Print John Moore: At home at Montezuma Castle
Written by Mark Lineberger   
Wednesday, 21 December 2011 00:00

John Moore loves his job, even though he doesn’t make a cent doing it.

On most Wednesdays and Fridays, you can find Moore roaming about at Montezuma Castle National Monument, pointing out interesting details and tidbits about the ancient Sinagua cliff dwelling as well as the natural environment with all the associated flora and fauna.

He’s had plenty of time to learn all the ins-and-outs of the place. Moore has been coming to Camp Verde as a volunteer for the National Park Service ever since he first moved to the Sedona area 10 years ago.

Montezuma Castle National Monument VOLUNTEER John Moore offers a glimpse into the life of the Sinagua while talking with visitors to the park Dec. 7. Other days, you can find him at the Red Rock Ranger District or Red Rock State Park, leading bird walks through the area’s spectacular natural beauty.

For Moore, it was love at first sight.

“We were headed to see the Grand Canyon, but [Montezuma Castle] was the first place we stopped,” Moore said.

In fact, Moore still keeps a picture of his wife sitting on a wooden fence in the park on that first trip.

A lifelong educator who taught history in middle school, high school and the college level, Moore and his wife Suzanne were on that vacation in the late ’90s. Moore was working in the education department at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, where he helped prepare future school administrators for their positions.

“Whenever I meet another Texan here, I tell them I can always tell a Texan. But you can’t tell them much,” Moore laughs.

That first trip was just one of many to the area before the couple moved here in 2001.

“The wonderful thing about working at the university level is I could take a lot more time off,” Moore said. “We came here 13 times in two years.”

Once he arrived permanently, Moore said he asked how he could help out at the castle. They put him to work immediately.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the work is meeting the variety of different people who come to gaze at this impressive work of pre-Columbian architecture.

Each year, more than a half-million people walk through the doors of the monument’s visitor center and they come from all over the world, from places as close as Phoenix and as far away as small islands in the Pacific.

Once, Moore said he was kept busy by a couple of dozen Italian visitors, each of whom wanted their picture with him.

“We joked that I must be famous in Italy,” Moore said. “I’ve met all kinds of interesting people, people from all walks of life.”

He met other people like Jimmy Dean, the sausage man, who Moore said visited the monument once with a sausage company entourage in tow.

They also come in all ages.

“There was a little boy here once, and I asked him to ask me the hardest question he could think of,” Moore said. “He looked me right in the eye and said, ‘What’s the meaning of life?’” Moore said. “After that I stuck to asking the hardest question you can think of about Montezuma Castle.”

Moore’s work at the castle has also gotten him into places most people who aren’t archaeologists never see: inside the cliff dwelling itself, where original ancient timbers still provide support.

People used to go up inside the castle all the time, but the park service put a stop to that in the early 1950s for fear the foot traffic was damaging the structure.

In fact, a lot of things used to be different at the castle back in the day.

Moore said he met an older man who asked him if “the child” was still inside the castle.

It seems that many years ago, the remains of a presumably Sinaguan child were found on the premises.

Today, that would result in a process where the remains would be transferred to a Native American group for proper handling. Back then, Moore said they just put the body on display inside the castle itself.

His knowledge is impressive as is the friendly and easy-going manner in which he shares it.

Stick around on his walk and he’ll explain some of the hydrology of adjacent Beaver Creek and the history of flooding in the area.

Last week, Moore was wearing a jacket to insulate against the cooler weather, emblazoned with a patch that reads “Master Ranger.”

“That just means I’ve been here long enough,” Moore jokes.