Tonto National Monument, Arizona
Fast Facts
Historic Interest
Ancient Ruins

Tonto National Monument


Photo by National Park Service

The cliff dwellings found at Tonto National Monument offer kids a chance to learn more about the Salado Culture. Located in the upper sonoran ecosystem, known primarily for its characteristic saguaro cactus, this Arizona archaeology site is perched more than 1000 feet (300 meters) above the Tonto Basin and is reminiscent of the Ancestral Puebloan ruins found in Gila, Mesa Verde, Betatakin and Keet Seel. Explore the upper and lower cliff dwellings. Participate in an interpretive program and become a junior ranger. And should the kids need a break from from history and culture spot wildlife - whitetail deer, mule deer, mountain lion, bobcat, coyote and jackrabbit are native to the Tonto Basin - and birds or check out cactus in bloom.
Salado Cliff Dwellings
Salado Cliff Dwellings

Salado Cliff Dwellings

National Park Service

The Salado Culture, a mix of Hohokam, Mogollon and Anasazi peoples, inhabited the area known as the Tonto Basin for three hundred years from A.D. 1150 to 1450. Yet they didn't build cliff dwellings until A.D. 1300. For the first one hundred and fifty years the Salado lived in small villages or pueblos close to their fields on the valley floor. Archeologists aren't sure why the Salado built cliff dwellings or why only some of the Tonto Basin inhabitants moved to higher elevations. But they have used the scientific method to ask questions and develop hypotheses. Did the Salado build cliff dwellings for protection? The caves provided shelter from inclement weather and shade from the hot summer sun. In addition, the cliff dwellings were difficult to reach and may have served as a defense from neighboring cultures. Had the valley become too crowded to accommodate the entire population? There are thousands of reported Salado ruins within the Tonto Basin. Archaeologists think that overpopulation forced the Salado to redesign their community. The farmers remained in the pueblos close to the fields while the craftsman moved to the cliff dwellings high above. This ensured the Salado had enough land to cultivate.
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