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Montezuma Castle
posted by John : March 5, 2014

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After a couple of amazing days on our road trip within the Great Arizona Odyssey it was time to head back to Phoenix. Like our drive up, we wanted to break it up. If we try to drive for too many hours in a row various members of the family tend to go gremlin. Nobody wins when they go gremlin. (Whatever you do, don't get them wet!)

We drove from the Grand Canyon into Flagstaff past Humphrey's Peak. I had plans to climb the tallest peak in Arizona later in the week so it was great to get a sneak peek. <gulp> It looks like a real mountain. What did I get myself into?

No time for that. We were already through Flagstaff and flying down the freeway toward Phoenix. We'd already scored a couple of letterboxes (including one of the best hand-carved stamps I've ever seen), but there was one more among the cactus and assorted prickly plants. It took a bit of time to find it, but we did (victory!) with a minimal amount of pain and suffering. I actually enjoyed wandering around in the desert-like terrain. It was so different from home and that's what I really like to see when I'm somewhere new.

Beyond the letterbox we came to Montezuma Castle. This national monument celebrates the ingenuity of the people that built dwellings into the cliffs, but also reminds us of the hubris of those that came after. Without much understanding, they named it after Montezuma even though he lived hundreds of years later and had nothing to do with it.

The "castle" itself is a marvel. It's high in the cliff and looks like it'd be a fairly comfortable place to live while providing protection from the elements and anything that was wandering around.

Clara was impressed that something so old, that people lived in, was still standing. Like the petroglyphs we saw on our White Tank Waterfall hike they reminded us how seemingly young the Northwest is. With all our rain and muck nothing seems to last that long. Certainly not thousands of years.

The kids worked on their Junior Ranger books, which may be the greatest idea the National Park Service ever came up with to get kids engaged. It is thought to have its roots in a Nature School in Yosemite in 1930. In 1952 the Junior Forest Ranger program was started by the National Forest Service around Smokey Bear. It wasn't until 1960 when the Yellowstone concessionaire came up with the idea of giving out badges... but only to boys. It was all formalized in 2005 when national standards were established. (I bet you didn't know you were getting a lesson in the history of the Junior Ranger program, did you?)

Regardless, the little plastic badges are huge draws for the kids. They now have a list of which parks and monuments have programs and I think that will dictate a number of our trips coming up. (Including a day trip to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park in Seattle.) The reason I love the program is it makes the kids think about what they're seeing. It's not just a cool fort in the hill, it's a part of history where people actually lived.

We completed the entire third of a mile loop at a studious pace and spent time reflecting on where we were and what it must have been like. Still, it was a long few days of driving and adventuring so we cut our adventure there short in order to get back to Phoenix by dinner. Next time I hope we can visit Montezuma Well and Tuzigoot, two other portions of the monument.

The rest of the day was a blur as we dropped in elevation, competed to see who would spot the first saguaro cactus (Lilly), and get to the restaurant in time for the early bird special. (We missed, but were there for happy hour.) All in all, a great way to end our vacation within the vacation.

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