Arizona is rich in history — from the 1800s all the way back to the Late Triassic Period. You can stitch together a road trip that winds out of Flagstaff to Montezuma Castle National Monument, to Petrified Forest National Park, and ends at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site. Along the way you’ll experience fascinating chapters of geologic and cultural history.
At Montezuma Castle, 45 minutes south of Flagstaff and just off Interstate 17 (Exit 289), a short walk places you in front of a 5-story-tall cliff dwelling that offered safety from invaders: it stands 100 feet above the valley floor, nestled into an alcove.
The site was misnamed Montezuma Castle in the late 1800s by whites who thought the structure had been built by the Aztec people. The original owners, members of the Southern Sinagua (seen aug wah) people, called this area home from roughly 1100-1425 A.D.
Stroll the short trail that loops around a vegetated landscape below the “castle,” and you’ll find great views as well of the remains of Castle A. That dwelling once rose 60 feet and was home to about 100 residents.
From Montezuma’s Castle, it’s 95 miles via Arizona 87 to Winslow, and then 34 miles east on Interstate 40 to Holbrook. Finally, another 19 miles southeast on Arizona 180 leads you into Petrified Forest National Park and its unusual landscape.
There’s no lodging within the park, and you have to leave by sundown, so you will need to make some tough decisions if you have just one day. Do you take time to tour the Rainbow Forest Museum with its dinosaur displays, or hike out to Agate House?
A building built of petrified wood is pretty cool, so stretch your legs with a walk to the house. Then head north and deeper into the park to the Crystal Forest Trail. Wander this path and you’ll find yourself surrounded by petrified wood with its hues of yellow, red, and green, black and white.
Blue Mesa is another great stop. There’s a trail that takes you down into another colorful landscape of badlands and chunks, logs, and even slabs of petrified wood in shades of red, blue, yellow and black.
The northern end of the park road is anchored by the Painted Desert, a great place for sunset photos. Here you’ll also see the Painted Desert Inn, which some day could put the Park Service back into the lodging business but today is just a museum piece.
Back on Interstate 40, drive 22 miles east to Chambers, and then north on U.S. 191 for about 38 miles to Ganado and Hubbell Trading Post. This authentic trading post was opened by John Lorenzo Hubbell in 1878 on the Navajo Reservation.
Although it was added to the National Park System in 1967, Hubbell is not a museum piece but an active trading post. As such, it still holds richly woven Navajo rugs, jewelry, and other Native American artworks for purchase.
Schedule your visit to Hubbell Trading Post for May and you just might be able to attend the annual Native American Art Auction. Check with the park (928-755-3475) for the exact date.
If you have a little more free time, you could extend your your trip by heading 39 miles north on 191 to Canyon de Chelly National Monument.
For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.
Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text: Kurt Repanshek, NationalParksTraveler.com.
Montezuma Castle National Monument, NationalParksTraveler.com, https://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2012/03/visiting-montezuma-castle-national-monument-arizona9636
Montezuma Castle National Monument, US National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/moca/index.htm
Geographic Area covered by the State of Deseret and Utah Territory, International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers, https://www.dupinternational.org/dyn_page.php?pageID=54