Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Betatakin Ruins Trail-Navajo National Monument

Navajo National Monument preserves three large Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites in the northern canyons of northeast Arizona. It is located 20 miles southwest of Kayenta on Highway 160, then 9 miles north on Arizona Route 564. The Monument is inside the boundaries of the Navajo Nation.

The Betatakin Trail is a 5 mile ranger guided round trip to one of the best preserved ruins sites in the southwest. The same trail is the first segment of the 17 mile round trip Keet Seel Trail. Inscription House is the third site protected but is closed and not visited by the public. I visited during mid May when the only opportunity for hiking was at 10:00 AM on weekends. I was able to call the day before and get on the list, but the hike didn’t turn out to be completely full.

During the summer season, the Betatakin hikes are offered at twice each day with the groups limited to 20. Hikers meet at the visitor center, then caravan in their vehicles 0.75 miles to the trail head parking area and reassemble.
The shuttling activity takes 15 or 20 minutes before the actual hiking begins. The Betatakin Ruins site is visible from the overlook point along the short Sandal Trail near the visitor center. The hike begins in the area that is more or less above the huge alcove. The first segment of trail follows an old road that travels east along the mesa top.
The route approaches Tsegi Point where there are views of several canyons meeting at a junction. From the left are Long Canyon and Keet Seel Canyon. From the right are Tsegi Canyon and the Betatakin side canyon. This canyon junction area is thought to have been one of the farming areas used by the residents.

Along the road segment, the group stopped a couple of times to identify and discuss some of the desert plants, their uses as food, material, or medicine for the people that lived in the area.
The next segment descends about 600 feet along switchbacks from the canyon rim to the floor. This trail was constructed by the depression era CCC workers and there is an inscription date from February 1934 along the way. There are many constructed steps on the switchbacks and the walking is easy for such a steep descent.
There is also one small petroglyph along the way. The constructed trail is a short distance from the route that the original residents used and some hand and toe holds are visible. At the bottom of the switchback segment the group stopped to discuss the Pinon Pine and Juniper trees that dominate the forest in this area.

This particular area is a little unusual in that the normally alpine area Aspens and Douglas firs also grow in the shady cool side canyons, making this an upside down area ecologically. At the canyon floor, the Keet Seel Trail branches off to the left while the Betatakin Trail turns right back to the west.
The third segment of trail is mostly level and travels west below the cliffs toward the Betatakin alcove. This sandy and ledgy segment and including the switchback descent, passes through Navajo Nation land and there is no wandering off the trail. Near the Betatakin alcove, there is a gated fence where we stopped and had time for a snack before re-entering the National Monument land and no food is allowed at the ruins site.

 The final approach to Betatakin Ruins is from the right side. There is a restroom near the alcove before the group approaches the alcove. From the trail head it took our group 0:40 minutes to arrive at the switch back segment and 1:00 hour to arrive at the canyon bottom.

Our total time to arrive at the Betatakin was 2:20 hours, including the time spent on interpretive discussion and the snack and restroom breaks. We spent about 1:00 hour viewing the ruins and the rock art. Hikers were allowed to do the return hike at their own pace. It took me 1:05 hours to return to the trail head for a total time of 5:05 hours. It was a 70 F degree mid May day and I carried and drank 3 liters of water. (I have two separate posts on the ruins and the rock art..use the lables to find these.)

532497_120 x 90 Starting Salary $42k. Group 1

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Inside Betatakin Ruins

The Betatakin Ruins in Navajo National Monument in northeast Arizona can be visited on a 5 mile round trip ranger guided hike. The hike descends from the canyon rim and enters from the right side of the alcove.
The Betatakin alcove is startlingly large. An interpretive sign along the trail lists the dimensions as 370 feet wide, 452 feet high and 135 feet deep. The dimensions of the well known Cliff Palace alcove at Mesa Verde National Park are listed as 324 feet wide, 59 feet high and 89 feet deep. Betatakin is thought to have 135 rooms compared to 150 for Cliff Palace, but only 2 square kivas compared to the 23 circular at Cliff Palace.

 The tour that I attended stopped on the right edge of the alcove and viewed the structures from across. Recent rock falls from the ceiling have caused the tours to take the precaution of not actually walking underneath the overhang. The interpretive discussion mentions that the rooms seem to be in 20 to 25 household clusters.

The rooms on the left side of the alcove are thought to be the oldest, as they have the best angle to receive the warmth of the winter sun. The units seem to include a living area, a storage area, and a plaza open space area for outdoor work.

High above the main groups of structures is a long cliff perched low structure that is called the gallery. Over to the left of the gallery a long log is leaning in place that appears to be the way up. Even after a tricky climb up the pole there is a crawl along a narrow edge to access these storage places.
 It was surprising how many ladders were in place. The interpretive comments were that the original investigator may have repaired some of these ladders, but mostly they are original. Many of the structures have the roof and floor beams still in place and visible.

Another gallery type structure was right above where the group was standing. The structures on the right side received the least amount of winter warmth and there were far fewer of them.
Along the way on the hike, there was a discussion of the plants that were available for use here and the geology of the area. The Betatakin alcove is in the porous Navajo sandstone layer, sitting above the Kayenta sandstone. Alcoves form when water percolates down through to a less porous layer and moves sideways, loosening the grains of sand and forming an alcove and draining out as a spring.

We were standing only a few feet from where a spring with several gallons per minute flow was tricking down the slope.
The spring flow drains into a lush area below the alcove that is thick with Gambel Oaks. In addition to the Pinon Pines and Utah Junipers that dominate the canyon areas, the nearby side canyons also have Aspens and Douglas Firs, giving this site a choice of five types of wood. The last part of the ruins tour was along a short side trail to see several pictographs and petroglyphs. Our total hike and visit to Betatakin took about 5:00 hours.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Betatakin Ruins Rock Art

The last part of a tour to the Betatakin Ruins site is to view the rock art along a short side trail in the right side of the giant alcove. It is a 5 mile round trip ranger guided hike to Betatakin Ruins at Navajo National Monument in northeast Arizona.

The most eye catching of the rock art is the pictograph of the deer next to a circular design with hand prints in between. There is a small ruin in front of the pictographs. The ranger guide suggested that this might have been the home of an important man in the village who was responsible for the symbols. This ruin is out from under the protection of the alcove and has deteriorated more than those inside.
The park brochure says that Betatakin was the ancestral home of the Deer, Fire, Flute, and Water Clans of the Hopi. The Hopi Reservation is about 50 miles south of Betatakin and it is thought that when Betatakin was abandoned around 1300, the people went to the Hopi mesas where they live today. These and the other sites in the Monument are links between the past and present.
Just to the right is a large circle divided into four quadrants with the northwest quadrant a tan color and the other three pinkish. There are some faint but large concentric circles to the right of the quadrant design.

Further to the right are petroglyphs of three or maybe four mountain sheep that are connected by dotted lines that form a triangle.
Returning back down to the main trail, there are more small petroglyphs of mountain sheep and a small person like pictograph.