Tag Archives: ruins

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Overview

In the heart of the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona lies Canyon de Chelly National Monument.  Humans have inhabited this area for 4,500 years, leaving behind numerous pictographs and the dramatic ruins of Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings.  The Navajo arrived in this region around AD1700 with sheep they gained from Spanish colonists which they utilized to weave intricate wool blankets.  Wars with the Utes, Spanish, Mexicans, and then U.S. government eventually led to their forced migration (“The Long Walk”) to Bosque Redondo in New Mexico around 1864.

Highlights

Spider Rock Overlook, White House Ruin, guided vehicle tours, horseback tours

Must-Do Activity

Four years after being forced to the uninhabitable Bosque Redondo, the Navajo were granted the largest reservation in the country and families still inhabit Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “d’shay”) to this day.  The 84,000-acre National Monument is administered cooperatively with the National Park Service (NPS).  However, entrance into the canyon is limited to guided trips and one publicly accessible trail that drops 500 feet to White House Ruin.  Overlooks along the North and South Rim Drives (17 and 18 miles respectively) are free and open year-round, though.  It not only seems like everything runs on a different clock here, but, unlike the rest of Arizona (and now New Mexico), the Navajo Nation observes Daylight Savings Time, so is always an hour later in the summer months (the same time as New Mexico until the fall).

Best Trail

White House Ruin was inhabited AD1060-1275 and is named for the white plaster used to coat the wall in the upper dwelling.  The 2.5-mile roundtrip White House Trail drops down the canyon wall and cuts through a tunnel.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At the end of South Rim Drive is 800-foot tall Spider Rock, a great spot to watch the sun set, which is an ideal time to photograph the canyon’s red sandstone walls.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cach/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Note that there is typically a time difference because Arizona and New Mexico do not observe Daylight Savings Time.

Fees

There is no entrance fee for the North and South Rim Drives, but guided tours into the canyon do charge admission.

Road Conditions

All roads open to the public are paved, but guided tours can be very bumpy since they use the canyon bottom as a road.

Camping

The NPS runs Cottonwood Campground with 96 spaces (and running water in the summer) in a grove of Fremont cottonwood trees that turn yellow in the late autumn.  Guided camping trips in the canyon are also available.

Related Sites

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Navajo National Monument (Arizona)

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site (Arizona)

Explore More – How many millions of years ago did sand dunes turn into Canyon de Chelly’s red sandstone?

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Overview

Archaeological evidence suggests indigenous farmers lived around the Gila River dating back thousands of years, but the cliff dwellings were only briefly inhabited between AD 1270 and 1300.  After their initial discovery by Anglo-American settlers in 1878 heavy looting occurred, prompting President Theodore Roosevelt to establish Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in 1907.  It is not an easy part of the country to access, but offers two incredibly scenic drives through the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico.  Plan to spend at least a couple days in the area, maybe hiking or backpacking to some hot springs.

Highlights

Museum, film, ruins, scenic views, hot springs in area

Must-Do Activity

The Gila Visitor Center is jointly managed for the 533-acre National Monument and 558,000-acre Gila Wilderness (which in 1924 became the world’s first designated Wilderness).  From the National Park Service (NPS) contact station located just down the road, a one-mile loop trail climbs 180 feet to a well-preserved collection of cliff dwellings.  If you find that you enjoy climbing ladders up to cliff dwellings, then check out Bandelier National Monument and Balcony House at Mesa Verde National Park.

Best Trail

The trailhead also provides access to the Gila Wilderness, so watch for backpackers on the road and black bears along the West Fork Gila River.  Lightfeather Hot Springs is less than one mile from a different trailhead located closer to the Gila Visitor Center.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are about 40 rooms in the cliff dwelling ruins, which housed approximately ten families.  The south-facing cliff dwellings received the sun in the winter and shade in the summer.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/gicl/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The access roads are paved, but narrow and curvy, especially Highway 15 that heads north from Silver City, New Mexico.

Camping

Upper and Lower Scorpion Campgrounds are located just outside the National Monument boundaries in Gila National Forest.  No permits are necessary to backpack in the Gila Wilderness.

Related Sites

Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona)

Fort Bowie National Historic Site (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Explore More – The people who built the cliff dwellings were part of what culture, with pottery designs unique to the Tularosa phase (AD 1100 to 1300)?

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Overview

Cliff dwellings were built in Walnut Canyon around the same time another group of Sinagua was living at nearby Wupatki National Monument.  These cliff dwellings were only occupied for about a hundred years and abandoned by AD 1250.  Since 1915, they have been protected within Walnut Canyon National Monument, a 3,541-acre park on Interstate 40 east of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Highlights

Museum, ruins, scenic views

Must-Do Activity

To get up close with the ruins requires a hike down 200 stairs on the one-mile Island Trail loop.  At 6,690 feet in elevation, downhill is easy, but getting back up is another matter entirely.  It is well worth the effort to get a feeling for a life spent inside the shallow limestone recesses in the canyon walls.

Best Trail

The paved Island Trail drops 185 feet and takes you right up to the 25 rooms built into the cliffs.  Above the canyon, 0.75-mile Rim Trail is handicap accessible and provides views of the ruins.

Instagram-worthy Photo

October is a great time to visit to see changing leaves in Walnut Canyon, especially the bigtooth maple trees.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/waca/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$15 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Access road is paved

Camping

There is not a campground at the site, but dispersed camping is allowed down the dirt road that turns off to the left just before entering the National Monument.

Related Sites

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (Arizona)

Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona)

Tuzigoot National Monument (Arizona)

Explore More – There are multiple Arizona sites in the National Park Service system dedicated to the vanished Sinagua people; what does their name mean in Spanish?

Natural Bridges National Monument

Overview

South of Canyonlands National Park is isolated Natural Bridges National Monument.  First established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, it was not accessible by road until uranium mining developed this part of Utah in the 1950s.  As you may recall from our post on Arches National Park, bridges are created by flowing water, unlike arches that are primarily carved by wind.

Highlights

3 huge natural bridges, scenic views, ruins, hiking, stargazing

Must-Do Activity

The monument is home to 220-foot tall Sipapu Bridge, which is second only to Glen Canyon’s Rainbow Bridge as the largest in the world.  Kachina Bridge, at 210 feet and growing, may catch up to it someday.  Perhaps the most visually striking of the three standing bridges is the 180-foot span of Owachomo Bridge that is only nine feet thick at its center.  Handicap accessible overlooks are available along Bridge View Drive.

Best Trail

A nine-mile loop hike connects all three natural bridges, which are also accessible by shorter trails from the rim drive.  Do not attempt this rugged trek if you are not prepared; it is a rocky canyon bottom at high elevation with little shade.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Owachomo Bridge is the oldest of the three standing natural bridges in the National Monument.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/nabr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

The secluded nature of this region and its elevation of 6,500 feet were factors in naming it the first International Dark Sky Park in 2007.  If you make it out this far, you might want to spend the night under the stars at the campground.

Related Sites

Rainbow Bridge National Monument (Utah)

Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Explore More – In 1992, how many tons of rock fell from Kachina Bridge (the youngest of the three)?

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Overview

The ruins of this four-story pueblo in Coolidge, Arizona were originally protected as Casa Grande Reservation in 1892, the first time an archaeological site was given this designation by the federal government.  The National Park Service (NPS) took over management in 1918 when it was named a National Monument and in 1932 a protective cover was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted to prevent further erosion.  It is hard to believe when looking around the desert today, but the Hohokom farmed the Gila River Valley for over a thousand years until abandoning the area in the mid-1400s.  To accomplish this feat, they dug nearly a thousand miles of irrigation canals measuring 10 feet wide and 10 feet in depth.

Highlights

Museum, film, ruins

Must-Do Activity

Its name means “Big House” in Spanish and you will see why when you take the short, flat walk (handicap accessible) around the multi-story ruin and ballcourts.  Built in the early 1300s, the pueblo was only inhabited for about a century.  The NPS runs an excellent museum at the site that shows an introductory film.  The nearby Hohokam Pima National Monument shows up on NPS maps (and is counted in the 420+ units in the NPS system), but the O’odham do not allow access to the site on their reservation.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are pigeons instead of ravens at this NPS site.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cagr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

No camping at the NPS site, but options are available nearby in Tonto National Forest and Picacho Peak State Park (right off Interstate 10).

Related Sites

Tonto National Monument (Arizona)

Tuzigoot National Monument (Arizona)

Saguaro National Park (Arizona)

Explore More – In 1694, who was the famous Jesuit priest that became the first European to see Casa Grande?