October 19, 2009

Aspen Trail, Navajo National Monument, AZ

About 90 minutes from Page, in the heart of the Navajo Reservation is a national park service unit called Navajo National Monument. It protects three ancestral puebloan ruins which date back to the 12th and 13th century. The Inscription House site is not open to the public and Keet Seel is only open for tours in the summer. The Betatakin site does have guided tours leaving at 10am on weekends in the winter. So, that was our goal, to get there in time to do the 5 mile round trip guided tour of the ruins.

So, we take off and rush across the landscape and arrive at the park at 9:45am. However, something struck me as we entered. Dang-it, the Navajo Reservation is not on the same time zone at the rest of Arizona. It was not 9:45am, it was 10:45am and the tour had already left for the day.

Oh well, we looked around the visitor center, watched the film, explored the model hogan and sweatbath used by the Navajo before modern conveniences, and then did the 1 mile round trip trail to the Betatakin Ruins Overlook. Standing 700 feet above the Tsegi Canyon floor, the ruins sit in the opposite alcove. To the left there are some aspen and Douglas firs visible in the upper canyon.

These ruins were only occupied for about one or two lifetimes in the late 1200's  before the people left following a 20-year drought that made life marginal. What is interesting is that the place was left habitatable and the grain stores full. This indicates they planned to return, but never did.

Cultural evidence indicates they moved 50 miles south to the site of the current day Hopi reservation. It is known that the Hopi and Zuni tribes are the descendants of the ancestral puebloan peoples. The other name commonly referred to is Anasazi, which is a Navajo term for "ancient ones" or even sometimes translated as "ancient enemies".

We also did the Aspen Trail, which descends 300 feet into the canyon where large Douglas firs and a stand of aspen are visible. This stand at 7000 feet, 2000 feet lower than one would expect at this latitude, is a relict stand protected from the sun by the steep cliffs of the canyon.

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