Tonto National Monument: Saving a National Treasure (Teaching with Historic Places)

This lesson is part of the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) program.

Tucked into cool recesses of erosion-carved caves high above Arizona's Tonto Basin stands long deserted cliff dwellings of the ancient Salado people. From about A.D. 1050 until approximately 1450, the Salado culture thrived in this valley where the Tonto Creek joins the Salt River. Around 1300, people of the Salado culture spread out from the valley onto hillside slopes, plateaus and caves. Today wind, sun, desert creatures and visitors roam through the mud-plastered structures built by the Salado people, but long ago the hillsides bustled with human life.

Essential Question

How does the nation save historic and prehistoric sites for future generations?


1. Describe how archeology helped researchers learn about the Salado culture of the Tonto Basin, including why they lived in cliff dwellings.
2. Explain the importance of preserving remains of the Salado and other past cultures.
3. Outline the context that led to the passage of the 1906 Antiquities Act and explain the impact the Act had on the preservation of ancient ruins.
4. Debate the relative merits of preserving a historic place in their community or allowing the site to be developed.

Last updated: June 30, 2021