The monument, established by President Roosevelt in 1907, is home to the remnants of two cliff dwellings. We were able to climb up to the most visible of the two. The second one is by ranger-guided tour only, and we were too late in the day for that.
The community appeared around 1300 A.D., and was home to the Salado Indians. The ruins overlook, what was the Salt River, and what is now Roosevelt Lake. The fertile flood plain was well irrigated, and a natural place to grow the community’s crops.
The Lower Ruin originally contained 19 rooms. The surfaces are worn smooth, and the ceiling rocks are loaded with the soot from ancient fires. The Upper Ruin is quite a bit larger, with 40 rooms. The hike to get there is also longer at 3 miles round trip.
Looking at the photographs of the ruins over the years, show remarkable changes. When the Roosevelt Dam was built, workers would visit the ruins and take souvenirs. By the time Arizona became a state in 1912, the Southern Pacific Railroad constructed a hotel near the dam. Tours were given to the cliff dwellings, and, in an attempt to make access to the ruin interior easier, a wall was blown up. The Tonto Cliff Dwellings suffered more damage and loss in the 1920’s and early 1930’s than during the previous 600 years.