Tonto National Monument

Cali and Marcus both wrote about our recent visit to Tonto National Monument.  We are so proud of them for completing their goal of 100 Junior Ranger Program.  It has taken us 5 year to visit all of these amazing National Parks.
When we were driving out to the Visitor Center, I was thinking, “Oh great, another National Park. I bet it will be just like the other ones that we have gone to in this area”. But once we arrived, I found it very different. It wasn’t because it was in the middle of nowhere (lots of them are), but because of the mysterious air about the place.

There was hardly anyone around, just a couple friendly rangers. We had signed up for a tour online and had arrived an hour early. The rangers suggest we hike up to the lower cliff dwellings before we hike with our guide to the upper cliff dwellings. So we did. But before we reached the top, let me tell you about the architecture.
Nobody knows why the Salado ( the Native American people who lived in the dwellings) built their houses in the cliffs. Maybe it was to protect them from wild animals. Maybe it was a sign of wealth. In any case, the Salado people weren’t great builders or architects. But they couldn’t have been terrible, because we can still see there buildings today.
The buildings were crowded into a cave on the side of a cliff, as the name suggests (cliff dwelling). The Salado people built from the back of the cave forward. If a large rock got in the way, they would just build around it. You can see rock sticking through the walls of the houses. The houses were 2 floors tall.

   We reached the top (the climb was only about 1/2 a mile) and it was easy to imagine a normal day for the Salado. Women grinding corn on the roofs of the houses, watching the young children play. The older boys hunting rabbits or helping there fathers grow corn down in the valley. The older girls collecting water from the spring nearby. Older men and women relaxing in the sun. In there mid-to late forties, they would only have a few more years to see there grandchildren.
  It was very peaceful at the top, no humans. We didn’t spend much time up there, because we had to get back down for our guided hike. We met our guide and started up, along with a few other people. We stopped many times, and if I told you, in detail, about each stop you’d be reading for hours.
We learned many new and interesting things on the way up. It was an absolutely stunning view at the top. We wandered through the rooms, our guide explaining that each family only had a one room house. I know our camper is not large, but the rooms were absolutely cramped once you put the 4 of us in it.
   Our guide said that we could head down at any time, so after exploring as much as we wanted, we headed down. It only took us about 20 minutes.  We went into the Visitor Center, turned in our 100th Junior Ranger, took picture and headed home.
  I was very proud that we completed 100 Junior Rangers, but in all honesty I am glad we are done.

On the east side on the Superstition Mountains is the dammed up Salt river forming Roosevelt Lake. In the 13th and 14th centuries Salado people lived in  cliff dwellings and farm houses in the valley and on the pueblo in Tonto National Monument. When we arrived at Tonto we got our 100th Junior Ranger Booklet. The Ranger at the desk suggested that we go to the lower cliff dwellings. It was about a half mile up to the 8 room cliff dwelling. There was already a ranger at the castle like structure. After the ranger showed us around we hiked back down to the visitor center and finished our Junior Ranger programs. Afterwards we hiked with the ranger up to the upper cliff dwellings. This 40 room structure was marvelous. Salado people were not architects, so their houses  weren’t as amazing as the ones in other places but they were still pretty cool. I’m glad I got to 100 Junior Rangers but I,’m also glad I’m done.

M. W. Perry


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