Walnut Canyon National Monument

Written by on May 28, 2017 in AZ History & Heritage - Comments Off on Walnut Canyon National Monument

Soaring limestone cliffs in Northern Arizona shelter more than 80 small pueblo dwellings of an ancient people — the Sinagua — in what is now Walnut Canyon National Monument. Sinagua means “without water,” which is singularly appropriate for this particular site as there is no natural, continually flowing water source in the area. Archeologists speculate that these ancient Native Americans tucked pots under overhangs to catch water during rain storms, or allowed natural rock indentations to store water for them, as well as hauling water long distances from seasonally flowing streams.

Walnut Canyon Arizona

In addition, these hardy people had another challenge to overcome. Their fields were high above the canyon floor and every day, they had to make the ascent to care for their crops. Yet using nothing more than shallow carved hand and footholds to make their way up, the gardens of these ancient people survived and thrived.

Twenty miles long, 400 feet deep and ¼-mile wide, Walnut Canyon was carved by Walnut Creek over a period of 6 million years. Within its winding walls are natural riches — an abundant mix of plants and animals drawn there by the sheltered terrain and varied topography. This canyon has a timeless quality that allows modern humans to briefly touch the heritage of the people who once lived and loved in the area.

Thanks to the geology of the limestone cliffs, wind and water created hundreds of sheltering overhangs. The Sinagua took advantage of these overhangs to build their dwellings using stacked rock walls, creating cozy shelters safe from rain, wind and heat. The Walnut Canyon community thrived for another 150 years before the people moved on. The Hopi People believe the Sinagua are ancient ancestors and moved north around 1250 A.D. to three high mesas in Northern Arizona, where the Hopi still dwell today. The ruins in Walnut Canyon are very special to the Hopi, who make pilgrimages there on a regular basis.

Visitors to the canyon have two terrific options to explore the area. The first is the Island Trail, which leads deep into the canyon and allows guests an up-close look at 25 dwellings alongside the trail. Additional dwellings are visible across the canyon as well. It can be a bit of a strenuous hike, so take that into consideration — going in is easy, it’s downhill … getting out is, of course, all uphill. The Rim Trial, .7 miles, is self-guided and takes you along the canyon rim and through ponderosa forest. There are two canyon overlooks, plus a pithouse and a pueblo set back from the canyon rim. This upland area is also where the Sinagua people grew their crops — corn, squash and beans.

There is no camping allowed in the monument, although nearby Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument does. If you’d like a more civilized accomodation, nearby Flagstaff offers dozens of options, from rental cabin to resorts, hotels and motels, and bed and breakfasts. In addition, Flagstaff provides a multitude of places to eat and shop.

Other nearby attractions include Wupatki National Monument, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Grand Canyon National Park, Montezuma’s Castle National Monument, Montezuma’s Well, Tuzigoot National Monument and the Petrified Forest National Park.

Headquarters, Flagstaff Area National Monuments
(928) 526-1157
Walnut Canyon National Monument Visitor Center
(928) 526-3367


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