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Day Trips worth the drive - The Tonto Monument Cliff Dwellings

Tonto National Monument - the Upper Cliff Dwellings
Tonto National Monument - the Upper Cliff Dwellings
National Park Service

When guests come to Arizona, there is no shortage of unique sights to show them.  .

For instance, just two hours from Phoenix lies the Tonto National Monument, named not for the Lone Rangers trusty side kick but for the most pristine, undisturbed cliff dwellings in the Tonto Basin.  Run by the National Park Service, the Tonto Monument was set aside as a protected area in 1907, specifically at the order of President Theodore Roosevelt who considered the site a national treasure.

Constructed by the Salado Indians over 700 years ago, the monument consists of two extensive cliff dwellings, one mid-way up the mountain and the other towards the peak.  Occupied throughout the 13th to the 15th century, the Salado living there farmed and hunted within the Salt River valley and sent trading parties as far off as present day California and Mexico.  Then, in the 14th century, historians tell us they suffered alternating periods of drought and floods.  It is also possible that the diminishing food supplies combined with increasingly frequent clashes with more nomadic tribes caused their elaborately  constructed dwellings to be abandon.  In any case, by the end of the 1400's the Salado had vanished - no one today quite sure of why or where they went.

Standing in the ruins today, one can't help but look down from stone ramparts to see the valley through the eyes of the lost Salado.  The dwellings themselves seemed carved out of the cliff walls themselves with natural rock ledges protecting and hiding them like a gigantic roof. 

The Lower level is reached by a moderately steep but comfortable climb on a paved and stepped trail.  To visit the Upper level requires the company of a Park Ranger. There is no extra charge but reservations are required with no more then 15 allowed in each party.  The trail there is steeper, unpaved and requires in places some moderate rock climbing. 

To fully appreciate the Salado cliff structures and the people who lived there, the Park Service recommends you begin your experience at the Monument Visitor Center, touring the artefact's and exhibits  of Salado art and culture.  They also offer a short video presentation running continuously in the exhibit theater. You may then follow the 350 yard trail to the Lower dwellings unescorted and at your leisure. The Park Service offers the escorted tour of the Upper dwelling roughly 4 days a week, depending on available Rangers so be sure to call ahead for schedules and to make your reservation.

To reach the Monument, take Highway #60 approx. 75 miles to Globe and take a left on #188.  The Monument is about 25 miles from Globe on #188.  An alternative route preferred by the more adventurous is to catch Highway #88 (The Historic Apache Trail) just outside of Apache Junction and taking in along the way such sights as Goldfield Ghost Town, Canyon Lake, Tortilla Flat, Fish Creek Canyon, Apache Lake and Roosevelt Dam.  Also, be sure to stop at the Historical Downtown District of Globe and if the Monument has whetted your appetite for pre-historic Indian culture, visit the Salado above ground dwellings at Besh-Ba-Gowan just outside of town.

Admission to the Tonto National Monument is $3.00 with children under 16 free. Dogs are allowed on leashes to the Lower dwellings.  For those traveling in large RVs or pulling long trailers, please remember the parking lot has limited turning radius and you may have to park further down the trail and walk to the Visitor Center.

 For reservations for the Upper level tour or other information call 928-467-2241 or visit the National Park Service Tonto Monument website at www.nps/tont.