Navajo National Monument – very different

We’re still on the Navajo Reservation, the largest Indian reservation in the country. On the surface, Navajo National Monument, in the northeastern corner of Arizona, would seem the same as Canyon de Chelly. It protects cliff dwellings of the ancient Puebloans. Why are we going there? Because every national park unit is different.

Navajo National Monument was protected in 1909, only three years after the Antiquities Act was passed by Congress. This authorized the president of the United States to create national monuments to protect artifacts. Here, the ancestral Puebloans built a set of dwellings that they called Betatakin. They only lived here from 1250 to 1300 AD. A lot of work for 50 years.

The park offers two hikes a day, a five mile hike at 8:15 am and a three mile hike at 10 am to the ruins. Here, in this tiny park,  volunteers lead two reasonably strenuous hikes. And they get eager hikers. The trail starts at 7,300 ft. altitude and drops 700 feet.

We left our lodging at 6:45 am so we could get to the visitor center before it opened. We had no idea how popular the hike was today. Six hikers, two from Germany, were led by K., a Navajo volunteer and a war veteran. K. had to open three gates; the ruins are really protected.

We walked down and stopped frequently to admire desert plants. I can recognize yucca, pinion pines and junipers, but that’s about it. At a certain point, almost at our destination, he suggested that we have a snack. There would be no more eating after this, as crumbs would attract rodents to the ruins.

After we took all the pictures and asked questions, K. said “OK, now you can go back on your own.” What! “Yes, I have to wait for the 10 am group to come down.”

We were stunned. The trail was well-marked but still, that was unexpected. By now, the sun was broiling. We climbed up and stopped frequently to drink. There wasn’t much shade.

Once at the top, we walked the Sandal Trail, the paved tourist trail – 1.3 miles that takes visitors to a long view of the ruins. Still, many visitors hesitated to take the walk.

So far, we’ve visited small, personal park units. I feel like I’m in a National Park Service cocoon. Rangers and volunteers have been so available and delighted that we’re asking questions. We’re about to move on to larger units that attract large crowds. So here goes…

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