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Tonto National Monument, Upper + Lower Ruins

Superstition Mountains

Superstition Mountains Area, Arizona

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Tonto National Monument, Upper + Lower Ruins

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  • Views of the Sonoran Desert landscape around the national monument.- Tonto National Monument, Upper + Lower Ruins
  • View of the trail to the Lower Ruin.- Tonto National Monument, Upper + Lower Ruins
  • Full view of the Upper Ruin.- Tonto National Monument, Upper + Lower Ruins
  • Metate and mano used for grinding corn, squash and pine nuts. - Tonto National Monument, Upper + Lower Ruins
  • Full view of the exterior of the Upper Ruin from the terminus of the trail.- Tonto National Monument, Upper + Lower Ruins
  • Intact walls built into the quartzite rock that is dominant in the Tonto Basin.- Tonto National Monument, Upper + Lower Ruins
  • Second story window with views toward an upper hallway.- Tonto National Monument, Upper + Lower Ruins
  • Exterior view of the Upper Ruin.- Tonto National Monument, Upper + Lower Ruins
  • The eastern rooms of the Upper Ruin. The second story room at right was believed to have been used for curing meats and goods as evidenced by fire scarring and the presence of reeds in the roofing.- Tonto National Monument, Upper + Lower Ruins
  • Second story of the middle rooms of the Upper Ruin.- Tonto National Monument, Upper + Lower Ruins
  • - Tonto National Monument, Upper + Lower Ruins
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Preserved ruins. Archaeology. Paved footpaths. Great views.
Cons: 
Limited access. Limited hours. No camping.
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Region:
Superstition Mountains Area, AZ
Congestion: 
Low
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Parking Pass: 
National Park Pass
Preferable Season(s):
Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
Current Local Weather:
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Adventure Description

Adventure Description

Contributor

Tonto National Monument uniquely showcases two cliff dwellings, a 20-room dwelling and a 40-room dwelling, that are the only known dwellings of the Salado culture. Construction of the two dwellings began around 1300 AD, possibly as an alternative to the growing populations in the Tonto Basin and Salt River Valley, where large trading centers and settlements focused around agricultural commodities and pottery were emerging.

The Salado found much of what they needed for construction in the Tonto Basin's quartzite rock, pinyon pine, juniper, and occasional ponderosa pine logs. Each pueblo inside the larger dwelling was built with the unshaped quartzite rocks found in abundance around the Tonto basin. Quartzite does not fracture or split as easily as sandstone, which may have attributed to the rougher and more unrefined architecture of the Salado in comparison to the beautifully constructed architecture of the Anasazi to the north at sites such as Mesa Verde.

The walls of the pueblos within the larger cliff dwellings were built from unshaped quartzite to reach roughly 6 feet high before they were slathered with mud. Crossbeams of pinyon pine or juniper were covered with Saguaro ribs, river reeds, or grasses and then layered with enough mud to support a second story and fire pit. The roofs of each second story building had a small parapet to allow for a safe place to work and play.     

The Salado people spent much of their time outside playing, working, and creating beautiful textiles and pottery. The pottery of the Salado is very sought after because the Salado created polychromatic pottery using ocher and other dyes, and as many as 400 pots were found as far away as Chihuahua, Mexico. Polychromatic pottery and stylistic textiles representing the Salado are visible at the visitor center along with fantastic informational displays.

After a successful few centuries of living, working and trading in the Tonto Basin, the Salado left in the mid to late 1400s. Possible reasons for their exodus include drought, disease, or warfare, though the exact cause remains a mystery.

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Location + Directions

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Nearby Camping + Lodging

(4 within a 30 mile radius)

Nearby Adventures

(18 within a 30 mile radius)

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