If you are coming from the Phoenix area I would
suggest heading North on I-17 and
making your first stop at Montezuma Castle NM. This is located just off of I-17 on the East side of the
road at Exit 289. Ride East for approximately 1/2 mile to the blinking
red light. Turn left on Montezuma Castle Road for about 4 miles to the visitor center where you will learn about the castle and the people who used to inhabit it before
you take a short walk.
On December 8, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt celebrated the passage of the Antiquities Act by declaring four sites of historic and cultural significance as our nation's first National Monuments. Among these was Montezuma Castle, which the President identified as a place "of the greatest ethnological value and scientific interest." A paved, 1/3 mile loop allows you to gaze through the windows of the past into one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America. This 20 room high-rise apartment, nestled into a towering limestone cliff, tells a 1,000 year-old story of ingenuity and survival in an unforgiving desert landscape.
It is one of the best places I have been that actually gets across what a day in the life of the Sinagua Indian culture must have been like, allowing you to imagine how you might have survived in this same place. There is also several points of interest along the way and an interactive kiosk to help you learn about the life and times of the Sinagua people. Tourists are no longer allowed to go in the dwelling. Open daily 8am - 6pm June-August and till 5pm the rest of the year. $5 entry fee.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
After about an hour at Montezuma Castle, we hopped on the bikes heading North another 60 miles to Walnut Canyon National Monument, located just 9 miles East of I-17 off of I-40 at exit 204. I really had no preconceived idea of what this place was going to look like, but I was really surprised at how beautiful it was in this canyon setting. Walnut Canyon National Monument was established by President Woodrow Wilson on November 30, 1915, to preserve ancient cliff dwellings. Initially managed by the US Forest Service, the monument was transferred to the National Park Service in 1934. Today a variety of archeological and natural resources are preserved on approximately 3600 acres.
Once you are through the visitor center and pay your $5 fee, there is a choice of 2 trails to see the Cliff Dwellings. The Rim Trail is a .7 mile hike that gives you an easy overview of the canyon. But if you want to get up close and personal by actually going into the dwellings, you will have to take the Island Trail which is .9 miles long that takes you 185 feet down into the canyon via 240 steps. The trail takes you in a circle around the canyon allowing you to experience the rooms and the structures while enjoying the beauty of the canyon. If you are able to do so, this is really a wonderful little hike. However, climbing the 240 steps back up at an elevation of 6690ft can tax the heart and lungs. If you have bad knees, it might be a long hike. Bring water! This stop will probably take you about 1.5 hours to complete. But it is well worth the effort and my personal favorite of the National Monuments. Park hours are 8am - 5pm, May-Oct and opens at 9am Nov - April. Be sure and look at all the photos from this stop.
Sunset Crater Volcano/Wupatki National Monument Loop
From Walnut Canyon you are just 18 miles from Sunset Crater/Wupatki National Monument loop. Just go back to I-40, head West to Flagstaff to Hwy. 89 and go North about 12 miles to Forest Rd. 545. You will see the signs for the turn. Sunset Crater National Monument was established by President Herbert Hoover on May 26, 1930, to protect its geologic formations. In 1990 the name was changed to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. It occupies 3,040 acres surrounded by Coconino National Forest.
I will admit to not knowing much about the history of Sunset Crater, but it is a nice ride through here, that is what was important at the time. Apparently a volcano erupted here about 900 years ago and obviously wiped out civilization as they knew it, covering the area with a lava flow that you will see today. Vegetation has returned that give it an interesting landscape combined with the lava landscape. 900 years later, Sunset Crater is still the youngest volcano on the Colorado Plateau. The volcano's red rim and the dark lava flows seem to have cooled and hardened to a jagged surface only yesterday. They have a visitor center as well, which we did not explore. It was more about the ride through here.
Wupatki National Monument
About 20 miles into the 34 mile loop you will start to see the Painted Desert in front of you and will soon come upon the Wupatki National Monument which was established by President Calvin Coolidge on December 9, 1924, to preserve Citadel and Wupatki pueblos. It now includes additional pueblos and other archeological resources on a total of 35,422 acres. Wupatki represents a cultural crossroads, home to numerous groups of people over thousands of years. Less than 800 years ago, Wupatki Pueblo was the largest pueblo around. It flourished for a time as a meeting place of different cultures. Your first stop is the Wukoki Ruin which is one of the ancient pueblos ruins that were inhabited by the Sinaqua Indians from about 1100AD to 1250AD. Other pueblo sites within the Monument include Wupatki, Citadel, Nalakihu and Lomaki. This was the only one that we stopped at. The visitor center is just a couple of miles down the road.
Optional Stop - Arizona Snowbowl and Skyride
We spent about 30 minutes at the Wukoki Ruins and were on our way back to the Flagstaff area where we made our way to the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort for a late lunch on the patio of the ski lodge and a trip on the Skyride which shuttles you to an elevation of 11,500 feet for panoramic views atop this extinct volcano. From this elevation, you can see over 70 miles of world-class scenery, including the Grand Canyon and downtown Flagstaff. The Skyride operates from 10am -4pm at a cost of $12 per person. The Arizona Snowbowl is located 7 miles northwest of Flagstaff on Highway 180. Turn right on Snowbowl Road and continue another 7 miles. Click for Directions. This ride up to and the experience at Snowbowl is really enjoyable. I would highly suggest Snowbowl as a day ride on its own merit. Not only that, you can relieve yourself in the highest toilet in Arizona, 11,500 feet!
The total mileage for the ride, assuming a start location from I-17 and Loop 101 is 388 miles, if you include the trip to Arizona Snowbowl. Taking Snowbowl out would lower the trip by 34 miles to 354. But remember that 250 of those miles will be on I-17 which of course moves at 75 mph.
So if you are looking for a ride this weekend that would be a combination of riding separated by a few short hikes to see some history, the Cyclerides.com Monument Tour would make for a great day, and it would get you out of the heat in the Valley. As usual, I went snap happy with the camera and have included 190 great photos for you to enjoy. HAVE FUN! Let me know if you go.
Click Here for 190 Photos
Click Here for Map
History of Montezuma Castle
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Sunset Crater National Monument
Wupatki National Monument
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Until Next Week,
Blessings and Safe Riding To All,
"The Road Is Yours - Take The Ride"
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