Navajo National Monument

Navajo National Monument is located 20 miles southwest of Kayenta on a 9-mile paved road (Arizona 564) in Northeast Arizona. There are exhibits, video programs, and books for sale at the visitors center. There were several native Americans selling some outstanding craft-work at the visitor center also.

Although the monument is located on the Navajo Nation reservation, the ruins were constructed by the ancestral pueblo people referred to by the Hopi as "Hisatsinom" and "Talastima" long before the Navajo entered the area. The Navajo refer to the ancestral pueblo people as "Anasazi" which seems to be the common name in use today.

The descendants of the "Hisatsinom" are the Hopi who live about 50 miles south of the monument on a reservation inside of the Navajo Nation. The Navajo's have assumed the role of protector of all the ruins contained within the Navajo Nation that they have influence over. There are two major ruins within the Navajo National Monument which are open to the public and can only be reached by crossing Navajo Nation land and therefor require a Navajo guide or special permission.

Betatakin is set within a fantastic sandstone arch facing south that allows the sun in the winter and shade in the summer. The Hopi believe their ancestors emerged as human beings from an earlier third world below. Hopi migration stories maintain that the area around Betatakin, Keet Seel, and Inscription House (closed to the public) were the last places that the clans lived before arriving at their home today.

 

The Navajo gave the site the name "Betatakin". The Hopi name for this village is "Kawestima" and was initially constructed at about 1250 A.D. Tree ring dating tells a story of construction of at least three stone-walled houses during 1267 and a flurry of construction at 1275 A.D. An estimated 100 persons occupied the settlement for a short time until 1300 A.D. at which time the village was vacated (probably due to drought). The Hopi have identified a large pictograph in the area as the Clan symbol for the Fire Clan. Other Hopi groups identify with the Flute, Snake, Butterfly, Parrot, Bear Strap, and Katsina clans. Members of these clans frequently return to visit sacred sites within the monument.

The Betatakin ruin can only be reached by participation in an organized tour that departs from the Visitors Center at 9:00 AM and is limited to 25 people per day. Tickets are given on a first come basis starting at 8:00 AM. Bear in mind that the Navajo Nation observes daylight savings time where as the rest of Arizona does not. Tickets go fast so be there early.

The hike is strenuous, dropping down about 1000 feet into a canyon on a 5 1/2 mile round trip hike. The tour normally takes 5 to 6 hours (ours took over 7 due to an extremely talkative and very opinionated Navajo tour guide). The hike is very strenuous and equivant to climing the stairs of a 70 story building (with sand on the steps) but well worth the effort.

The earliest Hisatsinom were small, wandering clans who lived off the land collecting roots and berries and stalking wild game. With time they learned how to plant corn, squash, and beans to produce food. Then they learned to form clay into pottery and how to build masonry walls from raw materials. Eventually some gathered into larger groups and formed these outstanding villages.

The trip to Keet Seel is 17 miles round trip and can be reached on foot (whew) or by horse back. It is the largest ruin in Arizona and in reportedly excellent condition. I hope to one day get the opportunity, time, and motivation to visit Keet Seel. Until then, if anybody has anything they would like to contribute, I would be happy to include it.

Back to the Ruins Directory
The National Park Service page on Navajo National Monument


 

E-mail: ron@neartime.com