Pause. Gaze across the pine-forested canyon. Imagine being taken back into time 900 years ago when the Sinagua Indians made this canyon home. Listen carefully for the beat of stone tools. The sound of laughter as children played on the slopes of canyon cliffs. The wise voices of aged storytellers as the villagers gathered around. A time when an abundance of deer and native wildlife roamed where water flowed into pools on the canyon floor.
The ancient Sinagua Indians mysteriously left Walnut Canyon in about 1250. But they left the gifts of cliff dwellings built into the limestone alcoves below the canyon rim that still stand today for the world to see, touch and enjoy. Today, as a national monument, Walnut Canyon serves as a protective sanctuary of that ancient community. Visiting Walnut Canyon is both a scenic and a memorable venture into historic times. Walk where the ancient Sinaguans once walked. And just imagine.
The Sinagua Indians, numbering several hundred in Walnut Canyon, built over 80 cliff dwellings distributed over both sides of the canyon. The dwellings were constructed in recessed natural overhangs in the walls that gave them “roof” shelter from the elements. Three side walls were made of masonry, the back of the recesses acted as the fourth wall and the rock ledge itself served as the dwellings’ floor.
Individual dwellings were very small, but were large enough for the occupants to cook a meal over open flames and to lie down for a night’s sleep. The Sinagua cliff dwellings were built facing south so the sun’s rays were cast on their homes most of the daylight hours to make the winter cold periods more bearable.
The Sinagua were skilled farmers that climbed up the trails from their homes each day to the canyon rim to plant, cultivate and harvest corn, beans and squash. They also hunted wild game and collected wild plants and berries.
Distant tribes from other regions as far away as California would trek along trading routes to barter and exchange with the Sinagua. They brought salt, pottery, cotton, seashells and semi-precious stones to trade for agriculture and other goods.
After about 100-150 years, the Sinaguas gradually began leaving the area in small groups until all were gone. No one knows for sure why they left or exactly where they went, but there are many possible reasons including sustained droughts and fear of aggressive neighboring tribes. Perhaps they integrated with other ancient Indian tribes. In fact, many believe the Sinagua were the ancestors of today’s Hopi and Navajo Tribes.
Visitors to Walnut Canyon National Monument can be thankful the Sinagua settled in this area near Flagstaff, Arizona. Through the treasures of artifacts and cliff dwellings, the Indian ruins give tourists from around the world a glimpse into a past culture they can only imagine.
Come see for yourself. Walk in the footsteps of ancient people. Peer into their prehistoric homes built into the canyon walls. Take one of two trails to explore including the Island Trail that leads to 25 cliff dwellings and spectacular scenery of the canyon and its limestone walls. Or take the easier walk along the Rim Trail and through the Ponderosa Pine forest to two overlooks into the canyon. You’ll discover an ancient “pithouse” and pueblo set back from the canyon rim near the agricultural fields.
It all begins just outside Flagstaff AZ, just 7 miles east on Interstate 40 and another 3 miles on a spur road to the canyon rim. Roam around the Walnut Canyon Visitor’s Center and small museum of artifacts. Enjoy a relaxing picnic either before or after your tour.
Groups of Sinagua also settled in the Sunset Crater area and the Wupatki Pueblo which are both located within a short drive from Flagstaff and Walnut Canyon. Silver Spur is presently designing mini-tours that will include tours to Walnut Canyon, Sunset Crater and Wupatki Pueblo that will originate in both Sedona and Flagstaff, Arizona.