Arizona may be one of the last to officially become a state in the United States, but if the #TravelingTalleys could rank states it would be pretty close to the top on our list! The amount of recreational opportunities that are available, the breathtaking views, and amazing changes in the landscape that you don’t get in any other state that I’ve seen so far – that is true Arizona.
One of the best parks to view in Arizona is Tonto National Monument. Surrounded by the Tonto National Forest, a visitor could easily drive by the entrance if they weren’t paying attention! Lake Roosevelt is just around the corner and one of the largest attraction in the area for recreation users. Tonto National Forest is huge, and butts right up to Coconino National Forest. While the drive to the monument may seem long and a bit out of the way, trust me– it is worth the detour. From Page it takes about 3.4 – 4 hours depending on where we end up camping. We’ve had great experiences driving up from multiple different locations, including a large loop that included Petrified Forest National Park!
Tonto National Monument is the only monument in the United States set aside to preserve and protect the cultural history of the Salado people. Geographically, the monument is located on the southeast facing side of a steep hillside within a well protected natural cave that overlooks the Tonto Basin. Originally the Salt River flowed from the White Mountains through the area on its way to the Gila River, leaving it well established and fertile for civilizations to possibly form around. In fact, there are other remnants of prehistoric cultures in the monument besides the Salado. The Salado lived in the Tonto Basic between 1250 CE and 1450 CE. As a true culture melting pot, the Salado culture arose from the many different civilizations that moved into the Tonto Basin – Ancestral Puebloan, Ancient Sonoran Desert People, and the Mogollon. Early in the fifteenth century the Salado abandoned their villages for a sudden, unknown reason. As they left, however, other native people used the valley. By the 1500s the Spaniards had arrived, followed by the pioneers. What we see today in Tonto National Forest is very different than what the native peoples may have seen, but luckily in 1907 President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Proclamation 787, which created Tonto National Monument. This proclamation allowed the national monument to protect the Salado impact on the valley and preserve the culture that they created.
The Salado culture was a combination of different native populations and the evidence is extraordinary. Ancestral Puebloan and Mogollon multistoried adobe and masonry structures are cultural characteristics that are obvious with even just a quick glance of the area. Pottery, ground-stone tool design, residence location, and mortuary treatment are all evidence from Mogollon groups in the north and east. The term “Salado” is not necessarily what the people called themselves, but rather it is a Spanish name for the Salt River. This particular cultural group constructed two dwellings in the caves while taking advantage of the surrounding desert resources. The Salado people created elaborate pottery and wove exquisite textiles while obtaining vital water and cultivating crops such as cotton, corn, and beans. Negative climate change, stressful environment, and resulting depletion of crops and population affected the Salado culture and people immensely in their decision to leave.
There are a few ways that you can visit the park, but each of them involve getting out of your vehicle! There is no scenic drive – the whole park and drive up to the park is the scenic drive! The Lower Cliff Dwelling is what Clinton and I visited. We came too late the day before so we planned to arrive the next morning bright and early – which was a great idea! Thanks to the helpful Rangers in the Visitor Center (open 8 a.m. To 5 pm., and there is a gate to access the park) we arrived in plenty of time to hike up with no one around! The hike is only 0.5 miles but it is almost completely uphill. We were able to take the dogs, but they are not allowed in the Cliff Dwelling themselves – there is a sign where to stop. Clinton and I were able to trade off who held the dogs while the other looked. You must start your hike before 4 p.m. and it is highly recommended to start the hike before noon during the summer months. It is hot and there are not a lot of shade spots! There are tours offered to the Upper Cliff Dwelling November through April Friday – Monday. While we have not been on one of these tours personally, it looks like a next great adventure!
Preserving culture and history is important because once that voice is gone, if it wasn’t heard or recorded…it’s gone. It is important to take time out of your travels to research the local history, know the local customs, and try to learn something new that you can share with others. While we may only have pieces of pottery and abandoned adobe structures, they still tell the story of our world. Share your experiences with other and take time to be outside! You won’t regret it. 🙂