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Tonto National Monument - Upper Dwellings, AZ

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Guide 35 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Globe > Roosevelt Salt
4.1 of 5 by 14
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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Difficulty 2 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Round Trip 3.1 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,787 feet
Elevation Gain 603 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 4 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 6.12
Interest Ruins
Backpack No
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
14  2019-04-27 Nightstalker
12  2018-03-18 Tortoise_Hiker
7  2018-03-17 Johnnie
7  2016-11-06 AZWanderingBear
26  2014-03-23
Tonto Monument from the Cheap Seats
16  2013-04-26 Al_HikesAZ
18  2013-04-20 jochal
2  2011-03-12 JuanJaimeiii
Page 1,  2,  3
Author Randal_Schulhauser
author avatar Guides 71
Routes 98
Photos 9,967
Trips 1,009 map ( 9,248 miles )
Age 59 Male Gender
Location Ahwatukee, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb
Seasons   Late Autumn to Early Spring
Sun  6:13am - 6:20pm
1 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Great NPS guided hike to ruins
by Randal_Schulhauser

A recent trip to the Tonto National Monument opened the prospect of visiting the upper cliff dwellings. Unlike the "open access" policy for the lower cliff dwellings, advance reservations for the guided visit to the upper cliff dwellings are required. Tours are restricted to 15 people or less, and begin at 10am sharp! There is only 1 tour per day. Start the process by calling the NPS office at 928.467.2241 between 8am and 5pm (open daily). The earliest weekend tour I could arrange was within 3 weeks. A hiking tour confirmation letter will arrive in the mail. Bring this letter with you as confirmation of your reservation!

We departed from home at 7am. Our trusty black steed made the trip from Ahwatukee to Tonto NM in about 2 1/2 hours, including our customary stop at Einstein's for coffee and a toasted chocolate chip bagel. Go to the visitor's center to sign in and pay the per person entrance fee. You will need to show your confirmation letter! If you need to pass some time before the hike, there are plenty of artifacts and interpretive history films on display at the visitor's center.

A group of 8 eager hikers assembled at Upper Ruins Trail Head located at the south end of the parking lot. We were introduced to our guide for the day, Ranger Eddie Colyott. His watch indicated it was 10am and time to start the hike, despite 7 other "no shows" on the reservation list. Just past the Trail Head is a locked gate that Ranger Eddie opened allowing the group to proceed.

The trail follows a spring fed creek bed. It is well maintained, but has shifted its path a couple of times due to flooding earlier this year. Ranger Eddie explained that the artesian spring provides a year-round sustainable water source for our riparian system attracting all known species of animals from the Sonoran Desert. Infrared trip sensor cameras have captured this evidence, including mule dear, javelinas, black bears and a recent group of 4 male mountain lions. The mountain lions were note worthy because they happened to rest for the night beside the camera trip sensor and every time they swished their tail, a picture was taken. Ranger Eddie indicated that the photographic evidence is on display back at the visitor center.

Once past the artesian spring source, the trail continues to follow a dry creek bed. Ranger Eddie displayed encyclopedic knowledge of all flora and fauna, particularly pointing out plants used by the ancient Salado for sustenance, cooking spices, and medicine. We stopped on many occasions to sample the bounty of the Tonto Basin, much like the ancient Salado would have. Miner's lettuce and peppergrass could find a place at the local salad bar!

When the dry creek bed meets the southern boundary fence between the Tonto National Monument and National Forest land, we are at the hiking trail "half-way point". We can look back on the wash towards Lake Roosevelt to picture the terrain we've just covered. We can also look up to get our first view of the upper ruins.

The remainder of the hike to the ruins negotiates a series of switchbacks to climb about 450 ft in about 3/4 of a mile. Ranger Eddie provided plenty of breathers while continuing to point out plant life valued by the ancient Salado. We continue our assent with our goal continuously in sight. The spring flowers are said to be upon the wane, but I'm not convinced.

We reach the maximum elevation of 3390ft as evident by the 1940 geological survey marker, but another locked gate separates us from the upper ruins. Ranger Eddie has the key and we gain entrance to the extremely well preserved archeological site. I counted in excess of 20 mano and metate used to grind corn, beans, seeds and nuts. There are countless hand-painted pottery shards throughout the site. The ancient Salado constructed a basin to contain the water from a local seep for a convenient supply. Many of the 2nd story floors are still intact and the construction technique is evident. The upper cliff dwellings have at least 32 ground floor rooms, eight with a 2nd story. New rooms are constantly being discovered, some exposed by rainfall erosion, others by a Ranger suddenly crashing through what was thought to be a solid ground floor. This actually happened in 1996, leading to an emergency excavation of two northerly rooms.

Ranger Eddie shared his thoughts on many recent archeological finds in the Tonto Basin that he believes will reshape conventional thinking about the habitation and abandonment of sites such as the Tonto Upper Cliff Dwellings. I won't delve into them here, but encourage you to find out for yourself by arranging your own guided hiking tour to this site. Enjoy!

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Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.

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2005-04-10 Randal_Schulhauser
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Tonto NM NPS Details
Well-preserved cliff dwellings were occupied by the Salado culture during the 13th, 14th, and early 15th centuries. The people farmed in the Salt River Valley and supplemented their diet by hunting and gathering native wildlife and plants. The Salado were fine craftsmen, producing some of the most exquisite polychrome pottery and intricately woven textiles to be found in the Southwest. Many of these objects are on display in the Visitor Center museum.

The monument is located in the Upper Sonoran ecosystem, known primarily for its characteristic saguaro cactus. Other common plants include: cholla, prickly pear, hedgehog, and barrel cactus (blooming April through June); yucca, sotol, and agave; creosote bush and ocotillo; palo verde and mesquite trees; an amazing variety of colorful wild flowers (February through March); and a lush riparian area which supports large Arizona black walnut, sycamore, and hackberry trees.
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.

Most recent Triplog Reviews
Tonto National Monument - Upper Dwellings
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After a quiet night in camp, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Butcher Hook and then eased over to the Tonto Monument to start our second day of a run to Roosevelt Lake and the Sierra Anchas.

The only way to visit the upper cliff dwellings is to take a ranger guided tour. Our group was about 9 folks. The hike up is fairly easy with lots of stops for the ranger to explain how the Salados used the environment to live here. The upper ruins are fairly well preserved. Enjoyed seeing some of the artifacts they have found in the ruins -- 600 year old corn cobs and squash stems were pretty cool.
Tonto National Monument - Upper Dwellings
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1st Time to the Monument. A Tour was getting ready to go so I jumped on the Opportunity against my Better Judgement...Nothing New there, I've been stupid most of the last 10 Days actually.... ;) Pretty Slow on the Downhill, tweaking things a few times... :? Nothing new there either... :sweat: The Upper Ruin is pretty Cool... Next Weekend is their last Tour of the Season. Still haven't seen the Lower Ruin as I had to book it back to Phoenix to return a bunch of Rental PFDs....

Surprised that we don't show the Spring in there, it's a Perennial One with Year-Round Flow in Cave Canyon. They have a Spigot at the TH where you can fill your Bottles with the Spring Water...Tasted Fine and it was Cold.... :)

Home now for awhile I think.... ;)

Lots of Wildflower Variety in there right now, even some small Poppies....
Tonto National Monument - Upper Dwellings
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From Campsite 20 I followed the trail to a nice bench facing east where you can watch the sunrise if you wake up it odark30 (I was a little late). Then down some "stairs". I walked out through reeds to the lake. Saw some areas in the reeds where mule deer must have bedded down. Either mule deer or some really large redneck beer drinkers. Touched the Roosevelt Lake Water and headed back up to wake my fellow campers #slackers
Tonto National Monument - Upper Dwellings
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I had a unique opportunity so I took it. The Temple Chai Mens' Club was having a camping trip to Windy Hill campground for Lag B'Omer with our Rabbi Jake Singer-Beilin. I called and got a spot on the hike to the Upper Campgrounds. Ranger Janet Lemon really grilled me to see if I could hike 3 1/2 miles and 750' AEG - glad I could still pass the interrogation.

Arrived at 0930 and checked in. Went to the Ramada and waited. Seven people in our group - a Dad, Mom and two teenage girls from Highland HS and a mid-70's couple from Liverpool. You could sort of tell they were European by their polished leather hiking boots. We waited for some no shows and departed at 1010. Led by Volunteer "Ranger" Wil Moore from Mesa. I asked and he is not related to Les Moore from Tombstone. Tomorrow is the last hike of the season. They close it down for summer. Wil stopped often to explain history and botany. We had a nice give and take and I learned a few things. I love a hike when I learn something. I can now tell a male jojoba plant from a female jojoba plant.

The cliff dwellings are well preserved. Great to have details pointed out and explained.

Wil told me that around St. Patrick's day the Monument has an "Open hike" day. For that weekend you can hike in anytime from park opening to closing without the guided tour. And he told me that there are special "photography" tours run by a professional photographer at various times during the season for a nominal $3 per person fee.

After the Upper hike I went to the lower Cliff Dwellings. The Lower Hike is actually more cardio - or maybe I pushed it harder.

After the Lower Ruins I went to Windy Hill campground to scout and secure a spot for our Mens' Group camping trip.
Tonto National Monument - Upper Dwellings
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Had a nice hike to the Upper Cliff Dwelling. The park ranger did an excellent job leading the way. There was a good blend of information and hiking. The ruins are definitely worth seeing. Got a bunch of good pics and there were plenty of wild flowers along the hike. I would definitely recommend this hike...especially if you have family coming to town to visit. Great place to take them! Remember you have to call to make a reservation for the upper.
Tonto National Monument - Upper Dwellings
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I first found out about Tonto National Monument at the rest stop where the 87 and 188 meet. It was instantly put on my list of ruins to see. My first trip here was a giant swing and miss. We arrived at the visitor center after a two and a half hour drive only to realize we couldn't go into the lower ruin due to bee activity. What a sad drive home that was. Flash back to March 2010; the trip is set in stone. Needless to say, I'm excited.

My sister, our friend Sam, and I leave the house at 6:30, and after a few stops get on the road at 6:40. After a very nice drive, we find ourselves in the parking lot looking up at the lower ruin. We walk into the visitor center, confirm our reservation, browse the various exhibits. The rest of the people in the group start to meet up sparingly in front of the visitor center, so we join the trend. After we met up with our ranger for a quick briefing, it was adventure time.

After getting on the trail, our ranger began to explain how the park captures pictures of wildlife, along with some other information I can't remember. We make our way a little further up the trail to find Miner's Lettuce. It's just a taste of things to come. After going off trail for a more adventurous feel, our ranger explains how a rock the size of a car had fallen from one of the cliffs above, and once again, we press on. Back on the trail, we encountered a squirrel who ran right into the group - literally. It's almost as if this squirrel wanted to steal every ounce of our groups attention from the guide, and that it did.

After making our way up the switchbacks, we all sat in a neighboring alcove for a snack. It was a great time to imagine what the Salado people saw day after day. Countless thoughts of leaving the group to stay here ran through my mind. Before we knew it, it was on the the dwelling. Maybe it's just me, but sometimes I wish I could just tell the entire group to just go away so I can experience the true solitude of the area. As the ranger spoke to us, we began to start looking around for ourselves. So many things to explore; where do you start? It was weird to see the ceiling intact in one of the rooms. I always wonder what the Salado (or any other southwest civilization) would think if they knew their homes would be here so long into the future.

It seemed like we had just got there, when the tour was over. We all started heading down the trail. Excited to get back to the Miner's Lettuce, I couldn't take my time. As soon as the switchbacks were over, I jumped off trail for a more thrilling experience. I think it was a good idea considering the trail was just a few feet away, and the ranger insisted on it earlier.
Tonto National Monument - Upper Dwellings
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This is a great hike that few people get to experience. The upper dwelling of the Tonto National Monument is only available through the NPS with a ranger-guided tour. Fee is $4 per carload. These tours are only offered from November through April, are offered only four times per week for groups of up to 15 people. The tour requires advance reservations and often fills up weeks in advance. Our guide was a brilliant and extremely knowledgeable anthropologist who provided a wealth of info about the history and culture of the Salado people. You can walk through this 32-room dwelling and see artifacts that are 700 years old.

Great views of Roosevelt Lake and the Mazatzal Mountains are provided with a nearly 360-degree vista. You will love this easy half-day hike if you like beautiful AZ scenery and the study of ancient Indian ruins.

Permit $$

Tonto National Monument
$5 per person, 15 and under free more info

Map Drive
Paved - Car Okay

To hike
From Phoenix: Take Hwy 60 (Superstition Freeway) east 75 miles to Globe/Miami. Turn left (northwest) onto Hwy 188, drive 30 miles to Tonto National Monument.

From Scottsdale: Take Hwy 87 (Beeline Highway) north 80 miles to Hwy 188. Turn right (southeast) at Hwy 188 intersection, drive 39 miles to Tonto National Monument.

From Tucson: Take Hwy 77 north 100 miles to Globe. At intersection of Hwy 77 and Hwy 60, follow 60 through Globe to Hwy 188. Turn right (northwest) on Hwy 188 and drive 30 miles to Tonto National Monument.

From Flagstaff, take Forest Highway 3 (Lake Mary Road) south 55 miles to Hwy 87. Turn right (south) on Hwy 87 and drive 72 miles to Hwy 188 (17 miles south of Payson). Turn left on Hwy 188 (southeast) and drive 39 miles to Tonto National Monument.
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