Natural Features & Ecosystems
On second glance, another outstanding natural feature is seen. Rising a further 350 feet above the visitor center is a cave. Sheltered within the shallow alcove is the Lower Cliff Dwelling. The inhabitants used these caves to their advantage -- to our advantage as well. The fragile buildings could not have survived for so many centuries without the help of the protective caves. Still higher, the Upper Cliff Dwelling is built within a cave almost 300 feet above the Lower Cliff Dwelling. Many reasons come to mind why people might have built in the cliffs - protection from raiders, lookout posts for the settlement below, a place for those not fitting in with the norm of society, artisans with vistas for inspiration or …
Hidden away is a third important natural feature of the park. It’s most visible as the leaves of deciduous trees change in the fall or the new leaves bud in the spring. Few, but intrepid trekkers on their way to the Upper Cliff Dwelling, or the many varieties of wildlife using its resources, experience the beauty of this rare desert oasis. A year-round spring supports this lush riparian area. Listen to the gentle flow of the water and imagine the desert dwellers of long ago meeting to exchange news as they gathered food from the lush plants, filled water containers, or rested from the summer heat.
Did You Know?
Tonto National Monument is home to a crested saguaro. Botanists disagree as to why some saguaros grow in this unusual form. Some speculate that it is a genetic mutation. Others say it is the result of lightning or freeze damage. About one in 150,000 saguaros develop this unusual growth.