Tonto National Monument (Arizona) 22-Jan-2023

After hiking in Chiricahua National Monument, and spending another night in Willcox, we drove north toward Phoenix, taking the back route through Safford and Globe. Along the way, we decided to make a short visit to Tonto National Monument. After three days of hiking, we needed to take a moment for some classic tourist stuff.

This monument preserves two cliff dwellings that were occupied by the Salado Culture between 1250 and 1450 CE. It was created in 1907 by President Teddy Roosevelt and was the fourth monument added to the U.S. National Park system.

The upper cliff dwelling is accessible only via a ranger-led tour, which was already fully booked for the season when we arrived. So we walked up to the lower cliff dwelling on the paved path that leaves from inside the visitor center.

Up the tourist path (no GPS required)

The lower dwelling was cleverly fit within a giant overhanging cave near the rim of the canyon. Being up there afforded shelter from the weather and from one’s enemies. It also offered a commanding view of the Tonto Basin.

The lower cliff dwelling is on the left
The Tonto Basin – now with Lake Roosevelt – from the tourist path
The lower cliff dwelling

But its inhabitants had to regularly haul water – for drinking and construction – some 400 feet (122 m) up from the creek in Cave Canyon. Any food grown or gathered in the Basin had to be carried up as well. Clearly these were a clever, resourceful, and sturdy people.

Part of the original cliff dwelling buttressed by a wall of recent construction
Interior detail
Part of the original structure with soot marks on the wall above
A room with a view

Current thinking is that these cliff dwellers began migrating away from this area around 1450 CE as the climate changed and this region became more arid. Agriculture was increasingly negatively impacted by unrelieved drought punctuated by catastrophic (irrigation destroying) floods. Climate change? Drought? Damaging floods? 🥺 My, don’t these sound familiar. 🤔


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