Canyon Creek

The Canyon Creek ruin is, to my knowledge, the largest and best-preserved cliff dwelling in Arizona that remains unprotected, undeveloped for public interpretation, and located off the beaten path. However, this ruin on the Apache Indian Reservation is not on public land and therefore not included in the book Ruins Seldom Seen. No visit to the Canyon Creek Ruin is possible without a special permit issued by the tribe's historic preservation office or the tribal council.

Searching for this dwelling in a remote side canyon of 50-mile-long Canyon Creek is like looking for a needle in a haystack, and it's not likely anyone could find it without a certain amount of research. Although I have given directions to many other archaeological sites, I have to draw the line somewhere. I appreciate your interest, but please do not email me asking for the location of this particular site.


The main cliff dwelling has two stories and 58 rooms, with nearby structures in the canyon bringing the total room count to 125. It's a solitary place today, but when occupied centuries ago by the Mogollon people, the community was bustling with activity. The occupants grew corn, beans and squash, gathered acorns and walnuts, and hunted deer, rabbit and wild turkey. They spun cotton, wove grass baskets, fashioned jewelry out of bone and turquoise, and made beautiful black-and-red-on-white pottery. When not working, they enjoyed cane cigarettes and played music with cane flutes. Traders came and went, bringing items like seashells and macaw feathers from distant lands, or more important commodities like extra food for the growing population.

The Mogollon occupation of the canyon didn't last long. By 1375 residents began moving away, and by the early 1400s the Canyon Creek cliff dwelling was completely abandoned. Nobody is sure why these Native Americans left, but possible factors include lack of leadership throughout the region, a breakdown in trade relationships, competition with other communities, and perhaps even outright conflict with others.

However, deer, elk, falcons, rattlesnakes and other wildlife still live in and around the ruin. It's nice to know that not every living creature has abandoned or been banned from such a beautiful and mysterious place.


The tallest part of the cliff dwelling, in the middle, near the back, stands 23
feet high. Nevertheless, no part of the ruin exceeds two stories.

Not far from the incredibly rugged cliffs that shelter the ruin is this
gently rolling grassland. My retriever and I camped near here.