AZ Staycation Destinations: Montezuma Castle and Cave Creek Regional Park

With Philip’s knee replacement surgery behind us and Elsie (our shiny new RV) just itching for her first real adventure, we visited a couple of “staycation” destinations right here in Arizona.


Between Christmas and New Years’, we parked Elsie a mere 30 miles from home in the beautiful surroundings of Cave Creek Regional Park.  The beauty of the desert never gets old!

This park has 11 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking.  We were joined by hikers Pepe, Otis, Dolly, Cheyenne and Sprinkles … oh, and their humans too!

There is also on-location horseback riding, with plenty of greenhorns visiting from Ohio and South Carolina for the Fiesta Bowl this week.

A few of the campsites have their own horse corrals, although with the evident proximity of multiple coyotes howling all around our campsite at night, I don’t think I’d leave my horse there unattended like some hapless sitting snack ….

An unusual custom RV was spotted in the campground.  I jokingly asked where our Amazon Prime delivery was, and the owners were not amused.  I imagine they’ve heard that one before ….

Hot air balloons take off from the deserts surrounding the campground nearly every day, a beautiful sight with morning coffee or an evening cocktail.

And of course, the most magnificent part of any Arizona camping adventure are the breathtaking sunsets, here crested by a tiny crescent moon and its planet escort up high in the sky.

We determined the new RV to be spacious enough for even the largest (and furriest) dinner guest!

We’ve been camping with Ryan and Erin and their daughter Kate since 2013, and this was our first trip with Connie and Les.  Friends around the campfire does a heart good!

Kate helped Philip put our new electric ice cream maker (a Christmas white-elephant-exchange acquisition) into play with our first round of homemade strawberry ice cream …yummmm!



Montezuma Castle National Monument is in Camp Verde, about midway between Phoenix and Flagstaff.

Montezuma Castle was thoughtlessly and incorrectly named by clueless American settlers who didn’t bother to consult Siri, and instead just assumed this dwelling was Aztec in origin.

It was built between 1100 and 1300 AD by Southern Sinaguan Native American farmers.  Back in the day (through the 1950s), you could “tour” (tromp through all willy-nilly) this site, leading to looting, graffiti and extensive deterioration.  So, now you can only gaze from afar.

The ruins of this 5-story, 20-room dwelling are available for viewing from a short, paved footpath.  Beams from these type of sycamore trees were built into the ceilings of the castle.

Also on site is another less-well-preserved site uncreatively named “Castle A,” that had about 45 rooms, presumably without room service.  Here is all that is left of Castle A.


Part of the Montezuma Castle complex but a 10 mile drive away, Montezuma Well is a huge sinkhole that is still spring-fed.

It’s pretty crazy that Montezuma Well gets only about 13 inches of rainfall a year, but the Well has over 15 million gallons of water!  It continues to receive new water by percolation through rock and by a vertical wall of rock under the Well that acts as a dam.

Like Montezuma Castle, this area has the remains of inhabitants built into the walls and under rocky coves.

It also has graffiti, but ancient graffiti, from the late 1800’s! So, not really graffiti at all anymore.  Now it’s an “artifact.”

This particular fella, George Rothrock, was an enterprising photographer who took advantage of Montezuma Well’s popularity and painted his very own advertisement for all to see on the overhead rocks.  The earliest form of social media, perhaps?

The remains of a pit house was probably built by the Hohokam, probably on a staycation themselves from the Salt River Valley in southern Arizona.  

Shut the front door! Here is where it was located.  100-150 people lived here between 1125 and 1400 and used the nearby water sources to irrigate their crops.

A on-site picture gives a better representation of how it looked and how it was probably very cozy, a forerunner to today’s “tiny home” craze.  Probably also a “smoky home.”


This small but interesting fort in Camp Verde, just down the road from Montezuma Castle, is the best-preserved Indian Wars-period fort in Arizona.  (Granted, that’s a short list, but still.)

Soldiers, scouts, officers, doctors, and their families lived here in forts like this from 1865-1891.

Besides a variety of furnished homes you can walk through, there is also a small museum housed in the former Military Headquarters.  During the holidays, they are decorated in period style, including an actual sock (hopefully clean) for a stocking on the mantel.

The parlor is where the family would gather for activities.  If the family had children, they would have slept in the kitchen. 

Wheelchairs, cameras, and ambulances have sure come a long way!

This mule litter was used to evacuate the sick and wounded.  Looks cozy, no?

Our Arizona staycation came to an end, as we returned home to begin de-Christmassing the sticks-and-bricks house.  We love Elsie and have already practically forgotten the Lucky Charm, though we hope she has found a happy home with a new family by now!

Santa knew just the right gift … Elsie was made all the more lovely with the perfect neon dash accessory! 

We’ll be taking a few more short trips in the next couple months, before spending April/May/June in the Carolinas and Georgia.  Wishing you a fun-filled 2020 with friends and family galore!

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