Sunday, April 14, 2013
Walnut Canyon National Monument
After seeing all the massive entrance signs for several other National Monuments we have just recently visited, this multi-colour one looks a little underwhelming... like maybe one of the parks staff or volunteers designed and made it. Oh, well.
When we looked over the edge of the handrail into Walnut Canyon I wondered why this site? At first glance one would not pick up on all the housing in the walls of the canyon where the Sinagua people lived.
Sinagua means "without water." These people were experts at conserving water and living in a dry area. They learned how to live on natural formed shelves below the rim of above. On the top there was lots of room to grow corn.
Before you even start to descend down the first flight of stairs they ask you if are capable of going down and back up 240 steps each way... that is about 185 feet elevation change. Now if you could only go up first, to go down at the end of the hike would be wonderful.
We hadn't descended very far before we started to see where houses were built on shelves around the canyon wall.
After coming down the 240 stairs a path took us around a basically level path... it was like going around the outside of an island in the middle of the canyon.
The first housing ledge we came upon had tools and supplies for rebuilding some rooms. Their was 7 or 8 feet headroom on most of the shelves. As you can see they have just rebuilt a couple of rock partitions in this cliff dwelling.
We noticed that some new rocks had been laid out along the sides of our path. Where did they come from? And how did that heavy metal tool box in the previous photos get there?
I surmised they might have put tools and supplies in a heavy canvas bag with straps that could be picked up and delivered with a helicopter and a winch cable.
We progressed along the path from one cliff dwelling to the next... not realizing at the time we would be going past about 25 rooms on this one island pathway.
Shirley pauses on a rock seat along the path... a lovely place to catch your breath and drink in the scenery. Behind here are banana yucca plants.
Some of the cliff dwellings had been totally refurnished.
We are told they kept the doors to the rooms small so that they could hang a rug or skin over the door to keep out the wind and weather.
The black hole above the door was for smoke exhaust on those times a fire was needed for warmth or cooking. Notice the wooden lintel above the door.
Shirley poses in the unfinished doorway of one of the rooms.
With the help of flash photography I captured the interior of this room. The black on the back wall and ceiling was no doubt caused by the fire they would just build on the floor. It is easy to tell the which walls were recently re-constructed.
We visited briefly with this couple from Minnesota and he expressed how he was blown away by what we had learned on this 45 minute walk around these cliff dwellers homes. It was kind of like a spiritual experience.
We agreed. This was a special place and we were walking around where people had lived and loved seven or eight hundred years ago.
Several interesting rocks and trees caught my attention on this hike. In the bottom of this canyon are Black Walnut trees, which provided the inspiration for the name Walnut Canyon. Those trees also provided some good walnuts which no doubt were enjoyed by these original residents.
The walk around the island path brought us back to where the stairs we came down on will now take us back to the top.
As we were coming out more people were coming in. By the time we got to the top we were ready for a refreshing drink and little sit down time. It was a most amazing and surprising little hike.
Once back in the Visitor centre I purchased a trail guide. It basically had the same illustrations and explanations we saw in plaques along the trail. The Sinagua people lived here over 800 years ago and left over 80 cliff dwellings in this canyon.
This cut-away view offers a glimpse of various functions. Not all the rooms were used for living. Archeologists found some rooms with lots of knives, sandals, stone shaped cylinders and tools for making pottery and crafting arrow shafts.
Residents could have stored a 100-day water supply to carry them thru the hot dry summer when the creek ran dry. Water is essential to any community and life revolved around this water source.
Today this creek in the bottom of the canyon is mostly dry. In 1904 water upstream was impounded for use by the city of Flagstaff.
Illustrations by Michael Hampshire