Walnuts are not a common topic when a discussion about Arizona arises. Yet just 8 miles east of Flagstaff is a canyon that was once lined with Arizona walnut trees flourishing along a meandering, high country stream. Here in this 400-foot deep, 20-mile long, ¼ mile wide canyon the prehistoric Sinagua People found shelter and built their homes. A part of this canyon today is located within the boundary of Walnut Canyon National Monument.
For centuries the waters of Walnut Creek have travel east on their journey to join the Little Colorado River. The eroding force of these waters has cut through the native limestone to form ledges high above the canyon floor and an unusual U-shaped island. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the Sinagua People mortared up the outer edge of these ledges and created over 300 cliff-dwelling within the 3600 acre park boundary. Twenty-five of these ancient dwellings are accessible to modern explorers when they come to this most unique national monument.
From the visitor center, a self-guided .9-mile loop trail composed of 240 steps quickly drops off the edge for some 185 feet. Visitors now come upon 800 year old ruins, many of which can be entered and explored. A good pair of binoculars becomes useful at this point to look across the canyon and view many other ruins tucked under the limestone overhang.
The 240 steps that lead down to the ancient ruins are the same 240 steps that must now be climbed to again arrive at the visitor center. At the 6690 feet elevation that Walnut Canyon National Monument is located, even seasoned hikers will pause to catch their breath.
A much easier .7-mile rim trail also leads from the visitor center following the canyon edge for those who wish to view the cliff dwellings without the steep descent into the canyon. Picnic facilities are available but there is no camping within the national monument.
With the arrival of the railroad in the 1880s, pothunters soon discovered the ruins of Walnut Canyon. Armed with shovels, picks and dynamite, they began the ravaging destruction of the historic treasures found here. Concerned local residents petitioned government officials and in 1915 President Woodrow Wilson established Walnut Canyon National Monument.
The Civilian Conservation Corp began working in the national monument in the late 1930s. The men of the corps are responsible for the blazing of trails, stabilizing of walls and construction of many buildings still in use at Walnut Canyon today.
Today over 100,000 people from all over the world come to this unique Arizona canyon to view and enjoy this ancient home site of the Sinagua People. So why not leave the heat of the Valley behind and travel to the cool weather of Flagstaff and visit Walnut Canyon National Monument. Link -