the best preserved sites in the area. The name is erroneous, however. When the ruins were first discovered by Europeans in the 1860s, they named it after Montezuma II (also spelled Moctezuma II), the Aztec king who ruled an empire from present-day Mexico City, which was nowhere near present-day Arizona. He also was king 75 years after Montezuma Castle was abandoned by the Pueblo people. Furthermore, Montezuma Castle was not a castle. It was home to many people, functioning more like an apartment building than a castle to a ruling family.
Due to the National Park Service's preservation efforts, the public is no longer permitted to visit the castle itself; instead, visitors can only look up at it from a short distance. This segment of the park is by far the more heavily visited and the only segment that charges admission. A visitor center and interpretive trail are in this valley, which features Pueblo irrigation systems on the south side near a tributary of the Verde River. Additionally, a small amphitheater-like arrangement, almost always featuring a park ranger, is in the middle of the valley with Montezuma Castle as a backdrop.
Less visited than the castle a couple of miles to the south, the Montezuma Well sector of the national monument is comprised of a short trail that loops up to a large sinkhole surrounded by several more smaller cliff dwellings akin to those at Walnut Canyon National Monument to the north. Although it is filled with 1.5 million gallons of water a day from an underground aquifer, Montezuma Well's water is heavily concentrated with carbon dioxide and arsenic, making it uninhabitable for most marine life except for a small handful of species that are endemic to the sinkhole. The trail also leads into a grove of Arizona Sycamore trees with ancient irrigation systems for the sinkhole outflow.