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    Navajo National Monument: Ancient rock settlements in Arizona

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    Lluis Enric Mayans
    @lluisenricmayans
    SOURCES CONSULTED:

    wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

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    You are planning a road trip a cavallo tra Arizona e Utah? Perhaps you have not taken into consideration this place, little known but not for this reason to be excluded a priori. Along the route between the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, or perhaps between the latter and Lake Powell, the itinerary of your on the road could in fact be integrated with an intermediate stop.

    Il Navajo National Monument it is a small park, not comparable to the aforementioned musts and almost always kept off the classic routes. However its strategic position, halfway between Kayenta, Tuba City and Page, makes it perfect for a short but interesting visit. In short, even if you don't have many hours at your disposal, here you can stretch your legs seeing something really special and learning a lot of curiosities about native peoples.



    Index

    • What is the Navajo National Monument?
    • How to reach us
    • Timetables and tickets
    • What to see at the Navajo National Monument
      • Time needed for the visit
      • Paths
      • Guided tours
    • Where to sleep nearby

    What is the Navajo National Monument?

    The Navajo National Monument is a protected area created to preserve three rock settlements from the XNUMXth century. Sandstone blocks plastered with mud and mortar constitute what today appear as almost surreal ghost villages, wedged in the ravines of the colossal red rock walls that surround this valley. The villages carved into the rock or built in the great hollows of the mountains are quite common in the Southwest regions. Among the best preserved are those of New Mexico, but also the settlement of the Mesa Verde National Park, that of the Canyon de Chelly, or the Montezuma Castle National Monument.


    Some of the aforementioned parks are undoubtedly more famous than the Navajo National Monument, but the latter has a notable feature: it is located in a position that allows it to be included in a classic itinerary. If this is your first time visiting the US west coast, this is the only site where you can see a cave village without deviating from the classic route between the most famous points of interest in Utah and Arizona.


    But you will ask yourself: who lived in these houses of stone hidden in the hollows of the mountain? It was the Anasazi, a group of sedentary natives who based their livelihood on the cultivation of corn. Building houses in these characteristic locations was not only a way to hide and defend one's villages, but above all allowed to make the most of the little arable land in the valley: a rarity in this semi-desert region.

    Over time, these settlements were inhabited by different tribes of natives, until the whites arrived at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, raiding the artifacts preserved in these now abandoned houses and gradually making it a place of tourist interest.

    How to reach us

    The Navajo National Monument is located in the center of the Page - Monument Valley - Grand Canyon triangle. Its strategic position makes it an ideal stop for both those who have just left Monument Valley behind and are heading to the Grand Canyon or to Page and Lake Powell, and for those traveling in the opposite direction. Specifically, it is located at the junction of roads 564 and 221, which deviate from US-160 and AZ-98, respectively. Let's see how to get there from the nearby most popular locations.


    • Da Sud (Grand Canyon): Those arriving from the Grand Canyon should follow the signs for Tuba City. Once you have passed the city, continue on US-160, following it up to the detour (on the left) with the 564, which must be covered for 14km to the visitor center. The Grand Canyon is 230km away (about 2h30m driving), while from Tuba City it's 100km (about 1h)
    • Northeast Da (Monument Valley): coming from Monument Valley, it is necessary to reach Kayenta and from here turn right onto US-160, following it again up to the deviation (on the right) with 564, which must be covered for 14km to the visitor center. Monument Valley is 82km away (about 1 hour by car) and Kayenta only 48km (about 30m).
    • From the northwest (Page): those arriving from Page must follow the AZ-98 until the detour (on the left) for Shonto. Following the road you will automatically find yourself on 221, to be followed until the visitor center.

    Discover the ideal itinerary between Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon


    Timetables and tickets


    Il Navajo National Monument is free, but for the most part accessible only during the opening hours of the visitor center. Furthermore, usually the guided tours are only available in the summer season. In the winter period (December-February) part of the paths are in fact impassable due to the snow.

    Specifically, these are the opening hours of the visitor center:

    • Summer (from Memorial Day to Labor Day): 8am to 17.30pm.
    • Winter (from Labor Day to Memorial Day): 9am to 17pm.
    • Closing days: January 1st, November 26th, December 25th.

    PLEASE NOTE: despite being within the boundaries of Arizona, the park follows the Mountain Standard Time zone, which is the same as Utah. For clarification on this you can refer to our article.


    What to see at the Navajo National Monument

    Tsegi Point Overlook

    As mentioned in the previous paragraphs, the main attraction of the Navajo National Monument are two rock settlements: Keet Seel and Betatakin. It is true, I mentioned that there are three settlements in the park area, however the third is closed to the public and is not visible from any of the accessible paths.

    More than the villages themselves, what is particularly impressive is their position. Both are embedded in huge cavities in the rocky wall overlooking a narrow valley. Landscape lovers will also appreciate the valley itself, which in the cold season fills with fog in the morning and in summer offers a stark contrast between the green of the trees and the orange of the surrounding rock walls. It is quite easy to spot wildlife, from numerous small rodents to the more rare mountain lions.


    The park area is can be visited independently through three fairly short and not demanding paths, but to reach the settlements it is necessary to rely on guided tours. Below you will find more details for these two different visit options, but whatever your choice, I recommend you stop by Tsegi Point Overlook, a viewpoint on the canyon which is located along route 564 before arriving at the visitor center.

    Time needed for the visit

    I have already mentioned that the visit to the Navajo National Monument can be considered for one short intermediate stage between popular points of interest such as Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. Indeed, there is the possibility to have a good overview of the park in a very short time, as well as to deepen it through a guided tour of a few hours.

    In a couple of hours it is possible to do all three paths proposed, reducing the time to less than an hour if you choose to travel only one. If you are in a hurry, you can reduce your visit to the viewpoint along the road and to one of the trails, doing it all in an hour or so.

    Paths

    Three paths branch off from the visitor center, all quite simple. If you have time available, I recommend that you go through them all to better visit the park, otherwise my suggestion is to choose between the Sandal Trail and the Aspen Trail. In particular, the Sandal Trail is the best to see the impressive rock settlement of Betatakin, while the Aspen Trail is the one that leads to the most beautiful view over the entire canyon.

    Sandal trail: “Sweathouse”
    Sandal Trail: fossilized dinosaur footprints
    Aspen Trail
    Aspen Forest Overlook
    • Sandal Trail. About 800m long (1,6km round trip), this route is very straightforward and all along a paved path and wooden walkways. Accessible to all, it leads to the only vantage point from which you can see the Betatakin Cliff Dwellings without taking part in a guided tour. You will find yourself exactly on the opposite bank of the valley and thanks to binoculars installed on the platform you will be able to observe the characteristic village in the rock from afar.
    • Aspen Trail. This path deviates from the previous one after a few steps from the visitor center. It is just over 600m long (1,3km round trip), but compared to the Sandal Trail it is largely unpaved and has a steep downhill stretch at the end. It leads to the Aspen Forest Overlook: a lookout point located exactly at the end of the canyon, from which it is possible to see the narrow valley in all its length.
    • Canyon View Trail. The last path branches off from the visitor center in the opposite direction to the previous ones. This is also 600-700m long and following the canyon coast from above offers a good view of the valley below.

    Guided tours

    Betatakin Cliff Dwelling

    Those interested in learning more about the place, oa physically reach one of the rock settlements, can take part in a guided tour. Please note that during the winter the tours are reduced or not run, depending on the weather conditions. In general, it is recommended to do them in the summer.

    • Betatakin tour. At 7 and 8.15 am the groups leave for the rock village of Betatakin. On this tour you cover 8km in about 4-5h, so you will have to consider all morning if you intend to take part in the visit. It is certainly one of the best ways to visit the park, as you enter the canyon and cross it all to reach the settlement, accompanied by rangers who explain the history of the place and curiosities along the way.
      A reservation is not necessary, but a maximum of 25 people are accompanied at a time (if you are traveling in a group, therefore, inquire in time with the visitor center).
    • Keet Seel tour. This is a decidedly more challenging tour, over 27km long. The difference in height is not much, but to make it challenging (in addition to the many kilometers) there are the sand that slows down the path in some sections and the fact of sometimes having to walk in the water. It is a very beautiful trek, but recommended only for expert walkers: it is certainly not suitable for those who go to the park for a hit and run. In any case, you can only access with a ranger, it is mandatory to book at least one day in advance and the number of daily accesses is limited, so if you intend to do so, inquire in advance on the official website.

    Where to sleep nearby

    If you opt, as is likely, for a fairly short visit (without taking advantage of the long guided tours), you will find yourself passing through and on the same day you will visit other parks, cities or attractions in the area. Depending on the direction of your itinerary, the ideal place to stay the night may change. The closest city is Kayenta and is located in the direction of Monument Valley: here you will find all the hotels available in Kayenta, but I also recommend reading our article on where to sleep in Monument Valley. In the opposite direction you will find Tuba City, along the road that leads to the Grand Canyon. Again, you can check out all the hotels available in Tuba City, or follow our tips on where to sleep near the Grand Canyon. Finally, if you're headed to Lake Powell or Antelope Canyon, read our tips on where to sleep in Page.

    Find the closest hotels to the Navajo National Monument

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