It’s hard to imagine that it’s already been almost 12 years since we last visited Walnut Canyon Cliff Dwellings. As I go through my old photo albums pulling out pictures for Bob (my husband) to scan, I think, “We really ought to go there again”. The trouble is that we like to do things at a decidedly leisurely pace, and there are sights as yet unseen by us in the Flagstaff region. Oh, well.
One is immediately drawn to the past in Walnut Canyon, named for the black walnut trees that grow here. It’s a sacred ancestral place for the Hopi, some of whose clans can directly trace their lineage back to the people who lived here. These “people of long ago”, Hisatsinom, lived here between 1125 and 1250. They built shelters tucked into the cliffs and on the canyon rims. The limestone blocks were laid in rows and held together by clay and mud, then smoothed over with plaster. The people were traders, hunters and farmers, planting fields of corn, beans, and squash mostly on the canyon rims. They built small dams, terraces and irrigation systems so their crops would thrive. Eventually, as with the pueblo dwellings at Wupatki, these too were abandoned for unknown reasons in the mid 1200s. They apparently remained undisturbed and quiet for the next 600 years
With the coming of the railroad in the 1880s, the dwellings were discovered and pot hunters scavenged Walnut Canyon, stealing artifacts and even dynamiting some of the dwellings in their search for more relics. It was not until 1934 that this historical treasure was placed under the protection of the National Park Service.
We walked the mile long Island Trail, a bit of a climb (185 feet) getting back up – something to keep in mind at 7000 feet elevation if you have any heart or lung problems. The trail is self-guiding and leads to 25 cliff dwelling rooms on one of three rock “islands” in the area. It’s an amazing feeling going into a room and trying to imagine yourself backwards in time as someone who used these dwellings for shelter. We visited on a weekday and there were very few others present. The breeze was the only sound save a few birds. The .75-mile Rim Trail is more level. Go to the Visitor Center from which the trails begin to get more information. Sometimes there are ranger-led hikes and tours. There is also a picnic area in front of the Visitor Center.