Arizona (Part 2)

Tempe Travel Blog

 › entry 4 of 4 › view all entries
Having visited the Pueblo Grande site on Saturday, I resolved to get out of the Phoenix area and see more ruins and other sites to the north.  My plan was to get up very early (5:30), be off by 6:00, and hope that I could get to my first destination - Montezuma's Castle - by about 8:00.  I wanted to arrive so early in part because I was hoping that I could make it as far north as Flagstaff (roughly 150 miles north of Phoenix), with the stop at Montezuma's Castle, by 10:30 or at the latest 11:00.  I had been warned that it would be very hot in the afternoon, and I wanted to reach Wupatki National Monument (25 miles northeast of Flagstaff) before noon.  If I were to have reached the site much later, there would be no guarantee that it would not be too hot to actually get out and hike around the various pueblos and other ruins there.  I also hoped to see Tuzigoot Pueblo on my return trip south to Phoenix, although I was a little skeptical that it would be worth the extra time (and gas, this summer) to see the place in the heat of the afternoon.

In actuality, my plan worked out far better than I could have hoped, even though I saw more than I had intended to vists, and I got up at 5:45 instead of 5:30.  I was out of the hotel and on the road by 6:30, but progress out of the Phoenix area was seriously slowed by construction projects all over the area.  I didn't even get out of Phoenix until well after 7:00, and I assumed now that I would probably not make Wupatki at all unless I was able to get through to Flagstaff without stopping for more than half an hour.  I was concerned that would not be possible, because the photos of Montezuma's Castle showed a spectacular cliff dwelling that, I presumed, would require hours of exploration.

The "castle" (actually neither a castle nor built by any Aztec ruler, let alome Montezuma) itself, as I discovered, was quite spectacular indeed.  However, given that it sits several hundred feet above the ground, there was no way to access the pueblo itself.  This meant that I was able to get in and out of the site and its 1/3 mile trail (rough .5 km) in roughly 15-20 minutes (I skipped some of the interpretive panels, in which I had little interest).  I was told to visit another nearby and probably related site, called "Montezuma's Well" (a huge limestone crater which functions as a lake, in the same fashion as a cenote in the Yucatan), which was all of fifteen minutes away, and I decided I'd chance it and hope that the well was not much bigger than the castle had been.  The road to the well was a dirt and gravel road, but even with the unpaved surface, I reached my destination more or less in the timeframe suggested by the curators at the Castle site.
When I arrived at the well, I quickly saw why I had been told to go there - the deep limestone lake was beautiful, especially in the morning light, and the walls of the well were dotted with occasional cliff homes.  The hike was much more arduous than the little stroll around the castle trail had been, and in some places was quite steep, but as the pictures will hopefully suggest, was worth every second of hassle along the route.  In addition, there were two "optional" portions of the trail at the Well - one which followed down from the top to the remains of several structures built near the water's edge, and the other taking visitors around the back of the well, to see where the water slowly emerges from the rock to form a small but very pretty little creek below.  I took both of these optional trails, and in all, I spent about 45 minutes throughly enjoying myself amidst the natural beauty and history of the place.  Admission to the Well is free if you've already paid to see the Castle, so doing both trips in one day was a definite bonus (especially given how close they were to each other).

From Montezuma's Well, a dirt road leads back to the Interstate (and saves about 10-15 miles of backtracking if you don't want to go back to Montezuma's Castle), and although the ride was a bit bumpy and kicked up a lot of dust, it was worth the mild discomfort to save so much time going back along the same roads.  It took just over half an hour to reach Flagstaff from the well, so I estimate it would have been closer to an hour if I had decided not to brave the rougher road in favor of the paved streets leading back towards the Castle.  In any case, the drive to Flagstaff is absolutely beautiful, as Arizona changes from a stark desert into a green mountainous forest in a matter of minutes.  This is partly because of the very marked change in altitude; Flagstaff is at just over 6000 feet (or roughly 1800-1900m), whereas Phoenix lies at about 2000 feet (around 600 m).  If you have problems with altitude sickness, especially at sudden changes of altitude, you may want to consider taking a trip similar to mine in two days, rather than one; I would have done the same had I not needed to be back in Tempe for more work the next day.
Flagstaff is a very pretty place, as I have said, and also a good place to stop for a bite of lunch.  I ended up at the Crown Railroad Cafe, which provided an excellent meal for a good price, and with a fun (if noisy) setting.  They actually have miniature trains running on platforms built for that purpose along the walls, and that was a really nice touch!  All told, I spent about $10 for the food, a drink and tip, which is pretty cheap for any sit-down restaurant in this country.  Having fed myself, I also refuled the car - and was treated to the unexpected (and a little bizzare) spectacle of witnessing a Captain Jack Sparrow impersonator stroll into the gas station!  Although his face didn't look the same, the outfit was impeccable, and I was instantly able to recognize the character.  Several people stopped and stared, but nobody was courageous enough to ask our mysterious friend where he was heading, or why he was dressed as Jack Sparrow.  At any rate, I was now prepared to head off to Wupatki - it was already close to noon, but the weather is much cooler up around Flagstaff than it is further south - and took to the highways for the next leg of my excursion!  I'll close this entry here, because Wupatki is so expansive, it deserves more discussion in a new entry.
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photo by: Africancrab