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.

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