2018 Nov 3 Tonto National Monument

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2018 Nov 3 Tonto National Monument

Karen and I had been to the Tonto National Monument twice last year (April 15 and 23) for the Lower and Upper Cave Dwellings (Carmen for the Lower Cave Dwelling) so  we thought it would be interesting for Serra to see a prehistoric dwelling – so off to an early start – its 141 km away – also we wanted to keep our options open for an Upper Dwelling tour if possible.  But just as well, it wasn’t possible so we wandered up to the lower level at our own speed.    We were all a bit tired after our hectic week and bottle of wine for supper the night before…. ok two bottles of red!


Tonto National Monument:    ” “Salado” is the prehistoric cultural group living in Tonto Basin between 1250 CE and 1450 CE.  According to archeologists, Tonto Basin was a true cultural melting pot and the Salado culture arose when people from the Ancestral Puebloan, Ancient Sonoran Desert People, and Mogollon cultures moved into the Basin.

Around 1300 CE, a small community of Salado people constructed two dwellings in shallow caves overlooking the portion of the Salt River that is now Roosevelt Lake. During the next 50 years, the climate favored life in the Basin.

As hunters, gatherers, and farmers, the Salado took full advantage of the surrounding desert resources. They gathered desert plants, cultivated cotton, corn, beans, and squash, hunted small game, and obtained water from an ancient spring that still runs today. People of the Salado culture were generally in good physical health. Skeletal remains show little evidence of severe, long-term deficiences often found in prehistoric agricultural societies. The Salado culture created elaborate pottery and wove exquisite textiles.

Then, between 1350 and 1450, the region became more arid, characterized by a falling water table and a climatic pattern of alternating floods and droughts. The changing climate negatively affected agriculture. Important plants and animals decreased in numbers. Life became more difficult and stressful for the Salado. People left their small villages and consolidated into larger communities.

By the late 1300s, resource depletion intensified and populations declined. Catastrophic flooding dammed irrigation canals, rendering much of the farmland useless.

By 1450 CE, those struggling to maintain their way of life began to move out of the once fruitful Tonto Basin. Today, oral histories of several of the associated tribes say this migration from the Basin took their ancestors in many directions, guiding each to the place their descendants now call home.” — National Monument web site.


Lower Cliff Dwelling:  The Lower Cliff Dwelling (pueblo) has approximately 20-rooms built of masonry and adobe,  within a natural alcove.  Construction began around 1300 to 1325 AD.  No one knows why some of the Salado moved into the Cliff Dwelling.  There are partially intact original roofs in some rooms.  Most rooms contained heaths, which suggests that a single family would have lived in each room. You can still see soot from their fires blackening the alcove above the dwelling.  By the early 1400’s the Salado started to leave the Tonto Basin, whether for reasons of drought, warfare or disease no one knows but by 1450 they had disappeared.

Upper Cliff Dwelling:  The Upper Cliff Dwelling consists of an approximately 40 masonry and adobe rooms, 32 on the ground level, and 8 to 10 second story rooms.  This Dwelling is special in that it contains a seep spring, and the builders left the area at the back of the cave, surrounding the spring, open.  Also, this dwelling contains two larger rooms which could have been used for large gatherings and ceremonies.

Roosevelt Lake:  It is a large reservoir formed by Theodore Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River in Arizona, as part of the Salt River Project (SRP), located roughly 80 miles (130 km) northeast of Phoenix in the Salt River Valley.  Hundreds of archeological sites are under Roosevelt Lake in the Tonto Basin.


Lower Cliff Dwelling:



Upper Cliff Dwelling:


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