Navajo National Monument
Navajo National Monument
Arizona travelers who find themselves in the northeastern region of the state have the unique opportunity to witness the mesmerizing discovery of the ancient past. Navajo National Monument is the state's largest prehistoric cliff dwelling and it contains Arizona's most plentiful Anasazi ruins. The Anasazi, the ancestors of future Native American tribes like the Pueblo and Navajo left a rich offering behind that avid hikers will thrill to explore. Navajo National Monument is located about nine miles north of Kayenta, Arizona which is about 140 miles northeast of Flagstaff AZ.
Navajo National Monument is actually comprised of two distinct thirteenth century cliff dwellings, or pueblos. Referred to as Betatakin and Keet Seel, these dwellings were created beneath the Tgesi Canyon's overhang cliffs. Archaeologists believe that the people who lived in the stone and mortar pueblos probably only resided there for half a century, but they left their mark in the dramatic complexes that were filled with a myriad of artifacts at the time of their discovery in the early twentieth century.
Betatakin, which in Navajo means "ledge house," features a cluster of 135 rooms, or cliff dwellings. These architectural marvels perch before the sheer drop of a sandstone wall and remain as a testament to the skill and determination of ancient skilled workers who forged homes from bare stone. This site was discovered quite by chance by a rancher in 1907. The dwellings contained a vast array of basketry, remarkable Anasazi pottery, and even well preserved corn ears and grains.
From the Betatakin's visitor center, rangers lead hiking tours to the site, which is, roughly, four hours round-trip. However, the five-mile hike is considered very strenuous as it includes a seven hundred foot descent down the canyon. If the five mile hike seems too long, try walking a half mile from the visitor center to the canyon rim for an unsurpassed view of Betatakin's ancient row of dwellings.
Exploring Keet Seel
Navajo for "broken pottery," Keet Seel features 160 rooms of ancient cliff dwellings that rise to an impressive elevation of 7,000 feet. Although the hike is a rigorous journey of 8.5 miles from the visitor center, is nestled in a serene locale and offers travelers a fascinating experience for their hiking efforts.
As the trail is open only from late May to early September, most visitors book their hike to Keet Seel well in advance. No hikes are permitted without a ranger present at the site and only twenty hikers per day are awarded access to the hike. Rangers warn that the trail stretches down a 1,100 foot rock face and is not for the faint of heart.
Almost centrally located in the north, the Navajo National Monument is generally listed as a feature of the northeast. Situated on Navajo Indian Reservation land, the site can be reached heading southwest on 160 from the town of Kayenta. Exit at AZ 564 and head nine miles north to the monument paying close attention to posted signs along the route. Travelers approaching from the south and west should pick up 89 just northeast of Flagstaff and follow it northward to 160. Heading northeast, be sure to exit at AZ 564 and follow the signs to the monument.
Navajo National Monument Area Map
Most travelers opt to stay at one of two accommodations-the Anasazi Inn of Tsegi Canyon or the Navajo National Monument Campground. The inn, located nine miles west of Kayenta on US 160 offers spectacular views of the canyon and features a restaurant. The campground is free and is situated on lovely grounds. A camp stove is recommended as no open fires are permitted.
Prepare yourself for the awe and gravity-defying splendor of these archaeological treasures. A brush with the past is at hand for visitors to the Navajo National Monument, one that is bound to inspire great reverence for the first peoples to make the ancient lands of Arizona their home. Plenty of historical information about the dwellings as wells as finely wrought crafts reminiscent of the Anasazi are available at the visitor centers.