Seeing Tonto in Arizona

One of the many reasons we decided to become full-time RVers is that we were always frustrated being so limited by the amount of time we could spend in one place. So much to see — so little time. We rushed through places always thinking, “We have to come back here some day and spend more time!”

Now we can do that 😉

We’ve spent a lot of time in Arizona in the last few years and we keep finding more and more places to “spend more time.” One of the places we decided to explore recently was the Tonto National Monument, outside of Phoenix.

We’ve always been fascinated by the real history of the U.S. — you know, those years before the white man. This place gave us a glimpse of life during the 14th Century when the Salado people farmed the Salt River Valley. Archeologists have found villages ranged across the valley at three to four mile intervals. Two cliff dwellings within the Monument can be visited — one is via guided tour but we were there on the wrong day, so up the paved path to the closer dwelling we went, walking alongside magnificent saguaro cacti….

… and learning from an interpretive sign about the Teddy Bear Cholla (or “jumping cactus,” which is how we’d first heard about them):

“The teddy bear’s joints break off very easily and stick to the skin at the slightest contact, even seeming to jump at a victim… [the] spines penetrate deeply and are very painful to remove.” Ikes! We kept our distance.

Cliff dwellings are amazing places. First, there’s the awe-inspiring fact that a people without the sort of tools and machinery we have now carved such a place out of rock.

Second, dozens of people lived in these close quarters (larger dwellings housed hundreds or thousands of people):


And the views are incredible! Survival relied on having a secure shelter where they could see who (or what) was coming and pull up the access ladder to keep unwanted visitors out.

No one really knows why the Salado left the Tonto Basin. For awhile the Apache were accused of invading, but more recent findings have exonerated them (their presence in the basin wasn’t until after the Salado were gone). “Internal strife, farmland salinization, and other negative environmental changes have been suggested,” reads one sign.

Seems as though we could learn something today from the Salado about what can undo an entire society, don’t you think?

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About Ellen

Fiction writer and photographer, I travel the country with my sweetheart of a husband as a "full-time RVer."
This entry was posted in Attractions, Cool Experience, National Parks and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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