Keet Seel is one of the best preserved Indian ruins in the southwest. It is located on the Navajo Indian Reservation, at the Navajo National Monument, about 30 miles SE of Kayenta, AZ, and about 60 miles NE of Tuba City. The National Park Service along with other web-sites (HikeAZ.com and ToddsHikingGuide) to name a few, have details on how to get there so I won't bore you with those details...I'll bore you with other things...such as pictures of the hike. The Navajo National Monument is administered by the National Park Service.
Keet Seel itself is an impressive 160 room well preserved cliff dwelling located 8 1/2 miles up "Keet Seel" canyon. This dwelling was occupied off and on for about 500 yrs. between 900AD and 1400AD.
Things to know ahead of time:
Plan ahead... for those with schedule/calendar concerns, you can reserve a tour of the Keet Seel ruins up to 5 months in advance. This is important as there is a limit of 5 people per tour, and with each tour lasting about 2 hrs. that means only 4-5 tours per day, you do the math. We reserved 4 months in advance for a weekend tour. If you have schedule flexibility and can go during the week, you should be able to drop in mid-week and get on a tour that day, but call ahead to be safe.
You must take their orientation at the Navajo National Monument Visitor Center, to receive a back country permit in order to hike to Keet Seel. These are conducted @ 8:15a and 4:30p daily. The 8:15a is marginally suitable for hiking that day, ie you really want to be on the trail before 8:15a, thus take the orientation the day before!
There is no drinkable water in the canyon, pack what you need recommend 1 gallon/person/day. Trash, pack it in, pack it out, goes without saying...but I said it anyway.
No tripods are allowed.
You are not allowed to photograph the native American people in the canyon.
Keet Seel is a 17 mile round trip hike. Betatkin is a 5 mile round trip hike.
A rather pleasant surprise was that there is no fee for the back country permit and no fee for the campgrounds (Sunset campground, located at the top of the canyon about 1/4 mile from the visitor center, or the bottom of the canyon campground located about 1/4 mile from the Keet Seel ruins).
No Campfires allowed in the Keet Seel Campground, or the Sunset Campground.
It should be noted the Navajo Nation DOES observe daylight savings time; thus in September, the time @ the Navajo Nation Monument was an hour ahead of Phoenix time.
Note: some in our party were considering a "Betatkin" hike the same day we hiked out of Keet Seel. I for one was not, my feet were shot, going to REI when get back for some Lowa's; however, one thing we did not know was that "Betatkin" tours are also ranger guided and leave only twice a day, 8:45a and 10:00a.; thus, since we got out of the Keet Seel canyon @ noon, we missed the boat on those tours, well maybe next time. Also, of note: daily tours and access to Keet Seel ends September 11 this year. It starts in the early May time frame. Discussions with local ranger personnel indicated weekend tours into Keet Seel will continue thru November this year, 2010. It would be best to contact the ranger station @ the Navajo National Monument Visitor Center to confirm hours of operation and Keet Seel and Betatkin tour availability prior to arriving.
Mapquest pegged the distance at 302 miles from south Chandler and it is every bit that. Note: There is a general store at the intersection of highways 564 and 160, which is about 10 miles from the Navajo National Monument and Sunset Campground. This can be handy if you forgot any supplies and don't' want to go the 60 miles into Tuba City or 30 miles to Kayenta.
Friday morning, barely, Johnnie, Keith, Joel and I departed Phoenix @ 11:30a and headed north. After an excellent lunch @ Beaver Street Brewery in Flagstaff (reminiscent of Four Peaks, or BJ's Brewery in the valley, this restaurant near downtown flagstaff, has excellent food including 2 very good 1/2 lb burgers, salmon among other salads and several fine micro-brews), we proceeded to the Navajo National Monument. We arrived around 6:00p, the visitor center closes @ 5:30p. We had missed the 4:30p "Keet Seel" hike orientation. There are 2 very nice campgrounds located on-site, nice restroom facilities. Quiet time from 10:00p-6:00a was observed. No fee. The campsites were very clean and well kept. That night we were treated to a beautiful sunset, and after that, the moonless night sky provided an awesome astronomical viewing delight! The milky was very pronounced, a night very similar to this must have inspired Carl Sagan to coin has famous "billions and billions of stars in the cosmos". Truly a spectacular night sky!
The HIKE IN:
The next morning we arrived @ the Visitor Center for the 8:15 "Keet Seel" orientation, be sure to pay attention as there are a few areas on the trail where you can go the wrong way. Especially upon reaching the canyon floor and deciding which of the three canyons to take, "long canyon, "Keet Seel (seems obvious)" or "dry canyon", at this time of year, early September we were told to " ...follow the water..." and the "road/tire tracks". Upon checking in that morning we were met with, "you all should have been on the trail 2 hrs. ago"...interesting, our logic was that the 8:15a orientation was for the hike that day, when in reality we should have taken the 4:30p orientation the day before. The reasoning is that it is a 5-6 hr. hike and the last ranger tour (you can only visit Keet Seel in the presence of a ranger) is @ 3:00p. At any rate, we proceeded to the "Keet Seel" parking area not to be confused, unfortunately, with the "Betatkin" parking area, as it is about a mile closer (that extra mile matters on the hike out).
We loaded our packs, 45-50 lbs, yeah a bit much for overnight, but there is no drinkable water in the canyon so you have to pack it all in, the recommendation is 1 gals/person/day. We each had about 3 gallons total for the 2 days in the canyon, note it was in the high 90s when we hiked down.
Note: every 1/2 mile there is a 3' tall, 2" round metal post with the mileage to the Keet Seel ruin welded into it, until you get to the first water falls (~60 feet tall), then there are no more mile markers, so use your pedometer or GPS for status.
Now back to our hike: The first mile or so from the "Keet Seel parking lot" is down a gravel road to the "Betatkin" parking lot, a rather smallish area, and we presume it would be overloaded on crowded days, which is why "Keet Seelers" must park a mile up road. Now why would those hiking 12 additional miles have to park further away, I guess they figure we can handle the extra distance. After the "Betatkin parking lot" you start the real trail and descend into the canyon at a clip of 1,000 vertical feet per mile. Note: I have done Havasupai, as well as the North Rim and South Rim to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and I found this mile hike to be more challenging than all three of those. The upper portion of the trail is well marked, but not well maintained. "Railroad tie steps" in several stretches make for a large step up or down, and tired calves, there are several sandy stretches as well. In spite of the intense hike down, the views are spectacular! Upon nearly reaching the canyon floor there is a large white wooden post about 6 feet tall, near a rather large juniper tree. This tree and post are popular water stash areas, each of us stashed 2 qts. here for the hike out. You'll come to love these wooden posts as they represent the few trail markers in this area. This tree must also be known by the local wild-life as we spied a coyote nearby when we arrived. Upon reaching the canyon floor, look for the large 8' tall white pole almost due east (straight ahead as you exit the ascent trail). The curve in the stream from Long canyon is where people tend to get lost, both going to Keet Seel and coming back from Keet Seel... several canyons converge here, its pretty easy to take the wrong one.
"Long Canyon is to your immediate left w/water flowing in it. Don't take it. The next canyon over from "Long canyon" is Keet Seel canyon, there is water flowing thru it. The next canyon, branching off to the right about 1/4 mile up "Keet Seel" Canyon, is "Dowozhiebiko Canyon" or "Dry canyon" Don't' take it, even tho' some tire tracks head up into it. Stay to the left after you enter Keet Seel canyon. There is a large 8' white post marking Keet Seel canyon. Tsengi goes to the SE with water from Long and Keet Seel canyons. Keet Seel is between Long and Dry canyons. There is a sometimes faint road going up Keet Seel Canyon (this is an active road the Indians use to herd their cattle on.), that follows the stream bed, but the tracks often get washed away. Note: hope you brought waterproof boots or an extra pair of shoes or hiking sandals. YOU WILL GET YOUR FEET WET! You will cross the water numerous times, ie dozens. Upon entering Keet Seel Canyon you are about 5 1/2 miles from the Keet Seel ruins and about 5 1/4 miles from the Keet Seel Campground. There is a rather large waterfall @ about 3 miles up the canyon, this is navigated by going to the right and up a rather steep trail. Canyon scenery is awesome! Past falls number 1 (the largest of the 4, is a sign indicating a trail branching off to the right, only take it during times of flash flood danger, as it is a steep and rigorous trail...better to stay in the canyon wash, but note, there will no longer be any 1/2 mile markers, you're on your own, hope you brought your GPS!
We arrived @ the Keet Seel Ruins Campground @ 2:00p about 5 hrs. after leaving the Keet Seel parking area at the top of the canyon. Note: I had two very photographically minded hikers with high end digital SLR cameras (Nikon and Canon) thus accounting for about 800 pictures between them...I was thankful we made it that day at all! Upon reaching the campground, we split up, with 2 of us making camp and the other 2 joining the soon to depart Keet Seel tour. You must hike up stream another 1/4 mile to the ranger station in order to arrange a tour of the ruins. That day @ 4:00p the ranger station thermometer indicated it was 95 degrees @ the station, my guess is it was over a hundred while we were hiking in the canyon that day, which explains why I got so hot...our advice, get the 4:30p orientation the day before, start your hike around 5:00a in order to avoid the sun. Joel and I took the 4:30p Keet Seel ruins tour that day. They made an exception to the 3:00 "last tour rule" that day, even though we were there by 3:00. That day, there were several who arrived around 3:00 and even after, waiting for tours. In fact, that day there were 12 total people representing 5 different groups visiting Keet Seel. Our tour lasted about 2 hours. The Guide that day, Tamara, was very knowledgeable regarding the history and excavation and preservation of Keet Seel. One of the nice things about Keet Seel is that due to its controlled access, the ruins have been left very much in their natural state, that is to say: pottery, pottery shards, arrowheads, metates, corn cobs, tools, etc are all left on the grounds of the ruins/dwellings in their natural state. There are several petroglyphs on the walls. The sheer size of he ruins is impressive.
The Keet Seel Ruins campground is located in a lush green vegetative area, about 50 feet above the canyon floor. The campground is very nice, albeit primitive, but there is a composting toilet. No water. That night there were 10 of us staying in the campground. We noted another coyote wandering around our camp, as well as a rather large red fox. We were also blessed by the presence of several bats. Two of us slept in tents, two of us slept under the stars, no one was bothered by the coyote or fox or bats.
The HIKE OUT:
The next morning we broke camp @ 6:00a and hit the trail for our journey back @ 6:30a. I personally wanted to hike in the shade as much as possible, my goal was to begin the ascent up and out of the canyon...ie hit the water stash, @ 9:00a. I actually made it to the water stash @ 8:40a. There was shade in the canyon for the first 5.0 miles of the hike back, and even @ 8:40a, it was still relatively cool, although it was heating up...hiking 6.0 miles in about 2 hrs. was, in my humble opinion, not bad considering how many times we had to ford the stream. Did I say "You're gonna get your feet wet." I changed shoes at the water stash for the climb out of the canyon. Coming out of Keet Seel canyon one of us missed the white post and headed down the wrong canyon, Tsengi Canyon. This caused some concern for about an hour, but by 10:30a we were all back together and started our ascent out of the canyon. We all made it out by 12:30 Phoenix time.
Summary: for those not recording all of the times, on average it took us 5 hours to hike down to Keet Seel and 6 hours to hike out, (photography and 1 hr. of misplacing one of our members included). I used about 3 quarts of water hiking down to Keet Seel during the middle of the day and about 3 quarts coming out. This includes about a quart of hydration at the start of each leg, ie I consumed 2 quarts during the actual hike in, and 2 during the actual hike out.
All in all an awesome 3 day trip into some gorgeous land with a visit to a very impressive archeological site. Look for Johnnie's Photoset in the near future, in the meantime, you'll have to be satisfied with my point and shoot photoset.
Waypoint Decoder, (see last 2 pictures of topo map):
400 = Sunset Campground Campsite #15, 1/4 mi. from Navajo National Monument Visitor Center
396 = Keet Seel Parking lot
394 = Keet Seel Ruins
404 = Keet Seel Ruins Campground
398 = 2 Benches providing Keet Seel ruins viewing
403 = 60' Waterfall
390 = 8' White Post marking entrance to Keet Seel/Dowozhiebiko Canyon
402 = Water Stash Juniper Tree