Sunday, September 18, 2011

Walnut Canyon Island Trail

Walnut Canyon National Monument preserves the cliff dwellings and mesa top pueblos of the Sinagua people who lived here between 1125 and 1250 AD. The Island Trail is a 1.0 mile loop that descends 185 feet into Walnut Canyon and passes through several biological communities.

Walnut Canyon is 10 miles east of Flagstaff on Interstate 40, in north Arizona. The Sinagua people were farmers using the mesa tops but used the ledgy alcoves in Walnut Canyon for constructing small dwellings. There are many small ruins visible, both along the trail and on the canyon walls across from the trail. The National Monuments south of Flagstaff, AZ called Montezuma Castle, Montezuma Well, and Tuzigoot are also identified with the Sinagua.

The first segment of trail descends on 240 steps and the trail is paved. Many of the diverse arrays of plants along the trail are identified, making this a good botany trail also. This is a rich area biologically with many of the life zones of North America represented in miniature. The variations in moisture and angle of sunlight result in cool areas with firs and pines and dry areas with Pinon/Juniper and desert plants. These changes can be viewed with each curve of the trail.

The small alcove ruins sites are mostly facing south to take advantage of the sun for winter survival. Most of the rooms were for storage with the larger rooms for sleeping and shelter. The rock layers here are limestone.
Despite all the resources in this area, Walnut Canyon was abandoned by 1250. The people may have been absorbed into other groups as there isn’t a Sinagua tribe today.

One of the interesting plants along the trail is Rockmat. It is a member of the Rose Family and it seems to cling to the rocky cliffs. I haven’t noticed this one elsewhere. The interpretive sign says that Navajos collect this plant for ceremonies, its only known use.

Walnut Canyon seems to have a higher density of small alcove sites than any area of the Four Corners. The population estimate for this area at its peak is 75 to 40, but the map of archaeology sites shows a very high density.

 My hike took about 1:00 hour for the 1 mile. There is also the 0.7 mile Rim Trail at Walnut Canyon that provides views of the Island area and has a mesa top pueblo site.

528614_Cool Camo Russell Outdoors

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