I handed the ranger $10 for all five of us to enter the park for Montezuma Castle. She then quickly offered for my boys to walk around with laminated pages hooked on a key ring to learn more about the park so they could become Junior Rangers. She went on to tell me the boys could use the erasable marker provided and cross off all the items they found in the park while learning more about the Sinagua people. When we returned, she would quiz them and then give them a certificate elevating them to Junior Rangers. The boys were beyond excited about it. It may have been partly because they got to hold and use a marker (which I tend to use sparingly with them since inevitably it's used on a wall, dresser, or couch in my home) but also because they love anything to do with nature. Never-the-less we set off to see this ancient cliff dwelling built hundreds of years ago with a marker in their hand and an enthusiastic step in their pace.
The kids were learning about the plant life in the area and keeping a look out for any wildlife. Unfortunately, we didn't see much of any wildlife except a blackbird because of the time of year but they kept busy crossing off each new plant and sign they came across in their Junior Ranger book.
Montezuma Castle is a 5 story cliff dwelling in northern Arizona and is quite impressive. Niki and I chatted for awhile about the pros and cons of living in the side of the cliff.
- Easy to see any enemies approaching
- Cool in the summer and warm in the winter
- Probably safer from bobcats and cougars
- Beautiful views of the land below
- You have to climb up there - if children/babies lived there it must have been very difficult to bring them up and down the ladders
- You had to haul food and water up a vertical cliff
- If children even just slept up in there, you had to make sure they didn't fall
We have a theory - and it's just a theory - that the chief or wealthy families of the Sinagua lived up in the cliff dwelling. The plaques along the path said about 35 people lived in the cliff dwelling and about 100 Sinagua lived in "Castle A" on the ground. Niki pointed out that if our theory was correct, the chief/wealthy families would be looking down on the people living on the ground and the people living on the ground would be looking up at those living in the cliff. It makes a pretty powerful statement of who's in charge if you look at it from that stand point. Besides that, in any society, who usually gets the fanciest home and best views?
The park has a paved path looping in front of the base of the castle that could easily take you less than half an hour to walk leisurely but we ended up spending close to two hours there. Niki and I helped the boys with their Junior Ranger book and I quizzed them all periodically about the Sinagua people based on the information provided along the path.
At the end, the boys were, in fact, quizzed by the ranger and answered all her questions correctly. She pulled out certificates and each of them received one.
Receiving their certificates
Saying their Junior Ranger oath
And...of course, a Junior Ranger is only completely ready when he has a Junior Ranger hat and vest