Looking for an awe-inspiring hike and historical trip rolled into one adventure? Visitors planning to visit Arizona should definitely check out the Tonto National Monument. From Globe, head towards Payson on Highway 188; before you get into the pine tree covered mountains of the Mogollon Rim, you’ll see Lake Roosevelt in the Tonto Basin. Here, you’ll be amazed to find preserved cliff dwellings in the hills to the northwest of the lake.

Roosevelt Lake Bridge in Arizona
The bridge over Roosevelt Lake in Arizona; Roosevelt Lake Bridge is the longest two-lane, single-span, steel-arched bridge in North America

The Tonto Basin is an unexpected desert oasis in eastern Arizona. The dam and lake projects were undertaken by the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt from 1905-1911 for the purpose of providing water storage for the Salt River Project, creating hydroelectric power, and to offer flood control throughout the Salt River Valley. It was the largest masonry dam in the world for its time. The dam was originally known as Salt River Dam #1; in 1959, the dam and reservoir were officially named after Roosevelt. President Roosevelt also gave the ruins found in the area, and the 1,210 acres they are located within, National Monument status in 1907. Roosevelt Lake offers a cool respite from the heat of Phoenix, with amazing views of the Superstition Mountains. Roosevelt Lake Bridge is the longest two-lane, single-span, steel-arched bridge in North America; it spans 1,080 feet in length and is constantly photographed by visitors.

Roosevelt Dam, a part of Roosevelt Lake in the Tonto National Monument
Roosevelt Dam, a part of Roosevelt Lake in the Tonto National Monument of Arizona. The dam was built between 1905-1911 by the Theodore Roosevelt administration.

Tonto National Monument was given monument status because it contains an Upper and Lower set of cliff dwellings that are over 700 years old, built into the natural alcoves of the cliffs. The dwellings are two stories high and contain over twenty rooms. Tonto Basin was a mecca for people in the area at this time because of the bountiful Salt River which flowed through the basin. Archaeologists refer to the culture which settled here in the 1200’s as the Salado, who left the area about 1450 CE due to extensive and destabilizing drought conditions. Their fascinating mud and stone architecture, including everyday artifacts, are ready to be explored by visitors.

Visitors to the Tonto National Monument in Arizona are amazed by the seven hundred year old Salado cliff dwellings
Cliff dwellings in the Tonto National Monument of Arizona are two stories high and contain over twenty rooms. The were constructed over 700 years ago by the Salado people

Your journey begins at the visitor center where you can peruse the book store, get some water, and learn more about the Salado people. The Lower dwellings are available via a self-guided, paved trail; steep, but only a half mile long. At those ruins a park ranger is ready to answer any questions from hikers. The Upper dwellings can only be visited on a guided tour, which are offered four days a week, once a day; reservations are required. Both hikes offer spectacular views of Roosevelt Lake and will immerse visitors into the wonders of the Tonto National Forest. Surrounded by cactus and the calming sounds of nature, you’ll find this area a fun, quick escape from the daily grind. On your way home, stop by the Pickle Barrel Trading Post in Globe and see why this historic shop is a favorite destination!

Roosevelt Lake in the Tonto National Monument in Arizona
Roosevelt Lake, part of the Tonto National Monument in Arizona, offers boating, swimming, camping, and scenic views
The majestic Lake Roosevelt Bridge spans Lake Roosevelt, a major attraction of the Tonto National Monument in Arizona
The Roosevelt Lake Bridge, which spans Lake Roosevelt in the Tonto National Monument of Arizona


For more information on all things Tonto, visit: https://www.nps.gov/tont/index.htm

By Cameron Vines

Visit the Pickle Barrel Trading Post in Globe for more information. You can visit us online, too, for a look into what makes the art and people of the great Southwest so compelling: https://picklebarreltradingpost.com/

Photos Courtesy of https://commons.wikimedia.org and photographers Bob Nichols, Nicholas Hartmann, and Ganapathy Kumar. Thanks to OSU Special Collections & Archives for title image.