We arrived at the Navajo National Monument on Thursday, July 2nd and decided to stay for awhile. Our primitive camping site at 7300 feet overlooked a spectacular view of the Tsegi Canyon and we were nearly by ourselves in the Canyon View Campground (a primitive campground area). We were very pleased that our new 30 watt “briefcase” solar cell enabled us to spend 3 full days without having to run the generator a single time, further enhancing the enjoyment of this beautiful, silent, wilderness.
We could have moved on – but this place has a serenity and balance and beauty about it that is hard to describe and is perhaps best described in the Navajo word “hozho” (accents over the “o’s”). This word describes a core Navajo concept that embodies the idea of striving for balance and harmony: beauty and order. The very purpose of life is to achieve balance in a never-ending cycle of gaining and losing harmony.
We hiked all the trails (except for the 18 mile one) including a ranger –led expedition into and through Aspen canyon to reach the cliff ruins that exist here. On the first day we explored the displays and watched the obligatory park videos at the Visitor’s center and then hiked down the “Sandal Trail” which was an easy, paved trail that provided an excellent overlook to the ruins we would trek to the following day.
We followed that with a trek down the Aspen Trail, which provided an excellent overlook of the Tsegi Canyon. This canyon is something of an anomaly called a “relict forest”. It is a survivor from the Ice-Age environment, which is sustained by an unusually humid and shaded environment that is produced by the collection of moisture in this basin. Among the unusual (for this area) trees are quaking aspen and osier dogwoods.
The next day we hiked down the Aspen Trail again, but this time we were permitted to traverse beyond the self-guided trail boundary, under the leadership of Paul, our Navajo guide. Seven-hundred vertical feet later we arrived at the canyon floor and enjoyed a shaded walk through the deciduous “Aspen” forest to arrive at the Betatakin ruins. (Betatakin means “ledge house” in Navajo.) These multi-storied dwellings were inset into a massive natural alcove eroded from the sandstone canyon cliffs.
The rocks were given a rough shape and then set in mud mortar with the smooth side out. The granaries are visible because they have grooved door jambs. The Puebloan people placed rocks in the doorway to discourage rodent attacks. They also left a few petroglyphs, which are thought to be markers for clans.
These dwellings are thought to have only been occupied for a single generation sometime around 1200 A.D. The inhabitants of this enclave left abruptly, leaving behind sandals, pots and other possessions.
We really can’t recommend this site highly enough, at least at this time of the season. Perhaps it becomes a madhouse in mid-summer – who knows? But for now it was a soul-enriching rest stop full of natural beauty.