Fascinating glimpse into an ancient long-gone community. You can truly FEEL the difference between the shady side and the community more sun-washed.
This is another of the pueblos developed by the pre-Columbian Sinaguas on their long migration north to the Hopi mesas.
A horseshoe bend carved by Walnut Canyon's river far below created a stone peninsula, nearly an island, around which the inhabitants constructed their homes and community.
The more spectacular scenery is the sheer cliffs and sharp drop offs to the bottom of the canyon. Walnut Creek carved out a path along he rock walls 600+ feet down. The greenery and vegetation are wonderful. There are a number of canyons where the water flow carved out and meandered until it met with other canyon flows. The park is 10 miles by 20 miles and within this area, little is accessible. There are other ruins along the cliff sides in the canyons,but not easily seen, nor reached.
The vegetation of the canyon is distinctly different due to the sunlight coming into it. ON the north side there are fir and pine trees and lush greenery, while the south side has a desert like look to it. There even are cactus and desert plants on this side of the mountains. Sun makes the difference. Either way the canyon looks and is rugged, rough and seems remote. At the bottom there are walnut trees; hence the name
This was an easy hike on flat ground along the rim for a way, then through the woods and shrubs. It is 3/4 mile hike. You go by some 3-4 Indian ruins along the way. This is is the wooded area, but most is fairly open paths. The first part is paved asphalt
This is the main hike to see the dwelling ruins in the cliff ledges. It is a loop trail that goes for 1 mile and takes about 25-30 while viewing the dwellings. There are 25 rooms along the edge. the trail has railings for safety and needed. the drop off at the 7,000 feet level can be treacherous. The trail descends 185 feet and of course goes back up the same 185 feet. The trail is in a U shape thatobviously follows the contour of the landscape ledge. It has 284 steps to take. It is a good workout for the thigh muscles. The hike is designated strenuous. I did not think it was that bad,but some may.
There are 25 rooms along the route and they are spread out
Stop by the Visitor Center before doing any trails. My family enjoyed going through the exhibits and my 5 year old twins liked seeing how the different animals leave their footprints – they have footprint casts that you put on the sand which differentiate the coyote, skunk, ravens, and so on…
You also get to realize how little we know of the Sinaguan Indians who left no written history and departed the Flagstaff region before 1250. Why? Unfortunately, we might never know because in the 1880’s pothunters removed many Sinagua possessions by dynamiting the cliff-dwelling walls.
Now, the little we know includes theories on the rimtop croplands where water was scarce and the canyon homes generally located on the cliffsides facing south and east to take advantage of warmth and sunlight.
There are 2 paved foot trails which begin at the Visitor Center:
1. The Island Trail which is a 0.9 mile loop, passes 25 of the cliff dwelling rooms and it also has sheer drops and a 185-foot climb (240 steps) back to the canyon rim.
2. The Rim Trail which is a 0.7 mile loop and overlooks the canyon and passes the ruins of rimtop structures.
The park does have picnic and campgrounds and nearby lodging and restaurants.
Therese was not a local but a transplant from Ohio who was helping clear up the rockslide. I sure did not envy her and the other volunteers carrying buckets of rocks and rebar up the 240 steps from the cliff dwellings to the parking area.
There are about 25 rooms of cliff/cave dwellings along the River Island Trail. You can walk right up to them and examine them closely. Please treat them gently though. On Photo 4 you may notice a blackening on the cave walls. This is from the cooking fires.
Walnut Canyon is a long series of narrow canyons with very rough terrain. The presence of water in this normally dry area made the canyon a rare and valuable location for the early human inhabitants, and a variety of plants and animals. The canyon’s natural abundance and diversity provided home sites, building materials, and a storehouse of foods, medicines, dyes, and other raw materials that sustained a prehistoric civilization. Walnut Canyon National Monument was established in 1915 specifically to preserve the “prehistoric ruins of ancient cliff dwellings.” The canyon is a place of concentrated biological productivity – because of its varied exposures and elevations, together with seasonal water, all compressed into a narrow band within a surrounding pine forest. The canyon twists and turns, creating a patchwork of sun and shadow. Hot dry desert-like slopes and shaded forests, normally separated by thousands of feet in elevation, are found here almost side by side. With these overlapping habitats come unusual assortments of plants and animals, and a high concentration of sensitive species. At the same time, the canyon serves as an important wildlife migration corridor, linking higher elevation forests with lower pine-juniper woodlands to the east.
Your first stop at Walnut Canyon National Monument should be the visitors center. The visitors center houses very helpful park rangers who can provide you with park brochures and can give you information about the park and the surrounding area to help make your visit more enjoyable. There is also a small museum and a gift shop in the center.
You can pick up booklets about the Sinagua people and Walnut Canyon in the Visitor's Center but they will pale in comparison with Helen Hughes Vick's imaginative fiction. "Walker of Time" is the first book in a trilogy about a 15 year old Hopi boy who is transported back in time to the days when Walnut Canyon was alive with his ancestors. Vick breathes life into these old stone dwellings and her knowledge of Hopi customs left me absolutely convinced that her Walnut Canyon is about as close as we'll ever come to knowing what it was really like to live here.
"Walker of Time" is a must read if Walnut Canyon is on your itinerary.
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day you can take advantage of two guided backcountry hikes that visit some of the more remote cliff dwellings. These are by reservation only and come in two flavors: 1) Saturdays @ 10am - LEDGE HIKE 3 hour hike. Strenuous; 2) Sundays and Thursdays @ 10am - RANGER CABIN WALK 2 hour hike. Easy.
If you read "Walker of Time" you'll have sufficient motivation to go on one of these hikes!
After accustomizing yourself to what the cliff dwellings look like, you can begin to pick out other dwellings in the surrounding cliff walls as well. There is a ranger-led Ledge Tour that is given which you can get reservations for, in order to visit other dwellings.
After seeing the Visitor Center, descend on the Island Trail which is just less than a mile roundtrip - 185 feet/56 meters down and up. The canyon is beautiful with pines crowding the rim and many rock layers can be noted as the canyon increases in depth. Scan the layers for evidence of the dwellings. Besides the 25 rooms visited by the Island Trail, there are many others in the canyon.
A number of species of wildlife call Walnut Canyon home. However, I was not there at the best time to observe it. I did see this large bird that appeared to be keeping an eye on me.