• Lower Cliff Dwelling


    National Monument Arizona

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  • Visitor Center is closed

    The Visitor Center and bookstore will be closed for several weeks for construction. A temporary Visitor Center will be set up in the parking lot. The trail to the Lower Cliff Dwelling will be open during this period. No entrance fees will be collected.

Upper Cliff Dwelling

Upper Cliff Dwelling

Upper Cliff Dwelling

NPS Photo

Nestled in a cave overlooking Tonto Basin is the 40-room Upper Cliff Dwelling. Many theories have been presented as to why people began building here. Protection from the elements is certainly a possibility. The cave is dry even during the worst weather, and receives the full benefit of the morning sun in winter and cooling shade in summer. Other theories are that the people were afraid of their neighbors, or perhaps they were glad to get away from crowded conditions on the valley floor. To view a floorplan of the Upper Cliff Dwelling, click on the link.

Arizona contains some of the nation's - and indeed the world's - greatest archaeological sites. Please take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with this site etiquette guide that will facilitate an enjoyable visit for you, AND for others who follow you!

Construction of the Upper and Lower Cliff Dwellings began about AD 1300 and continued until the basin was abandoned between AD 1400 - 1450. The size of the cave (70' wide x 80' high x 60' deep) allowed for a large work area that contains a cistern, capable of holding approximately 100 gallons of water.

Small doorways helped retain heat; many were sealed when rooms were no longer being used. Some doorways are shaped like a "T" or half-"T", which may have reduced drafts. Perhaps they were meant to hold jars or help someone balance while entering the room. It is still possible to see fingerprints of the ancient people who built these remarkable structures.

One of the last rooms completed in the Upper Cliff Dwelling has reeds in the ceiling instead of the saguaro ribs and other materials used in older construction. Was this an attempt to try something new, or is it evidence of over-utilization of resources? It is important to preserve these remainders of the past, even though we may never know the full story of the people who called this place home.

Did You Know?

cotton fiber with spindle and whorl

One of the earliest known cotton farming communities, dating from approximately AD 100 - 600, is located near Tonto National Monument.