Walnut Canyon National Monument

Cliff dwelling of Sinagua at Walnut Canyon National Monument
Photo by: Daniel Schwen, Creative Commons

In a state that is known the world over for the majestic Grand Canyon, it is undoubtedly easy to overlook much less majestic but equally grand attractions.

Hidden away in a quiet nook of Arizona just 10 miles southeast of the city of Flagstaff – that city does have a lot of wonderful sights to see just hidden away all around it – is the Walnut Canyon National Monument. Many would think “Great, another canyon,” but this one is just a little bit different.

Walnut Canyon is a 400-foot deep gorge cut into the Colorado Plateau by little Walnut Creek – don’t expect any raging white-water rapids here. It is around 20 miles long and a quarter of a mile wide, just a crack compared to the Grand Canyon. So, what makes Walnut Canyon so special?

Cut into the canyon walls’ soft limestone are a series of 80 cliff dwellings built by the Sinagua people. The Sinagua lived in the canyon from 1100 to 1250 – around 150 years – before moving on. No one knows for sure why the Sinagua left the canyon; some say that they left because of drought or because of the threat of neighboring peoples. They left behind them their cliff dwellings, small rooms dug out of the limestone large enough to house around a hundred or more people.

Sightseers may view and visit 25 of these cliff dwellings when they hike along walnut Canyon’s Island Trail. It is a one mile-long round trip, taking at least an hour. A hike on the trail can be strenuous, thanks to its high elevation and the steep canyon walls, but the chance to see the homes of a vanished people could very well be worth it. There is also a huge diversity of plant and animal life to see in the canyon, it being the only source of water for miles around.

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