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Wednesday, July 4, 2018


Cultural Heritage Hikes at Walnut Canyon National Monument
View from a "shady side" dwelling
Walnut Canyon is one of Northern Arizona’s most fascinating natural wonders.  Over its 20-mile course, the 400-foot-deep gorge cuts through pine-studded plateaus and eons of Earth’s history.  
Sinagua cliff dwellings
Located just a few miles southeast of Flagstaff, the chasm’s wavy course was created over millions of years by a complicated series of geological events. The canyon’s tilted layer-cake appearance is partly made up of eroded limestone deposits and the lithified remains of ancient coastal sand dunes. 
Edible mahonia (barberry) also has medicinal qualities.
Although you’d need a Ph.D. to thoroughly understand its geological anatomy, the canyon’s more relatable human element is the focus of a hike along the trails of Walnut Canyon National Monument. 
240 stairs descend to the Island Trail
The park was established in 1915 to protect and preserve the cultural artifacts of the Sinagua people who built and occupied cliff dwellings in the canyon’s ledges and shallow caves between 1100-1250.  Two educational hikes offer lessons in biodiversity, geology, traditional farming methods and human history.  The Island Trail begins with a steep, 185-foot descent on a stone staircase with dizzying views. The trail swings around a rock jetty where dozens of stone-and-mortar rooms are built into crags and overhangs. Interpretive signs provide information about the structures as well as native plants and animals. 
View of Walnut Canyon from the Rim Trail
Dwellings on the Island Trail
The west or “shady side” of the jetty is smothered in towering Douglas firs, ponderosa pines, mahonia and Arizona walnut trees that thrive in the cooler, wetter microclimate.  Around the bend, the path emerges onto the “sunny side” -- an exposed ledge where the plant life reflects dryer, warmer conditions. Cacti, yucca and pinion pine cling to chiseled escarpments.  From here, views of the visitor center high above, reminds that there’s a strenuous 240-step climb out to get to the next trail.  
Pueblo on the Rim Trail
Back up on the brow of the gorge, the Rim Trail makes an easy half-mile loop to scenic overlooks, a pit house, pueblo and demonstration garden. Once done with the hikes, stop by the visitor center to augment your experience by viewing displays of archeological finds and a beautiful video about the area’s natural history.
Stairs descend 185 feet to the Island Trail
Island Trail: 1-mile roundtrip
Rim Trail:  0.7-mile roundtrip

Island Trail: difficult
Rim Trail: easy, partially paved.
ELEVATION: 6690 – 6505 feet
From the Interstate 17/40 intersection in Flagstaff, go 7.5 miles east on I-40 to exit 204, turn right and continue 3 miles to the site.  There is an entrance fee.
NOTE:  Temporary closures of the Island Trail may be implemented during fire season when red flag warnings are issued by the National Weather Service.

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