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

1 comment:

Kev - Conway AR said...

WOW. This is amazing you posted this. When I hiked this guided trail in October 1993 I just barely got into the party. I forgot that the Navajo Indian Nation does not recognize Daylight Savings Time! It was the 2nd week in October and I was an hour behind. Your photo essay brought back so many wonderful memories as I hadn't taken pictures at the time. I remember our guide's discussions, though, all these many years later. She was incredible. Thank you for sharing these!