He is 94 years old and still enjoying his job as a guide at Montezuma Castle, home of ancient cave dwellers in Arizona. We came upon him as we explored the cave dwellers’ park and were so fascinated by his stories we hung around his post way past our turn.
He readily took time to explain to us what we’d see if we could climb far up the limestone cliff and enter one of the caves occupied six centuries ago by people seeking safety from marauding neighbors. Yes, we would see hieroglyphics and handprints of the women and children who plastered the walls periodically. We would see various rooms and added ledges. We would see storage areas where the folks placed their dried meats and vegetables.
This tough yet amazingly smooth-faced gentleman explained how the cave dwellers lived. The women worked the crops and kept the home caves while the men went hunting. The hunt was not over in a few days. During the weeks or months they were gone, the women had to pull the ladders up the cliffs each night to keep enemies away. The cliffs are high and sheer.
Our guide waxed very enthusiastic describing the mens’ hunt. First, they had to secure a supply of salt mined from a deposit a few miles away. Then, armed with sharp knives and some jerky from the last hunt, they would strike out to find game. They might have to walk many miles before they found anything. When they made a kill of antelope, lion, or bison, rabbit, bear, or muskrat, they had to butcher, salt and dry the meat into portions that would keep. This took weeks, even months.
He went on to tell us there were inner storage chambers which could only be entered through a hole in a cave. This is where they kept some of their supplies. Our guide himself some years ago, heard about a hieroglyphic sample in one of those underground storage rooms and proposed to fellow workers that they put him down through the hole so he could take a picture. He isn’t a very large man but even so his going down became quite difficult. His helpers were lowering him by his hands until the opening narrowed so much he had to release one hand and wiggle himself on down. He took the picture, he said, and then faced the challenge of climbing back out.
Before we could hear the end of his climbing-out story, our guide was surrounded by a new group of interested inquirers and we had to move on. We only heard a chuckle as it was implied he might have had to strip and grease himself from head to toe.
In the midst of his very in-depth explanation of early Indians’ life, this gentleman told us a little about himself. He had retired because his wife had begun falling and he felt he needed to stay close to her. Then he grinned as he pulled a small electronic device from his pocket. “I found this miracle solution to our problem. She can buzz me on this and I’ll go straight home. I think she was as pleased as I was to get me out of the house again.” He went on to tell us how he drives himself to the park and walks a good distance every day, maybe only a couple of miles as compared to five before his retirement. “These young people in their seventies,” he said, “don’t exercise enough and they get old way too young.”
Our time at Montezuma Castle National Monument, part of our wonderful National Park Service, was fun for adults and children. The trees and plants were well marked so we learned names of several, or verified our speculations. Shady big sycamores made walking in the Arizona heat more pleasant. Mexican Bird of Paradise was the most colorful in bright orange, but thick growths of pink and cream, yellow and orange lantana invited butterflies to blink amongst them. There were nice sturdy benches where we could sit and gaze up at the lofty Montezuma Castle caves.
The gift shop was, of course, a must before we left. I purchased a jar of prickly pear jelly and some blue corn pancake mix with prickly pear syrup. It was fun trying them out for breakfast this morning while we remembered the cliffs–and the 94 year old man who made it all so interesting.