Directions: Take the AZ-87 N, traveling 46 miles from Fountain Hills, AZ. Turn right onto AZ-188 S for 35 miles until you spot the Tonto National Monument sign, then turn right.
An Upper and Lower Cliff Dwelling is available within the Tonto National Monument. Anyone can visit the Lower Cliff Dwelling during specific hours; however, a reservation is required to view the Upper Cliff Dwelling. I'll be signing up for that this fall.
About the Hike: This blog post is focused on Lower Cliff Dwelling.
The Lower Cliff Dwelling trail is a 1-mile roundtrip hike. The path is open daily (closed December 25) from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. You must start the hike before 4:00 p.m. except for June, July, and August. During these summer months, you must begin before 12 p.m. (noon). On average, it takes about one hour to complete the hike, including visiting the dwelling.
We got our first glimpse from the parking lot, and my excitement grew instantly. The trail begins from inside the visitor's center, where you pay the entrance fee and then climb up a flight of stairs that exit outside. The park offers an educational video to watch before starting the hike. Take a few minutes to watch the video. The video provides a lot of good information that helps you interpret what you will see within the cliff dwelling and surrounding area.
The path to the Lower Cliff Dwelling is paved and easy to follow but does have a slight elevation gain as you meander along the trail.
You'll find educational signposts to stop and read, allowing you a brief reprieve to catch your breath.
It's a quick hike to the dwelling, where you can spend plenty of time walking through and imagining what life must have been like in cliff dwellings in the early 13th century. The Salado culture were farmers who supplemented their diet by hunting and gathering native plants and seeds. They were craftspeople who created some of the most polychrome pottery in the area. You can view relics that were discovered in the area at the visitor's center.
I imagined that they gathered fruits from the saguaros in the early spring. Then spring gave way to the summer heat, and dried up plants offered opportunities to gather nuts and seeds and buckwheat to grind into flour.
It's incredible to me how beautiful the landscape is, even when the dryness of the desert sweeps across the landscape. Look how exquisite the coral and shades of green blend together.
You could use the colors of the landscape as a palette when decorating indoors or out.
The trail curved around stands of saguaros, bringing us to the dwelling tucked securely into the cliff's hillside.
Two Park Rangers were stationed at the top ready to answer our questions. I could walk among the ruins and, in some instances, go into the different rooms.
I wondered why the doors were so small and asked how tall the Salado natives had been? The Park Ranger said the women, on average, were 5'1, and the men were 5'3. Much smaller than we are today. However, the main reason for small doors was to keep the room warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Could you imagine if our doors were this small?
What would you have to pay for a premium view like this in your house today?
This was the view out of the main living and kitchen area. On the floor, you can see the flour grinder, a great place to sit and ground flour while looking out across the Superstition Basin.
This was a 16-room structure, with a second floor over 3 rooms. Wooden saguaro spines and branches from juniper were used as floor joists to support the upper floors and frames over the doorways.
We spent about twenty minutes exploring the dwelling and talking with the Park Rangers. They were eager to share their knowledge with all the visitors passing through. It was time to start our journey back down the trail toward the Visitors Center.
The view of Lake Roosevelt off in the distance across the basin didn't disappoint.
Every saguaro was in bloom, well almost.
Sprinkled among them were saguaro skeletons reminding us of the fragile nature of our most precious resources. But even in death, the saguaro stands tall, offering educational value to those curious about what resides inside this majestic cacti's fleshy, spiny green flora.
We finished up our hike and drove over to the picnic area. It was a lovely area of individual ramadas with picnic table.
It was time for our picnic lunch, but unbeknownst to us, we picked a table next to a cactus wren's nest hidden away in a pencil cholla.
The cactus wren flew from tree to tree, watching us closely as we sat and enjoyed our veggie pesto sandwiches.
It was fun to watch her, but we quickly ate and departed out of respect, leaving her to care for her nest and whatever came next.