Best preserved ruins
If you are interested in seeing ruins then you will enjoy the Betatakin (meaning ledge house) cliff dwelling. You may not enter the trail unless you have a guide. There is no permit necessary and the guide is free. There are no pets allowed. When we went the visitor center was giving two tours a day, one at 8:15am and another at 11:00am. We arrived at the visitor's center the day before and put our names on a list for the 8:15am tour the following day. We were told the guide takes 20 people at a time, so if you can't get there the day before to reserve a spot try to get there early; reservations are on a first come first serve basis.
We hiked this trail on July 26. There were only nine other people with us, maybe July is slow. All the rangers are Navajo Indians; a while back the park decided Native Americans would be the best people to give the tour. Our guide Kayto informed us every ranger that works at the Navajo National Monument must have a four year college degree. He gave a very descriptive account of the Anasazi people and how they used to live. He showed us where they grew their crops and ground their corn. There are even remnants of coal and corn cobs from 800 years ago left untouched. He showed us the sleeping and the garbage areas and the footholds they used to climb up the side of the cliff. Kayto told us these are the best preserved ruins because they were built underneath an alcove so they are protected from rain. Kayto also took us to an area on the cliff walls where pictographs were drawn. You will be able to get a close look at the ruins. Nothing is fenced off so please respect the rules.
Because it is a canyon, you will be going down in the beginning so remember to reserve some water for the way back up. It is an easy decline for about the first mile but the grade becomes steeper after that. The trail description says strenuous, steep switchbacks and it is strongly discouraged for anyone with health problems; good physical condition is necessary. At least two liters of water is recommended, as well as snack and comfortable hiking shoes. I think the most difficult section is only for about 1 1/2 miles. We followed Kayto down at a relatively fast pace passing juniper trees along the way. Once at the bottom we walked through a forest. There are very clean outhouses several yards away from the ruins. They were built far enough away and, with plenty of cover from the trees, they are hidden from view. After the tour you are allowed to return to the top at your own pace. The guide is always the last one out. Be warned there is some poison oak near the pictographs and mosquitoes in the woods at the bottom.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
Navajo NM NPS Details
Tour Schedule:Contact the Visitor Center for schedule information regarding summer ranger-lead tours.
Availabilty: 25 tickets are given out on a first-come, first-serve basis the morning of the walk.
Betatakin (meaning ledge house ) is a large cluster of well-preserved cliff dwellings thought to have been inhabited by the Anasazi during the latter 1200s. Betatakin is visible from an overlook on the Sandal Trail, but one ranger-led tour into the ruin itself is given each day in the the summer season (A second tour may be offered at 11:00 am if enough people are interested). The Visitor Center opens at 8:00 a.m. (Mountain Daylight time); tickets are given out on a first-come first-serve basis.
The hike from the Betatakin trailhead is five miles round trip and is strenuous with steep switchbacks. The Betatakin tour is strongly discouraged for anyone with health problems; good physical condition is necessary. At least two liters of water are recommended, as well as a snack and comfortable hiking shoes. The tour begins at approximately 8:15 a.m. each morning and returns between 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m.. Reservations are not accepted, so arrive early.
The Hisatsinom (or Anasazi) inhabited the Kayenta region; a territory defined from Glen Canyon to the Little Colorado to Grand Canyon to Canyon de Chelly. It has been determined through data gathered at the ruins of Betatakin and Keet Seel that these particular sites were occupied by the Anasazi during the latter 1200s. The Anasazi, in general, are thought by anthropologists to have originally descended from nomadic Paleoindians who hunted game and lived upon the mesas. As large animals slowly became extinct, the early cultures broadened their knowledge of native plants and continued to hunt smaller game. The Anasazi are classified in two categories: the Basketmaker and Pueblo.
The Basketmaker period lasted until 700 AD, so named for the fine baskets they crafted. The Basketmaker people traveled frequently, storing game that was often hunted with the atladle or spear-thrower. As they became familiar with agriculture they depended more on corn and squash, settling near fields and building pithouses into the ground. The Basketmakers utilized the yucca plant's fibers for crafting sandals, strings and rope. The Kayenta Pueblo Anasazi are those designated as having lived in cliff dwellings such as Betatakin and Keet Seel. As the food supply from farming became more dependable, the people gathered together in more permanent communities. Buildings began to evolve above ground level, first for storage, and then as living space. The alcoves such as those seen at Betatakin and Keet Seel provided shelter, and the canyons offered springs and fields.
Elaborate pottery was crafted during the Kayenta Pueblo period, often thought to be the most beautiful and creative of Anasazi ceramics. Some ruin walls were built with the jacal method, thick sticks standing upright and covered with plaster. Physically, the Pueblo Anasazi were short: 5'1" to 5'5" on average. The infant mortality rate was high at 33 percent and life expectancy was about 40 years. Corn ground in stone metates led to severe wearing of teeth. Babies were held down to cradle boards when born; the dead were often buried in a fetal position or placed in the midden if the ground was too hard in which to dig a grave. The Kayenta Pueblo did have several kivas at each alcove, thought to have been used for ceremonies and/or family gatherings.
The Anasazi seem to have disappeared around 1280 AD, apparently leaving quickly without leaving many clues as to their motivation. Some believe there was a massive war, though violence is not overwhelmingly evident in their remnants. A few anthropologists believe the theory that the drought of the late 13th century caused abandonment. And still others cite different motives, including departure for a spiritual quest.