If you’re heading either way between Phoenix and Flagstaff Arizona on Highway 17, it’s well worth your time to stop to visit Montezuma Castle National Monument. It’s only a 15 minute drive from the main highway, and it’s one of the smaller national parks which I have visited meaning that it’s possible to see the entire park in about an hour. Even thought it’s not the biggest park in the system, it’s a pretty impressive sight that’s well worth the little time it takes to visit.
The main building is the incorrectly named “Montezuma Castle” which is neither a castle or have any relationship to Montezuma (early settlers incorrectly assumed that the dwelling was Aztec, gave it the name which stuck even after it was established that southern Sinagua farmers began building it over 700 years ago). It’s a five-story, 20 room building which sits about 100 feet above the valley floor and it’s quite impressive when you round the corner to see it for the first time:
The information sign below the dwelling gives the following information:
Montezuma Castle invites us to pause in wonder at the ingenuity of the people who began building it over 700 years ago.
Ancestors to today’s Puebloan peoples built and occupied the Castle. We can only speculate why they chose to build here and how they lived in this magnificent cliff dwelling.
Both “Montezuma” and “Castle” are misnomers. In the 1800s, European Americans were fascinated with Inca, Maya and Aztec civilizations and gave southwestern sites exotic names, in this case for Emperor Motecuhzoma II — who lived long after the Castle was constructed.
The Yavapai call this place “the home of the protectors of the Yavapai.” The Hopi refer to it as both Sakaytaka, “place where the step ladders are going up,” and Wupat’pela, for “long, high walls.”
Due to looting, by the early 1900s much of what the Castle’s residents left behind was gone. Damage to the building increased as visitors climbed ladders to walk through the rooms. Now the dwelling is only accessed for inspection, maintenance, and research.
While I would certainly leave yourself a minimum of a full hour to enjoy this park, don’t skip it if you’re in the area and short on time. While I think it’s better to take the time to read a bit about the history and see the displays at the visitor’s center, if all you have is an extra 10 minutes to see the Castle, definitely do it.
I really enjoy finding unique beaches. A prime example is sea glass beach in Fort Bragg. I managed to stumble across another one this weekend when I traveled to Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur California.
I actually have been to Pfeiffer Beach before (with direction on how to get there), but didn’t realize that it had a little secret — it’s one of the few purple sand beaches in the world. I missed this because the main part of beach doesn’t have much purple sand (if you look closely, you can see little bits here and there, but if you weren’t specifically looking for it, you wouldn’t notice it — at least I didn’t on my first visit).
To really see the purple sand, you need to walk beyond the main beach area toward the north. The father up the beach you head in this direction, the more purple sand that can be seen. The easiest place to spy the purple sand is at the base of the hills, but there will be certain areas of the beach that also have purple sand patterns woven into the mix. For those who go to the beach expecting that the entire beach will be purple, they will be disappointed. The vast majority of the beach is white sand like any other beach. There are, however, areas where purple sand mixes with the white sand (usually with black sand as well) to make some wonderful patterns:
What is amazing is that each time a wave comes up the beach and washes over the purple sand, the pattern changes making it like a constantly changing giant sand painting:
Due to the numerous rock outcroppings just off shore, you can see California Coastal National Monument from Pfeiffer Beach as well:
The purple sand is the result of manganese garnet deposits which are found in the hills surrounding the beach. For anyone that enjoys seeing the unexpected and interesting phenomenon at the beach, scheduling a day to explore the purple sands at Pfeiffer Beach is definitely worth taking the time to do.
As I was driving in to see the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (about 1 mile from where the Gila Cliff Dwellings are located), I noticed that the moon was reflecting brightly in the daytime sky and I managed to get this shot of it.
I wish I were a better photographer because even though I like this photo, it doesn’t do justice to actually being there. It’s always exciting when I come across these beautiful scenes that stop me in my tracks.
One reason that I want to return to Oregon Caves National Monument is to take advantage of their Introduction to Caving tour. Unlike the regular Oregon Caves tour, the Introduction to Caving tour gives people the chance to explore the cave in the true sense of the word. This means using caving gear which will be provided, including a helmet, a headlamp, knee-pads and gloves. During the introduction to caving tour you will learn how to climb and descend over rocky slopes and boulders, crawl on your hands and knees, cross uneven surfaces, and belly slide within the cave. Be warned that you will need to bring an extra change of clothes because you are going to get muddy. It sounds exactly like something that I would love to try.
The tours are offered on Saturdays beginning at 12:30 PM from July 11 through September 5 for $30.00 per person and will take approximately 4 -5 hours total, including instructional time before entering the caves. The Introduction to Caving tours are available on a first-come first-served basis and are strictly limited to six participants. There is a minimum age of 15 years old. Reservations can be made by calling (541) 592–2100 extension 262.
The Introduction to Caving tour will take you to areas within Oregon Caves National Monument which are not accessible on the regular tour. This includes the Snake Room, the South Room, and Marble Crawl. If anyone manages to go on this tour before I do, I would love to hear about your experience, but just from the description of it and the enthusiam that the Park rangers talked about it with me, I’m sure it will be worth every penny.
If you are looking for a unique way to explore Oregon Caves National Monument beyond the regular tour, but not wanting to get dirty with the Introduction to Caving tour, the Candlelight Cave Tour may be the perfect options for you. Instead of the regular lighting within the cave, you will explore Oregon caves how it was explored long ago using a lighted candle in a wooden candle lantern which will be provided to you.
The 2011 summer season when the Candlelight Tours begin (you need to check each season as the candlelight tour days have changed over the years) is from May 28 through September 5. The Candlelight Cave tours are currently tentatively set for the last tour on Friday and Saturday evenings at 6:30 pm. You can call the Oregon Caves visitors center at (541) 592-2100 ext. 2262 to confirm these times.
I think this would be a wonderful way to explore Oregon Caves giving the entire cave tour a completely different perspective and I hope to get a chance to do this soon. I’d love to hear from anyone that has taken this tour and their first hand impressions of it.
When you exit the Exit Tunnel at Oregon Caves National Monument, you have two choices on how to return to the visitor center. The most common way is to take the 0.3 mile paved trail down the mountain back to the visitors center. The other option, which I would recommend, is to take 0.7 mile trail that goes above the cave called the Cliff Nature Trail. The Cliff Nature Trail leads you into him off the wonderland:
Eventually you will emerge from the moss covered trees and hit a ridge which will give you a stunning view of the surrounding mountains and Illinois Valley:
Although the Cliff Nature Trail is more strenuous than taking the paved path back to the visitors center, you should have no problem with it if you made it through the Oregon Caves and you won’t be disappointed with the scenery and views you get to see.
The last part of the Oregon Caves National Monument tour is up a long corridor called the exit tunnel. This is a man made tunnel that is fairly long and doesn’t have much in cave formations to look at:
This doesn’t mean that this part of the cave lacks interest. This is where you may get a chance to see the small bat population which hibernates in Oregon Caves over the winter. Although most bats at Oregon Caves roost under the bark of old-growth trees in the summer, some bats enter the cave during very cold periods. This is probably because their usual roosts under the bark on dead old-growth trees don’t provide enough insulation. There are also a few individual bats which hibernate in Oregon Caves during the winter. I was able to see one of these hibernating bats (although I did not get a photo since I didn’t want to disturb him). The most commonly seen bats at Oregon Caves are Townsend big-eared bats (especially in winter), Yuma bats, and long-eared myotis bats.
Once you exit the cave, you find yourself in a moss covered wonderland above where you entered the cave:
It is then a 0.3 mile hike along a paved path back to the visitors center.
One of the Oregon Cave’s imaginatively named formations is Angel Falls, a calcite flow located in the Ghost Room in Oregon Caves National Monument. When you reach it, you see it glowing in the dark under black lights which makes its fulvic acid-covered lengths of white rock shine an eerie blue (apologies on the photo — my camera did not focus well with the black light — it looked a whole lot better than the photo indicates)
You will then also get a chance to see Angel Falls bright white lengths in regular lighting:
The next stop on the Oregon Caves tour is at the Exit Tunnel.
When you reach the Ghost Room, you will first go to one side where there is a long staircase that will take you up to Paradise Lost:
Before going up these stairs, the cave tour guide will explain that the room is still actively growing and quite wet with a lot of dripping water. You will then be told that if you don’t want to get wet, your shouldn’t go. Even if you don’t like getting wet, GO! Seriously. You won’t regret it. The Paradise Lost formation is a pretty incredible sight to see and even if you get a bit wet, you won’t regret seeing it:
The next stop on the Oregon Caves tour is at the Angel Falls.
At the bottom of the Spiral Stairs in the Oregon Caves National Park is the cave formation named the Grand Column. Columns are formed when stalactites (formed from the cave ceiling) and stalagmites (formed from the cave floor) connect together.
The next stop on the Oregon Caves tour is at the Paradise Lost.