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Walking Through History at Tonto National Monument
By Christa Sadler: Tonto National Monument
Imagine a place where history from every era surrounds you. At the Salado Cliff Dwellings at Tonto National Monument, stories and relics from thousands of years of Sonoran Desert life are to be found right at your feet, wherever you tread. Since the construction of these iconic cliff dwellings approximately 700 years ago, they have served as a home, a community of growing and evolving culture, and eventually an alluring spectacle for tourists exploring the “Wild West.”
During the early 20th century, as more and more pioneers began moving westward across the United States, places like the cliff dwellings began to receive more attention. Unfortunately, along with this attention came vandalism. President Theodore Roosevelt saw the need to protect and preserve the cliff dwellings, and so he designated them as a national monument in December of 1907.
After the creation of the National Park Service in 1916, America’s public lands became a distinguishable element of our nation’s landscape. Year after year, more visitors from all over the nation and the world traveled to these significant American sites. With ever-increasing numbers of visitors, the National Park Service faced the question, how could they accommodate this rise in visitation and provide a better experience for sightseers?
Conrad Wirth, then director of the National Park Service, envisioned a multiyear plan to revitalize the experience of both visitors and employees in the national parks. Beginning in 1952, Wirth made proposals to construct new facilities: visitor centers, housing for park staff, and other structures to improve park operations. President Dwight Eisenhower approved these plans in 1956, ushering in a new era for the national parks. The plans also set in motion an architectural movement across the United States that would become known as Mission 66, featuring a streamlined, modern style of design called Park Modern.
Plans for a new visitor center at Tonto National Monument soon followed, reflecting the new Park Modern designs that were being built in other major parks around the country. The structure would include a lobby with an information desk, along with exhibits and displays about the wonders of the cliff dwellings and the prehistoric people who once occupied them.
Major construction took place between 1961 and 1965, and the visitor center made its grand debut on February 21, 1965. This structure went on to serve as a catalyst for road improvements, new trails to the cliff dwellings, and a high standard for visitor experience. With the new visitor center and other facilities at the Monument, visitors now had richer opportunities to connect to the story of the Salado culture and immerse themselves in a world of the past.
The visitor center today. Courtesy Photo
After 50 years of providing information and awe, Tonto National Monument unveiled a newly remodeled museum in 2015. Inside a replica room—modeled after the cliff dwellings’ only remaining room with an intact roof—visitors to the Monument can now experience what it would have been like to live here. Artifacts found in the cliff dwellings, including pottery, textiles, and lithics, are on display, and an 18-minute film shown on the shaded deck of this historic building explains the cultural and natural history of the region. The observation deck offers breathtaking views of the Lower Cliff Dwelling and the Sonoran Desert landscape.
When you visit Tonto National Monument, you are not only walking into a building, you are walking through history: the stories of an ancient people who thrived over 700 years ago. The Tonto visitor center itself is a historic Mission 66 structure that helped write the story of our national parks and will preserve the history of the Salado for future generations.
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Charlie Steen in Lower Cliff Dwelling with visitors
Prior to 1933, Tonto National Monument was administered by the National Forest Service, which was too understaffed to adequately supervise and maintain the site. The Southern Pacific Railroad made an informal arrangement with the Forest Service to provide access to and maintenance of the Monument.
They graded a road from Route 188 to a parking area and constructed a trail to the cliff dwellings. A small stone cottage with piped water and a fireplace was constructed and Apache men were hired as custodians. One of the caretakers later built an adobe house the stone cottage became a tool and storage shed.
Such were the living conditions when Steen was appointed as the first National Park Service employee at the Monument: sparse housing, dirt roads, water drawn from a spring, scorpions, and sites which had been seriously vandalized with little funding. Appointed in July 1934, he spent his first full month at Tonto in September, where temperatures reached the mid to high 90s.
During his year as "Ranger in Charge" at Tonto, Steen diligently submitted reports, including visitation totals.
In December 1934, he reported that 266 people had visited the Monument, with 169 viewing the lower site, and 16 touring the upper site. He further reported that February 1935 was "a virtual League of Nations. I had cordial invitations to "Come and See Us" when I get to Bogota, Honolulu, and Kobe. The folks from Edmonton, Fairbanks, Bangkok, Frankfurt, Budapest, London, and Sydney are either not as hospitable as the others or figure that my chances of dropping in for a meal are mightily slim."
Steen made his last official report from Tonto in July 1935, then moved to the park ranger position at Casa Grande Ruins near Coolidge, AZ. He continued his interest in both archeology and in Tonto. In 1938, Steen, then with the title of Junior Naturalist, returned to Tonto National Monument. From January to April of 1940, he worked on the excavation and stabilization of the Upper Cliff Dwelling. Although some of his work is controversial, his documentation is still a source of information. By 1955, Steen had become the regional archeologist based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He tangled with the Tonto Superintendent over the proposed site of Tonto's headquarters, which he lost. Again, in 1957, he lost a dispute with the same superintendent over the location of a trail. These losses did not deter Steen. One year later, in 1958, he acquired the assistance of a geologist, and compiled a geologic history of the Monument.
Although not stationed at Tonto National Monument for long, Charlie Steen's archeological records are the most complete and useful source for park rangers today.
How a Spectacular Park Got Its Dumb Name
The name of one Arizona park translates into English as “Dumb National Monument.” How did a gorgeous place get such an unfortunate moniker? A long-time volunteer for the monument explains.
The Spanish-English dictionary is pretty clear about the meaning of tonto. As an adjective, it means silly or dumb as a noun, it means fool or idiot. This means that for the past seven winters, I’ve been a volunteer at the Silly National Monument, which is surrounded by the Dumb National Forest, not far from Fool Creek in the Idiot Basin.
Tuzi &hellip What? The Origins of 12 Unusual National Park Names
Tuzigoot. Great Egg Harbor. Yosemite. Who came up with these names? What do they mean? Sometimes they come from one person, sometimes a whole culture—but the stories behind these memorable…
All of these place names in Arizona, including Tonto National Monument, are directly related to the branch of Western Apaches known as the Tonto Apaches. The rugged upland deserts, canyons and mountains roughly corresponding to today’s Tonto National Forest were their homeland. Who were these people and how did they get such a name? As with most questions related to history and anthropology, there are no simple answers.
We can probably assume that they did not refer to themselves as tonto. The Rim Country Museum in Payson tells us that other Apaches may have called them tonto “because of their willingness to live near the white man.” The Tonto National Forest website suggests that other Apaches may have thought of them as tonto because they settled in such a difficult place, you’d have to be crazy to live there.
Many scholars agree that the name Tonto derived from the Chiricahua name for Western Apaches — bini édiné — meaning “people without minds.” This may have referred to the fact that they spoke a different dialect — in other words, they talked funny. Arizona historian Kathy Block suggests that the Tonto Apaches’ close relationship with the Yavapai Indians influenced their language, and the resulting accent led other Western Apaches to call them foolish.
So this may be the best story we can piece together: The most isolated of the Apache bands were disconnected from their cousins by both geography and dialect. At least one other major band, the Chiricahua, thought these remote kinsmen were so strange that they had to be tonto. The name seemed fitting as far as early Spanish explorers were concerned, and the insulting word eventually stuck to an entire region of southern Arizona. And, yes, even to a character in radio, television and movies.
It’s not unusual for visitors to Tonto National Monument to ask us about our strange name. We’re not one of the better-known sites in the National Park System, and at only 1,120 acres, we’re not one of the largest, either. But we’ve been around a long time, signed into monument status by Theodore Roosevelt back in 1907 to preserve two prehistoric cave dwellings, each roughly 700 years old. The stone and mud walls of the dwellings still stand two stories tall: pueblo structures built in naturally occurring alcoves high on the cliff walls. Archaeologists called the ancient builders “Salado,” naming them after the nearby Rio Salado, Arizona’s Salt River.
For over 100 years, these ancient structures have been called the Tonto Cliff Dwellings. We don't know who named them, and there is no way of knowing when they were first seen by Europeans. Cowboys, settlers, and the calvary were aware of the cliff dwellings by the 1870's, and army personnel made note of them during this period.
The diary of Angeline Mitchell provides an early description of the dwellings. Angeline came by wagon trail to Arizona in 1875. In 1880, she agreed to teach school in the remote and often hostile Tonto Basin. In her diary, she described her experiences with cattle stampedes, Apaches, and a trip to the cliff dwellings.
In May of 1883, Adolph Bandelier made his way to the cliff dwellings. His sketches of floor plans and documentation of the physical appearances of the cliff dwellings in his journal represents the condition assessment of the structures at that time. Published in 1892, Bandelier's Final Report of Investigations still serves as a historical reference for archeological sites around the American Southwest.
Building Roosevelt Dam, Circa 1909
Population Growth in the Southwest
Four years after Bandelier's visit, population in the Arizona Territory began to increase rapidly. People were brought west first by wagon trains and trail rides then by the Southern Pacific Railroad which came to Phoenix in 1887. Business and industry followed. By 1900, Phoenix's population was 5,554.
With a growing population, farming, water, and flood control in the Southwest became an issue, thus setting in motion a series of events that would have dramatic effects on the cliff dwellings and their future.
Water and the Roosevelt Dam
Phoenix suffered through numerous catastrophic floods as the Salt River ripped and tore through ineffective earthen dams. Water storage, availability, and control had reached their limits. The Salt River Water Users was formed and, with other states and territorial delegations, lobbied Congress for action. In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the National Reclamation Act authorizing damming of western rivers the Bureau of Reclamation was created and the Arizona Territory was selected for the first dam. By 1903, plans were in place to build Theodore Roosevelt Dam at the confluence of Tonto Creek and the Salt River.
Located just four miles from the construction site, the cliff dwellings felt the impact. Workers, their families, and sightseers began exploring the cliff dwellings. Rare photos of this period show change in the dwelling's conditions through the early 20th century.
Tonto National Monument
What was happening to the cliff dwellings was occurring across the American Southwest. Due to a growing concern over the destruction and looting of archeological sites, the American Antiquities Act was passed in 1906. This act authorized the president to establish monuments for places of natural and cultural significance. Areas such as Devil's Tower, Montezuma's Castle, Gila Cliff Dwellings, Chaco Canyon and many more were given protection under the Antiquities Act.
The Roosevelt Dam project and associated completion of the Apache Trail made the Tonto cliff dwellings a popular attraction. As their popularity grew, sentiment and concern for their future had grown as well. On December 19, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt signed Proclamation 787, creating Tonto National Monument. Four hundred and eighty acres surrounding the Lower and Upper Cliff Dwellings were set aside and placed under the authority of the U.S. Forest Service.
Stone Caretaker's House, Circa 1929
Southern Pacific Railroad
Roosevelt Dam was completed in 1911 Arizona became a state in 1912. By then, the Southern Pacific Railroad had constructed a hotel near the dam and was offering tours. Tonto National Monument was one of the highlights on their Apache Trail Tour.
In 1929, in cooperation with the US Forest Service, the Southern Pacific made a road to a large parking area at the mouth of Cholla Canyon, where the current picnic area is located. A pit toilet was dug, and a 1-mile trail was cut to the Lower Cliff Dwelling. Ray Stevens was hired as caretaker and was paid $30 a month to serve as the first maintenance person and tour guide.
By 1932, Tonto National Monument had become a popular tourist destination. The Southern Pacific extended the dirt road to where the current parking lot is and built a stone caretaker's house.
For the next three decades, this structure served as the Monument's Headquarters, Visitor Center, and Museum. Chain link fences were erected and locked at night to control access at the dwellings. Fences helped, but unknown numbers of people entering these unstable areas damaged the cliff dwellings. The Tonto Cliff Dwellings suffered more damage and loss in the 1920's and early 1930's than during the previous 600 years.
By 1932, Phoenix's population had grown to 48,000. A growing road system allowed exploration of central Arizona by automobile and an estimated 100 people a month were climbing through the cliff dwellings.
National Park Service Early History
The official history of Tonto National Monument dates from 1907, but the period of protection and preservation began in July 1933. On that date, Tonto National Monument was transferred from the Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, to the Department of Interior, National Park Service.
Charlie Steen was the first National Park Ranger assigned to Tonto. During 1934, Steen was assigned to spend time at many newly established monuments.
Rangers in this remote area lived in tent houses and drew water from the local spring. Flooding, scorpions, rattlesnakes, and hard work were part of the daily routine. As primitive as the conditions were, Steen and the rangers that followed persevered. The road was improved and a trail was cut from the parking lot to the cliff dwellings. Archeological and biological studies were initiated to better understand the cliff dwellings and the surrounding environment. A park ranger could now be present at the cliff dwellings to inform visitors of the Monument's archeological value and protect what remained of the fragile structures.
Also in 1934, the Gila Pueblo Archeological Center took samples from the timbers in the dwellings for dating purposes. Dendrochronology, or tree ring dating, is a method of using growth rings on trees as a calendar in order to date archeological sites.
The first indication of how many people were visiting came in September 1935 when Steen reported 305 people for the month. Read Steen's Monthly Reports.
In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt added 480 acres to the Monument. Eventually, nearly 70 archeological sites were discovered on the now 1120 acre preserve.
Visitors and Park Ranger at Lower Cliff Dwelling, Circa 1941
Preservation and Visitor Services
Establishing facilities, preparing trails, and stabilizing the cliff dwellings were routine activities conducted by rangers. In 1937, the Lower Cliff Dwelling was excavated and stabilized for the first time by William Duffen, a graduate student from the University of Arizona.
In 1938, more than 5,000 visitors came to Tonto National Monument. Infrastructure was basic at the time and rangers made do with what they had or what they could borrow. By today's standards, ranger housing was little more than camping out.
Charlie Steen returned in 1940 to stabilize the Upper Cliff Dwelling. Published in 1960, his "Excavations at the Tonto Cliff Dwellings" is the earliest detailed report of architecture and artifact observations at the cliff dwellings.
After World War II, national and international visitation to national parks and monuments grew. Facilities were needed, and the first park ranger house was constructed in 1950.
Visitation that year reached 17,700 and the need for modern facilities increased.
The old parking lot, which accommodated 6 to 8 cars, was expanded in 1950 to help with growing traffic. Funds for excavating and stabilizing the Lower Cliff Dwelling were received and archeologist Lloyd Pierson undertook this work evidence of this historic stabilization project is still visible today.
Interpretive signs were installed along the Lower Cliff Dwelling and Cactus Patch trail. Thousands of visitors came to see the dwellings.
In 1951, a concrete water tank was built in Cave Canyon to store water from the nearby spring. Water lines were laid to the visitor use area and down the canyon where ranger housing would soon be built. The days of rangers sleeping in tents and visitors using outhouses were over.
By 1960, Phoenix's population was 438,000. Major highway projects in Arizona had opened up the country, with Route 66 bringing people west by the millions. Visitation at the cliff dwellings for 1960 was documented at 46,000.
Visitor Center Dedication Ceremony, Circa 1965
Mission 66- National Park Service 50th Anniversary
Barely keeping pace with growing visitation, In 1956 the National Park Service devised a 10-year plan to upgrade facilities in numerous Park Service sites. In 1964, as part of Mission 66, a building which housed the Visitor Center, Museum, and administrative functions was constructed. The construction of the Visitor Center was completed in 1965.
Mission 66 would transform Tonto National Monument into a 20th century preservation and educational facility. Construction of the new Visitor Center was a declaration that the cliff dwellings were now stable and could be enjoyed by all.
National Historic Preservation Act
In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) into law and formally recognized historic preservation as an important policy of the United States. As a result, Tonto National Monument was automatically placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This register identifies and documents significant historical and cultural sites to facilitate their preservation.
Aerial View of Tonto National Monument, Circa 1964
Visitor Services and Resource Management
In 1970, visitation at the park exceeded 53,000 people. Now, modern facilities awaited visitors which included displays on the archeological findings at Tonto National Monument. In 1974, the entrance road and Lower Cliff Dwelling trail were paved.
In 1985, archeologist Martyn Tagg completed the first systematic archeological survey of the entire monument. The object was to locate, record, and evaluate all archeological significant remains within the Monument boundaries and provide a full picture of its archeological resources for the first time.
In 1998, the National Park Service's Vanishing Treasures program was established. The Vanishing Treasures program supports the preservation of traditionally-built architecture in the Western United States, facilitates the perpetuation of traditional skills, and promotes connections between culturally associated communities and their places of heritage. Tonto National Monument was among the first to secure Vanishing Treasures funds for personnel and projects.
Tonto National Monument Centennial
On December 19, 2007, Tonto National Monument celebrated its 100th Anniversary. Throughout its history, Tonto has been profoundly affected by the national movements in reclamation, conservation, and preservation.To commemorate this history, the book At the Confluence of Change: A History of Tonto National Monument was written. Visitation in 2007 was documented at 56,174.
National Park Service Centennial
On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service celebrated its 100th Anniversary. Now begins a second century of stewardship of the nation's growing number of national parks, monuments, battlefields, historic sites, military parks, seashores, and more. Learn more about the Centennial.
Thanks to the foresight of President Theodore Roosevelt and many others, these ancient reminders of the past are safe for many generations to come.
The following excepts are from monthly reports written by Charlie Steen during his year as "Ranger in Charge" at Tonto National Monument.
July 1934: Here I am, trying to rate a little space in the monthly report, with less than 48 hours to my credit. During the only full day I spent at Tonto, four autos carrying 23 passengers stopped to look us over. In the following day while I was wondering how many visitors would break the solitude, Walt Attwell came along, told me to pack my extra pair of socks and toothbrush, that he was taking me to Montezuma Castle. Well, here I am for a few weeks.
January 1935: The skies finally cleared. then three days of freezing weather set in but now everything is balmy again on the Apache Trail. For 15 minutes tremendous claps of thunder reverberated throughout the canyons, and immediately after snow began to fall.
February 1935: To begin with, 599 visitors made an appearance, and of these 383 made the trip to the lower ruins and 25 to the upper. Two of these visitors deserve special mention: one was stone deaf and pedaling a bicycle from Los Angeles to Chicago, and the other was a hitchhiker--- I haven't yet figured out how either of them happened to come up here.
The signs arrived in good shape. I will receive some posts from the State Highway Department either tomorrow or the next day and will erect them immediately thereafter.
March 1935: Traffic on the highway has been very heavy- more cars are going through now than ever before. The new signs seem to be doing their part in enticing a proper percentage of the travelers to the ruins.
The abundant rains since January have caused a profusion of flowers in the mountains- the monument is alive with color.
One the 13th the engineers almost walked on the first rattlesnake of the season. On the 15th I found the first Gila Monster and two days later a wild honey bee backed up to me and stung me on the upper lip.
April 1935: The weather for this month has been perfect with the exception of three days during which a large portion of the top soil of Colorado and New Mexico hung suspended in the air.
May 1935: On May 3rd snow fell for about 10 minutes, and yesterday, the 24th, the mercury climbed to above 100 degrees for the first time this year.
My pets are hybrid honey bees who have a number of combs in the cliffs above the lower ruin. Since warm weather began the bees have become blood-thirsty. I have been stung so often that I hardly bat an eye when some playful brute feels the urge to fill me full of formic acid. The bees seems to recognize me. If any of you men at headquarters think that wild honey bee doesn't pack a wallop, come on up and I'll convince you to the contrary.
A family of Canyon Wrens was hatched just above the lower ruin this month and for three days the mother had her four youngsters hopping all over the walls. They were too young to be fearful of humans and altho [sic] the mother bird would sit on a wall and anxiously call her brood, one could get within a very few feet of the little fellows before they would fly away. Our big saguaro is acting as foster mother to two families: a red-shafted flicker and a Gila woodpecker have both built nesters in it.
June 1935: Who turned on the heat? The weather has been an unfailing source of conversation since the last week in May. Despite the weather man's efforts to discourage half mile walks on a very sunny hillside, 447 people visited this Monument during June and of these 282 walked to the lower and 19 to the upper ruin.
Lately I noticed javelina tracks in the lower dwelling on several occasions. A visitor here told me, after being shown the tracks, that his brother was in the desert southwest of Phoenix several years ago and a small herd of javelina chased him. He was on foot and to escape the pigs he climbed a saguaro and stayed there for three hours!
July 1935: A rather dull month has passed. The weather factor seems to be principle deterrent to Monument traffic. July days have been either quite hot or high winds with heavy clouds threaten rain.
As I write this, which is probably my last report from Tonto, I realize that history is about to repeat itself. Another invasion of the Lower Gila from the upper reaches of the Salt River is about to take place.
(1996). Southwestern Monuments Superintendent's Monthly Reports, 1935-1949 for Tonto National Monument, Gila County, Arizona. Unpublished.
The word "Salado" describes the prehistoric group living in Tonto Basin between 1250 CE and 1450 CE. According to archeologists, Tonto Basin was a true cultural melting pot and the Salado culture arose when people from the Ancestral Puebloan, Ancient Sonoran Desert People, and Mogollon cultures moved into the Basin.
Yavapai and Tonto Apaches- Relocated from their Tonto Basin Homeland
After the Salado people left Tonto Basin, Yavapai and Tonto Apache groups moved into the area. In 1871, they were moved from Tonto Basin and onto the nearby Camp Verde Reservation. This failed to stop the conflict between American settlers and the Yavapai and Tonto Apaches in November 1872 the Tonto War began. In February 1875, the Yavapai and Tonto Apaches living on the Camp Verde Reservation were forced to relocate to the San Carlos Reservation. This terrible episode, known today as the Exodus, forced them to travel a difficult 150-mile trail through Tonto Basin.
Angeline Mitchell- First Teacher to Bring Students to Tonto
Angeline Mitchell Brown, a young schoolteacher, provided the first known written record of the Salado cliff dwellings at what is now Tonto National Monument. In 1880, Angeline, known as Angie, took her students from her school near Tonto Creek on a field trip. Afterwards, she wrote a detailed account of the field trip in her diary.
Adolph Bandelier- First Archeologist at Tonto
Swiss-born Adolph Francis Bandelier undertook the first systematic research of pre-historic sites in what is now Arizona. He was the first scientist to survey, map, and describe many of today's archeological monuments and parks. One of those sites was designated Tonto National Monument.
Neither stage routes nor railroads traversed many of the places he explored, so Bandelier relied on his horse Chico for transportation. At times, Chico was his only companion on the trail.
Cordelia Adams Crawford- Honored in Arizona Women's Hall of Fame
Cordelia Adams Crawford was one of the first women elected to the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame in 1981. Of the six women, she was the only one not active in public or professional life. She lived and died in relative obscurity in the Tonto Basin near Globe, AZ. Perhaps she was selected because she "epitomized the best qualities of a pioneer woman. cheerful acceptance of a way of life many would considered too hard to endure. skill in healing. and able to endure hardships. while always a lady, at home in any society."
Frank H. Zeile- Early Photographer of the Tonto Cliff Dwellings
Frank H. Zeile was a resident of Roosevelt, Arizona between 1920 and 1927. He worked for the Salt River Project as an oiler for one of the generators at Roosevelt Dam. Photography was one of his hobbies, and he took some of the earliest photographs of the Tonto Cliff Dwellings. His photographers would later influence his grandson's decision to become the archeologist for Tonto National Forest.
Charlie R. Steen Jr.- First Park Ranger at Tonto National Monument
Charlie Steen became the first official employee at Tonto National Monument. He served one full day at Tonto before being transferred to Montezuma's Castle National Monument to fill in for another ranger. Before the temporary transfer, he reported that four autos carrying twenty-eight passengers stopped by Tonto National Monument. Can you imagine the repressive summer heat, long before the days of air conditioning in cars?
Tonto National Monument
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Tonto National Monument, cliff dwellings located in the Tonto Basin of southeastern Arizona, U.S. They lie 110 miles (175 km) east of Phoenix, in Tonto National Forest. Between about ad 1150 and 1400, the Salado people—a farming culture named for the Rio Salado (Salt River), which flows through the valley—established permanent apartment-style residences by constructing clay walls in shallow, naturally eroded alcoves within the hillsides. Ranchers and soldiers came upon the ruins in the 1870s, and in 1907 President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the site a national monument. Tonto is a Spanish word meaning “fool.”
Major features of the 1.8-square-mile (4.7-square-km) monument are the Lower Ruin, consisting of a 16-room ground floor with some second-story rooms and a neighbouring 12-room annex, and the Upper Ruin, which has a 32-room ground floor, a second story, and terraces and rooftop space. Although some of the rooms are well-preserved, exposure to weather has taken a toll. Traces of irrigation canals (now flooded by Theodore Roosevelt Lake, impounded by a dam on the Salt River) and other archaeological evidence indicate that the Salado cultivated crops such as corn (maize), beans, and cotton. They wove the cotton into exquisite textiles and created decorated red clay pottery. They also made excellent use of the native plants of their desert environment—saguaro, yucca, prickly pear, mesquite—for food, tools, clothing, baskets, and construction materials, and they hunted mammals, birds, and reptiles. Wildlife in the area includes deer, coyotes, jackrabbits, javelinas, Gila monsters, and rattlesnakes. Additional plants include creosote bush, palo verde, agave, and, along the river, Arizona black walnut. The monument’s visitor centre displays pottery and other artifacts.
This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.
Perched on the side of steep cliffs, the Upper and Lower Cliff Dwellings are not only well protected, but also, have great views of the surrounding rugged terrain of the northeastern Sonoran Desert. The cliff dwellings were occupied during the 13th, 14th, and early 15th centuries.
The Upper Cliff Dwellings are available by guided tour only. Tours operate three or more times a week November through April, and the 3-mile tour lasts three to four hours.
The Lower Cliff Dwelling is a little easier to get to and does not require a guided tour. The mile trail opens at 8 a.m. and the trip will take you about an hour. But, feel free to take your time, as these dwellings are intriguing examples of early construction and architecture.
NEW NPS Geologic Resources of Tonto National Monument
The National Park Service (NPS) just released a 100-page, illustrated report detailing the geologic resources of the Tonto National Monument of central Arizona. Katie Kellerlynn authored the report as part of the NPS’ Geologic Resources Inventory program. A cohort of geologists with knowledge of the monument reviewed the report.
Tonto National Monument is outlined by green line.
Tonto National Monument abuts Theodore Roosevelt Lake on the southwestern edge of the Tonto Basin in Gila County, Arizona. The monument is about 90 miles from the Phoenix metropolitan area, a two-hour drive on paved road. Visitors are drawn to the monument to see cliff dwellings of the Salado culture, which flourished here from 1150 CE to the 15th century.
From KellerLynn’s report, ‘The monument was one of the first national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act of 1906. On 19 December 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt signed Presidential Proclamation 787, which established the monument, protecting “two prehistoric ruins of ancient cliff dwellings” and one section of land upon which these ruins were located.’
Geologic mapping by Arizona Geological Survey (1999) geoscientists Jon Spencer, Steve Richard, Charles Ferguson and W.G. Gilbert form the backbone of the geology here - see the Poster below References. The Geologic Resource Management section (p. 31-45) addresses geologic hazards that threaten monument features.
The Cited Literature and Additional Resources sections (p. 55-65) are exhaustive and include links (URLs) to online materials. Those interested in the Monument would benefit greatly from reading this report.