The optimist in me is excited, however. Since we did not complete the majority of the trip, I have already finished my homework for a future trip and know where to go, who to consult, and where to get permits, etc.
Two of the areas that we intended to visit this year were the Navajo National Monument (NNM) and Beef Basin / Fable Valley. There are three sets of ruins at the Navajo National Monument - Betatakin, the Inscription House and Keet Seel. Inscription House is closed to the public due to its advanced state of deterioration and its unsafe condition. Betatakin and Keet Seel however, are spectacularly well preserved and both are open to the public. Both are located in a deep canyon and require a significant hike. We did Betatakin a few years ago and it was fabulous. This left Keet Seel as the one remaining site to visit.
THE FIRST DAY
Keet Seel was definitely a very different site. The following is from the Park service brochure:
The hike to Keet Seel is 18.5 miles round trip and requires a 1,000 foot descent into the canyon. Going down wasn’t bad. Unlike Betatakin, we were allowed to see a great deal of the ruins at Keet Seel, up-close. The craftsmanship, the architecture and the state of preservation were stunning. There were 25 rooms that apparently were living quarters with at least as many adjoining rooms that were apparently for (food) storage and 4 separate Kivas (a ceremonial religious chamber).“Keet Seel is the largest village at Navajo National Monument and one of the best preserved in the Southwest. It was occupied much longer
than Betatakin. Tree-ring dating and pottery fragments show that people settled here by 950. Those early houses are gone, but a few timbers and some stones were reused in the village you can see today. In 1272 building activity surged at Keet Seel and new pottery styles emerged. There were as many as 150 people living here before the settlement fell into decline and families began to leave. Those who remained converted the abandoned rooms into granaries, maybe storing food against hard times.
By 1300, they finally departed altogether, but not before sealing the entryways of many rooms containing pottery jars filled with corn. Were they planning to come back someday? In 1895 amateur explorer Richard Wetherill brought Keet Seel to the attention of the outside world, along with its wealth of pottery, stone tools, animal bones, religious items, and other artifacts. Many of these treasures are now in museums. Thanks to the archeological community, Keet Seel received federal protection as a national monument in 1909.”
Keet Seel travel tip #1: wear high top waterproof hiking boots as there are about 20 stream crossings and for the last several hundred yards or so, the stream IS the trail.
Keet Seel travel tip #2: wear your boots many days before the hike or plan to nurse your blisters for many days after the hike.
As seen from the pictures below, we were blessed with overcast skies for the entire day of this hike - a fact that was particularly appreciated as the day grew warmer. These pictures do a pretty good job of giving a view of Keet Seel, but it must be seen in person to be fully appreciated.
For those familiar with Navajo culture, you are probably aware of the the traditional dwelling, known as a Hogan. We were surprised to find a rather large and new-looking Hogan, near Keet Seel, especially since there are no roads to the site. It was clearly a more modern version of a Hogan, complete with a gas cooking oven, refrigerator, a Ben Franklin style stove, solar panels and a communication radio. The mystery was solved when we learned that the park service dropped a Hogan kit (their description) from a helicopter onto the site for use as the park headquarters for Keet Seel. Quite spectacular.
THE SECOND DAY
The second day was spent exploring the areas adjacent to or near Dark Canyon (Beef Basin). Prior to the trip, I had learned of the website, “Off the Beaten Path” (http://otbpmaps.com/). Owner, Monte Wells, has created several maps of the areas we wanted to explore and he offers them for sale on his website. I have ordered several of the maps and I can state without reservation that they are top notch and an essential part of any trip preparation. In preparing for this trip, I contacted Monte for any insight he could offer to help us better enjoy the trip. Monte was not only a wonderful source of information (as he is an archeologist) but he offered to take us to some very remote and little known ruins sites. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the area and I am deeply indebted to him for his kindness.
The sites Monte showed me were obviously not on any map or known by any names. In one case, the ruins were located on the most difficult cliff face I have seen. The areas in and around Dark Canyon, Beef Basin and the Cedar Mesa were heavily used by the Anasazi in centuries past and the evidence of their occupation is significant and often very difficult to find. For the energetic and curious hiker, however, there is much to be discovered. I didn’t realize just how much until Monte started describing the area. Even if we had been able to devote the entire two weeks of this trip to exploring the area, it would not have been enough. Like so many of our travels, this is an area that deserves a another visit.
Many thanks to Monte for the work he has performed in making his maps and for his friendship and kindness in sharing his discoveries.
START OF THE HIKE
ON THE WAY
KEET SEEL (panorama)
access to the ruins
artifacts - note the very small item at the top - it is a partial string of beads. An amazing feat of precision without the aid of any modern equipment!!!
The multiple small rocks in the mortar were placed there to force or squeeze the wet mortar into the larger stones, thus giving greater strength to the structure.
Note the color of this hand that has survived for nearly a thousand years
Park Headquarters Hogan
AREAS NEAR DARK CANYON