The prehistoric cliff house above Beaver Creek has
been misunderstood since the 1860s, when the first vagabond groups of
miners and soldiers visited the area and misnamed it after the Aztec
emperor, Montezuma. A few years ago a young historian proposed trying to
rectify that situation by preparing a history of the "discovery" of
Montezuma Castle and Well, the designation as a national monument, and
the subsequent management of this national treasure. Josh Protas's A
Past Preserved in Stone: A History of Montezuma Castle National
Monument is the successful result of those efforts.
My career at Montezuma Castle National Monument has
spanned nearly three decades. Often, I have felt a kindred spirit with
the early explorers of these ruins. There is much yet to discover and
understand about the wonderfully intact Sinagua cliff house and its
associated sites, irrigation systems and "Well." Many National Park
Service managersthe Jacksons, Boss Pinkley, John Cook, Sr.have wrestled
with problems and opportunities since December 8, 1906, when President
Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Montezuma Castle a national monument, the
first prehistoric ruin to be so designated under the 1906 Antiquities
The philosophies for preservation and access were
just evolving at that time. The early decisions described by Josh Protas
help us understand some of the steps, and occasional missteps, in
planning for the long-term preservation of this small part of the
Sinagua culture, a people that once loomed large in the upper Verde
Valley of central Arizona. There were many more subtle ruins lost to
homesteading and expanding settlement. Even Montezuma Well was
threatened until the 1943 Act provided for its acquisition and
preservation. Water still flows from the Well in prehistoric canals,
thanks to constant preservation maintenance and upkeep.
Once an isolated attraction off the main highway,
Montezuma Castle National Monument is today one of the most highly
visited monuments in the National Park Service system, thanks to a
direct interstate highway link to northern Arizona from booming Phoenix.
Visitation has brought renewed and increased interest to the site, but
also has resulted in the need for more development at "the Castle,"
which always brings up the National Park Service's mission, that tricky
balance between the protection of resources while providing for public
use. Fortunately, some of the more negative proposals for tunneling
behind or building stairways in front of the Castle were tabled, while
present roads and parking lots are kept to a minimum. An unobstructed
view of the Castle from below still greets the visitor.
Josh Protas's work provides the visitor as well as
monument management an excellent review of the nearly century of
preservation and protection issues. The hope is that the
values"ethnological value and scientific interest"proclaimed worth
protecting for the public good by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 will
still be evident a century from now.
Montezuma Castle National Monument