Monday, November 19, 2007

Betatakin Ruin Overlook Trail-Navajo National Monument

Deep in the vast Navajo Reservation in northeast Arizona, a little west of Kayenta is Tsegi Canyon, a deep slash in red sandstone that is the site of one of the best preserved ruins in the southwest. 

Betatakin Ruin is thought to be the ancestral home of one of the clans of Hopi Indians, who abandoned the site 700 years ago and walked 50 miles to the Hopi Mesas where they live today.

From the visitor center, there is a one mile round trip along the Sandal Trail to an overlook, the ruin tucked back into a large alcove. The hike down to the ruin is only available as a 4-6 hour ranger led outing.

From the overlook point, hikers start in the mesa top area above the large alcove and hike to the right to along a rough road to a switchback trail. After descending, they approach the alcove along the canyon bottom from the right.

Navajos arrived in the area about 500 years ago, migrating from Alaska, and found these ruins, and eventually extended their territory to surround the Hopis, so that today the Hopi Reservation is an island inside the Navajo Reservation. Many of the names of places of the ruins builders are Navajo words. Betatakin means "ledge house." The Sandal Trail is also a botany trail with the typical plants of the area pointed out with small interpretive signs.

An 0.8 mile side trail off the Sandal trail goes to an overlook at the upper end of the same canyon where a remnant aspen and Douglas fir forest grows. Aspen and Douglas fir are normally found near the tops of mountains, but the cool and shady canyon bottom have allowed them to live in an area where dry country Pinon Pine and Cedar grow.

Near the visitor center at the beginning of the Sandal Trail there is a display of a Navajo Hogan and a sweat lodge. This appears to be the older style not seen much anymore. Many of the Navajo residence areas will have a multi sided log style. There are also some dinosaur tracks on display near the Hogan display.

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