Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tunnel Trail to First Ruins-Canyon de Chelly

The Tunnel Trail is a ranger led free hike offered during the summer season at Canyon de Chelly National Monument at Chinle in northeast Arizona. Except at the White House Ruins Trail, all hiking in the inner canyon must be accompanied by a ranger or a Navajo guide.

In June 2011, the Tunnel Trail hike is offered on Friday mornings starting at 6:45 AM and lasting until about 10:30 AM for about 4 miles of hiking. The hiking groups meet at the Visitor Center, then shuttle to the Tunnel Overlook, the first of seven overlooks on the south rim.

The trail descends about 200 feet to the canyon floor down stairs and a switchback trail. Along the way, the ranger introduces the canyon geology and some of the 5000 years of the history of the people who have lived here.
Part of the way down the descent, there is a pictograph panel visible high on the cliffs. Viewing the Canyon de Chelly from the rim overlooks, visitors don’t see any of the many rock art panels that are here. This panel is far enough away from the trail that binoculars are needed to see very much.
Reaching the canyon floor, the walking is over loose sand heading up the canyon. In the spring, this area will have flowing water but in late June the water is several feet below the surface.

Vehicles from the residents and tour groups grind along in the sand. After about 0:45 minutes of hiking we arrived at an area called the Sleeping Duck, named for the resemblance of the rock formation.

On the cliffs near the Sleeping Duck, there are many pictograph images that are above an early era Basketmaker ruins area. The images were faint but visible with binoculars. The trees that grow on the canyon floor are Cottonwoods, Willows, Tamarisks, and Russian Olives. There has been a project for several years to remove the invasive Tamarisks and Russian Olives. This activity has opened up the views of the canyon walls, and seems to be well appreciated by residents and visitors.

The hike highlight is First Ruins, the first large ruins site that the early investigators found. Most of the ruins sites in Canyon de Chelly are located in alcoves above the canyon floor, but with access to the floor. The farming areas that were used here and the water available is on the floor, rather than the mesa tops like the Mesa Verde area. Locating in an alcove above the floor avoids the danger of flooding. However, hikers to White House Ruins will notice that there are structures there built on the floor area.

We viewed First Ruins from the sandy floor area at least 100 yards away, so details are hard to see. The occupation period is thought to be 1025 to 1250 AD. It has about 20 rooms and 2 kivas. There has been some reconstruction over the years. With binoculars there are some white pictographs visible on the right side of the alcove.

On the return hike we stopped at Petroglyph Rock which can be seen from the Tunnel Overlook once you know to look for it. There are rock art images on three sides and they represent the Ancestral Pueblos, the Hopis, and the Navajo. Up high on the east side, it looks there are two atlatls being hurled into fleeing animals and there is a human figure with a duck sitting on its head among the many figures.

The Hopi work is in the center of the south side and is described as clan symbols. On the sides are Navajo horse riders pursuing game. It was a comfortable 63 F degrees when we started at 7:00 AM and was still reasonable at the 10:30 finish.
The walking on loose sand for part of the way is annoying, but the route is otherwise mostly level and easy. The pace was leisurely and discussions were held in the shady areas. I carried and drank 2 liters of water.

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