This will have to be part one of our discussion of Tonto National Monument in Arizona; established in 1907 to protect fragile cliff dwellings built over 700 years ago. There are two cliff dwellings at Tonto. One is a half mile walk from the visitor center. The other is only accessible via a ranger-led hike.
To date, we have only visited the easily accessible Lower Cliff Dwelling. We’ve signed up twice to do the ranger led walk to the Upper Cliff Dwelling. The first was cancelled due to the government shutdown. The second due to rain. We’ll try again, but reservations are difficult to get. They only take small groups, January through April. Tours are usually booked two to three months out. If you are flexible, weekday is easier to get than weekend. Fortunately we live in Arizona, so if we persevere, someday we should be able to visit!
Getting to Tonto National Monument
Tonto National Monument is just 2 hours from Phoenix, near Lake Roosevelt. It is quite a lovely drive; if you take the Beeline Highway from Fountain Hills you will drive past forests of saguaros and really cool rock formations. It used to be possible to get to Tonto National Monument via the Apache Trail. Unfortunately the road was washed out earlier this year and may not reopen.
Things to do at Tonto National Monument
There is very nice visitor center with a museum and movie where you will learn more about the people who built these dwellings some 700 years ago. It is interesting to hear how they survived through the hot summers, high above the river with farms in the Salt River valley below.
Lower Cliff Dwelling
From the visitor center there is a paved path up to the Lower Cliff Dwelling. It is a good climb, but there are switchbacks to make the climb more gradual and there are benches at regular intervals – great places to stop and take in the view. You can even take your doggie! (Please do – it is not safe to leave a dog in a vehicle in Arizona.)
We really enjoyed walking around the ancient homes. As long as visitors remain respectful and careful, the national park service allows you to walk into the various rooms. There is a ranger there to keep an eye on things. He was very happy to answer all of our questions.
The Lower Cliff Dwelling in a cave 40 feet high, 85 feet long and 48 feet deep. No one knows for sure why they built their homes in a cave but it would seem to be a relatively cool, dry, safe place. There are 20 rooms in the Lower Cliff Dwelling; some with partially intact roofs. You can still see the soot from cooking fires.
Only two rooms are closed off to visitors because they are almost intact, with the original roof beams and saguaro ribs; clay floors and mud walls. You can look inside and visualize what it must have been like to live there
Upper Cliff Dwelling
The Upper Cliff Dwelling is even larger; 40 rooms also built in a cave. We are looking forward to visiting there someday… maybe next year! Stayed tuned for Part II.
Need Help Planning Your Visits?
If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.