Stepping Into History at Walnut Canyon National Monument


Ruins at Walnut Canyon National Monument

All photos by Amy Pohl

We’d visited the old gold mining town of Oatman, Az, had seen the Hoover Dam and had spent a day at the Grand Canyon.   Doc and I and daughter Amy, son-in-law Bill and two grandsons, had one final day left of our five-day family trek to the southwest. We would spend the first half of it at Walnut Canyon National Monument in Flagstaff.264753_10150239285794055_5359438_n



The paved Island Trail takes you right past many ruins of cliff dwellings.

270346_10150239283159055_456294_nWe knew it was going to be a very hot day so we got started early. Walnut Canyon was only about 15 minutes from our Flagstaff hotel. There was only one other car in the parking lot when we arrived. We wouldn’t have to worry about fighting any crowds here. I suspect there are never what you would call “crowds” at Walnut Canyon. In some ways that’s good. The site is less trampled with fewer feet passing through. It’s a shame though that more people don’t recognize the value of places like this. For me, the history of it is fascinating.268459_10150239284174055_2767179_n

From the visitor center we walked down stairs –lots and lots of stairs — which led us down the cliffside to the Island trail where a paved walkway circles around the island shaped site.

Usually, in order to see cliff dwellings you have to view them from below or climb a ladder up into them. At Walnut Canyon the Island trail puts you on the cliffside at the same level as the ruins.  As we walked along the trail, we found ruins all along the way. We saw them up close, we touched them and even climbed inside.267807_10150239286224055_6837687_n

The Sinagua built their canyon community of cliff dwellings between 1125 and 1250 A.D. using the natural recesses in the cliff walls. It’s easy to see why people would live this way. Elevated high on the cliff they were safe from both wild animals and potential enemies. And surrounded by all that rock, they were protected from bad weather. It would have been both warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. It was an amazing feeling to have the opportunity to just sit down inside a cliff dwelling and look out across the canyon, seeing what the early inhabitants saw from their doorways and getting a better understanding of what it must have felt like to live in such a place.


The best thing was seeing how much the boys enjoyed listening to Grandpa tell them all about the ancient community as they climbed in and out of the ruins. Getting kids interested in something educational usually isn’t that easy!

There is another trail here as well but since the day was growing very hot we skipped it.  It was time for lunch and a much ‘cooler’ afternoon outing to the Lava Tube Cave where our day’s adventure would continue…

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