Walking into the past – Navajo National Monument

Last year, my friends and I spent an evening and the following morning at the Navajo National Monument in northern Arizona. A pleasant place with memorable scenery and home to some of the largest Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings in the area.

But exploring the monument for a couple of hours one morning did not prove to be enough time to see the monument. I knew I’d be back at some point. I want to hike down to the canyon bottom and see and explore where people walked centuries ago.


Over Memorial Day Weekend Joan and I had the pleasure of spending time at the Navajo National Monument in northern Arizona.

Navajo National Monument is often overshadowed by the more popular places around it. But what a gem. And a site that is becoming a favorite for Joan and me.

And I finally saw the cliff dwellings that grace the sweeping canyon’s floor.

Betatakin is reached only via a guided day hike. And Keet Seel is a seventeen-mile day hike or an overnight backpacking trip by permit only to the largest cliff dwelling and then only accessible with another guided tour. Though a day hike is certainly possible for us, being able to sleep in the canyon bottom with the nearly 800-year-old dwelling, considered among the best preserved in the American Southwest, in sight of our camp is an experience we could not pass up. And this weekend had the first permitted hikes of the season.

Both dwellings are an experience not to be missed: Stunning canyons, wildflowers, some incredible well-preserved Ancestral Pueblo villages, with a passionate and knowledgeable staff to guide any hiker who makes the trek to these world treasures.
Keet Seel

In addition to the distinct historical and cultural delights of this site, both the canyon bottom and the rim itself are incredibly scenic.

The Navajo nation manages the monument in conjunction with the NPS. The Navajo (or Dine’) ) take their job as custodians of this land seriously and do an excellent job in preserving and honoring this area. The Navajo also have roots in this area and some trace part of their ancestry to the Ancestral Pueblo people as well.

A highlight of the trip? Joan and I saw a Hopi gentleman on our way out as he was on his way into Keet Seel. A personal pilgrimage as his ancestors quite probably came from this canyon. He conveyed a mixture of excitement, reverence, and anticipation.

I’ve made some longer treks in the past, but in many ways, these shorter treks walking the ancients paths seem to be what sticks out most in my memory.

I know Joan and I will continue to explore these wild places that still echo with voices from the past.

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Harvey Halpern
4 years ago

Last year we did a 30 day backpack up on Skeleton Mesa, that’s the five fingered Mesa that Keet Seel leans up against. If you check out my website: http://www.harveyhalpern.com (“new” portfolio)- you can see photos of Keet Seel from above (first ever not taken by plane or drone) as well as whole ladles and pots that we found (and which are still there of course). One of our coolest trips ever ( and we never saw another person in thirty days).