Friday, January 13, 2023

Have you heard of Walnut Canyon National Monument?

One of the best things about a road trip is finding interesting places to visit that you weren’t even aware of. It was serendipity that led Larry and me to discover Walnut Canyon National Monument, ten miles southeast of Flagstaff in north Arizona, on our way to Sedona.

Looking down into the canyon

As devoted fans of national parks, we’re always amazed that there are many locations in the park system that we know nothing about. But we’re okay with making an unscheduled stop to check out a new destination. A quick Google search told us that the monument preserves some of the Southwest’s earliest history in cave dwellings of the 12th century Sinagua (meaning “without water”).

Wind-twisted rocks 
As we pulled into the parking lot, we saw a Visitor Center, which includes a park film and museum. Of the two available trails we decided to take the one-mile round trip Island hike down into the canyon. The shorter Rim Trail is paved and accessible, meandering along the top of the rim for seven-tenths mile with beautiful overlooks of the canyon.

The Island Trail drops down 
240 concrete steps into the depths of Walnut Canyon, where it loops around a rocky butte called the Island, which was created by the meanderings of Walnut Creek. The trail passes 25 partially restored, but amazingly well preserved, cliff dwellings constructed roughly 800 years ago.

Rugged, steep canyon walls 
The landscape was very rugged, filled with huge boulders and curved canyon walls. Swirling patterns in the steep walls indicated shifting wind directions through the ages. Despite the harsh environment, we found a distinct beauty in these geological formations.

Curved ledges provided shelter
Dwellings of ancient Puebloan people were evident wherever a cave or overhanging cliff could provide shelter from the elements. While it was easy to imagine life in Walnut Canyon when observing homes of the ancient inhabitants, some with distinct rooms, in and under these rock ledges, it’s hard to imagine modern people like us living in those conditions.
Depiction of what rooms may have been like

We finished the path and exited the canyon after an hour, much better informed about how native people adapted and survived in what was at that time an almost inaccessible environment. It’s worth visiting to gain an appreciation for their hardiness.

Protective ledges gave shelter

Walnut Canyon Monument is open daily from 9:00-4:30 (except early closure at 1:00 on Thanksgiving, December 25, and January 1). Cost is $25 per vehicle that is good for 7 days. If you have a park pass (best bargain in the U.S.), there’s no additional charge.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

No comments: