A quarter mile wide, 20 miles long, and in places 400 feet deep. This is Walnut Canyon National Monument.
The freshwater creek down below has drawn visitors and residents to Walnut Canyon for millennia. More than 700 years ago, the Sinagua moved in, growing corn, beans, and squash on the canyon rim.
Sometime in the 12th century, they built the cliff dwellings that survive to this day. Tucked into cavities within the limestone rock ledge, these structures provided year-round protection from the elements and any potential enemies.
But these people moved on from Walnut Canyon around 1250, for reasons archaeologists can only surmise.
When the railroad passed by in the 1880s, amateur archaeologists swarmed Walnut Canyon in search of Indian artifacts. Unfortunately, they destroyed much more than they discovered. Walnut Canyon National Monument was established in 1915 to protect his precious site from further damage.
After an orientation at the museum, walk the Rim Trail and drink in the crisp, dry air. If you’re up to it, head down into the canyon on the Island Trail to explore 25 cliff dwellings. (Take plenty of water and be sure you can manage the 240 steps back up to the rim.)
The freshwater that drew the Sinagua continues to attract wildlife to Walnut Canyon National Monument. Listen for the calls of songbirds and the rustle of desert mammals through the underbrush.