Montezuma Castle
National Monument
NPS Arrowhead logo


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 Act.

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.

Glen Henderson
Montezuma Castle National Monument


A Past Preserved in Stone:
A History of Montezuma Castle National Monument

©2002, Western National Parks Association
protas/foreword.htm — 27-Nov-2002