Its a castle, but not built by Montezuma
Cliff Castle Casino, on the Yavapai Apache Reservation in the Verde Valley, gets its name and theme from one place just up the road: Montezuma Castle National Monument. Built by the Sinagua around the turn of the 15th century, and occupied for maybe just a generation, Montezuma Castle remains one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in Arizona.
The trail begins at the Visitor's Center, and heads west, following the cliff face to the north, and Beaver Creek to the south. Beaver Creek would have been a very important source of water for the Sinagua residents of Montezuma Castle and surrounding settlements; in this dry land, Beaver Creek and the nearby Verde River were lifelines in the desert.
As you continue hiking on the paved trail, the cliff to the north expands into a small cove. It is there that you get your first glimpse of Montezuma Castle, high above the valley floor. Up until 1951 visitors were allowed to go up and explore the ruin. Now, due to concerns about vandalism and structural integrity, it is closed to everyone except qualified archaeologists. When you look up at the structure, take note of the different colors of plaster on the front of the building. The darker plaster is new plaster, put on by the Park Service during reconstruction efforts, whereas the lighter plaster is the ancient Sinagua work. Despite the appearance of lots of new work, based on the plaster, 90% of the ruin is original, including lots of original sycamore floor/ceiling beams. The plaster work that the park service has done on the outside is just superficial finishing, to protect the actual stonework underneath.
There are several spots along the trail where you can get good views and photographs of Montezuma Castle. If you continue down the trail, you come across a small spur: Site B. Site B is a valley-floor pueblo that was occupied at the same time as Montezuma Castle. You can walk through a few rooms here, but the rooms are mainly just wall foundations.
The trail then continues on back towards the Visitor's Center by was of the banks of Beaver Creek. Here you can get a good look at the creek that watered the Sinaguans corn, beans, squash, and cotton. There is also a cutaway diorama along this section of the trail that depicts Montezuma Castle as it would have appeared when occupied. Views of the Castle, peeking between sycamore and cottonwoods, are not to be missed by the shutterbug.
The trail then meets back up with the Visitor's Center.
Note that despite passing along the banks of Beaver Creek, there is no readily available water along the trail. Fill your bottles in Camp Verde or at the Visitor's Center.
Dogs: Allowed on the trails, not in the visitor center.
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WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.
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