You’ll find much more than cacti and desert critters at the Tonto National Monument. This sliver of central Arizona offers an exceptional example of prehistoric cliff dwellings built by members of the Salado culture.
A moderate 1.5-mile hike through the basin brings you to the Upper Cliff Dwelling, which features 40 rooms and boasts panoramic views of the Tonto Basin and Theodore Roosevelt Lake. The dwelling is built into a large, shallow cave near the crest of the mountain.
This enormous architectural marvel was built in 1300 CE, with construction continuing until its residents abandoned the area sometime between 1400 and 1450 CE. While exploring the cave, you’ll find partially intact roofs, old door lintels, and even rooms that once stood three stories tall.
You can’t explore this dwelling on your own, though. Access is only via guided tours offered through the National Park Service.
If you can’t snag a spot on an Upper Cliff Dwelling tour, you can still check out another cliff dwelling within the national monument. The Lower Cliff Dwelling doesn’t require a tour to visit, allowing you to view its 20 rooms at your own pace. A paved trail leads to the site, making it more accessible and more visited than the Upper Cliff Dwelling.
Know Before You Go
It's easily accessed via Highway 188 (The Apache Trail) either from Globe, Arizona to the south, or from Highway 87 to the north and clearly marked along the road. Bring plenty of water and closed-toed shoes.
Upper Cliff Dwelling tours are offered Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from November to April at 10 a.m. sharp. Make sure you make your reservation well in advance, as only 15 people are allowed at a time.
Keep an eye out for local flora and fauna (e.g. rattlesnakes and jumping cholla cactus) to avoid bringing home unwanted souvenirs.