Tonto Basin has been occupied for hundreds of years - Europeans, Apaches, and prehistoric peoples have all called it home. One of these groups, known by archeologists as "Salado", constructed the cliff dwellings you see today. To view a floorplan of the Lower 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! This is a PDF document.
Archeologists are not sure why movement into the caves began. Perhaps it was for protection from weather or from other people; perhaps it was to get away from the "city life" of the basin floor. Whatever the reason, construction on the 20-room Lower and 40-room Upper Cliff Dwelling began around AD 1300. Some materials were easily gathered, with the cave floor and surrounding hillsides providing plenty of rocks. Other materials, such as pine and juniper roof beams, had to be carried down from the surrounding mountains.
The size of the Lower Cliff Dwelling was limited by the shape of the cave in which it was located - 40' high, 85' long, and 48' deep. Rooms were generally small, with a firepit in the floor and a hatchway to access the second story and roof. Ceilings and walls still bear smoke stains made by cooking fires.
The actual reasons why the Salado left Tonto Basin may never be known. Drought, disease, and warfare may have lead to their departure in the early to mid 1400's. Long before Europeans arrived in the New World, the cliff dwellings were abandoned to wind and sun.
By the early 1900's, the basin was already a tourist destination. As the number of visitors increased, so did pressure on the dwellings. It was concern over this damage that lead to the creation of Tonto National Monument in 1907.