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 > Return To Navajo NM - Keet Seel

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seldomseensmith

Flagstaff, AZ

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Joined: 09/18/2006

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Posted: 11/16/09 12:26am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

In September I made my first visit to Navajo National Monument in northeastern Arizona. While I was there I made the 5 mile round trip hike to see Betatakin, one of three ancestral puebloan dwellings preserved in the park. You can see that trip report HERE. Betatakin was fascinating, and it whetted my appetite for more.

The other two dwellings at Navajo NM are called Inscription House and Keet Seel. Inscription House has been closed to the public since the late 1960's, leaving Keet Seel as the only other ruin to see. Like Betatakin, Keet Seel is located deep within the canyons of Skeleton Mesa and some effort is required to reach it. In this case actually a lot more effort, being 8.5 miles away and 1000 feet below the rim.

Reservations are required to visit, and once summer is over the only opportunities occur on the second weekend of the month. Only 20 persons are allowed per day, so I made plans back in September for a hike in November.

After weeks of warm dry weather in October and early November, conditions began to deteriorate 2 days before my departure (go figure). I left Flagstaff before sunrise Saturday morning, and was blessed with only partly cloudy skies and cold temperatures. The early morning light illuminated the high desert of the Navajo Reservation.

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The closer I got to the park the more ominous the skies to the north appeared. And in a major brain freeze, I realized 20 miles from my destination I had forgotten my waterproof jacket (left hanging on the hook where I'd put it so I wouldn't forget it). Being stubborn and not very smart, I decide to press on anyway. I knew I had an extra fleece shirt in the camper, and I had plenty of other warm stuff in my pack, so I figured it was now or never.

At the Visitor Center I stopped and got my permit. The ranger there gave me a quick explanation of the trail and a map, and off I went. I drove to the trailhead, fished out the extra shirt from the TC, hoisted my pack and hit the trail. The route follows the same path as the hike to Betatakin, which uses an old road to Tsegi Point before dropping sharply off the rim.

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On the way down there are many outstanding views of the canyon.

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The hike to Keet Seel traverses the canyon bottom, where year-round water flows. The trail crosses the stream many times along the way, and waterproof shoes are a necessity.

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At about the halfway point on my trek the threatening weather descended upon me. At one point it was snowing so hard I had to seek shelter in a small side drainage until the intensity let up.

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Fortunately the snow squall ended, although throughout the day brief periods of heavy snow would come and go. Because of the weather I did not take many pictures the rest of the way in.

Finally the sign marking the primitive campground appeared, and I was ready to drop the pack and get to the ruins.

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Keet Seel lies about 1/4 mile beyond the camping area. Visitors must check in with the ranger upon arrival and arrange for their tour of the ruins. In my case it was knock on the door and be allowed in for a few minutes to warm up while the ranger got dressed to go outside. His cozy "hogan" shaped cabin made me think about my nylon tent in a very uncharitable fashion.

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Like my Betatakin guide, Max is a Navajo working for the Park Service. He led a small party of 3 out the door and up the trail to Keet Seel. BTW, earlier I said that 20 people are allowed to visit in a day, and when I previously tried to add a person to my permit I was told all 20 spots were reserved. As it turned out only 5 people made the trip, including yours truly.

The first glimpse of Keet Seel.

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Keet Seel, whose name is derived from Navajo for "many small broken pieces" is the largest and best preserved cliff dwelling in Arizona. Last inhabited around 1270 a.d. by ancestors of the Hopi tribe, it showcases a practical and functional way of life. Sheltered by the large alcove overhead, it has sun in winter and shade in summer.

Inspiration for the name comes from the numerous potsherds found throughout the alcove.

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Access to the ruins for the tourist is via a 70 foot ladder - the natives used natural clefts and handholds chiseled into the stone.

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There were as many a 130 rooms here, and most are still intact after 700 years.

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One of many ceremonial kivas.

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The grooves etched in stone are from the sharpening of bone tools.

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Very little restoration work has been done here (a large retaining wall has been rebuilt) making the preservation of the structures all the more amazing.

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Here the ranger show a fragment of a beadwork necklace found in the ruins. See how small the actual beads are - evidence of painstaking craftsmanship.

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The alcove soars high overhead, framing the sky and opposite canyon wall.

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Dark comes much earlier this time of year, and it's time to head for my frozen pack and set up camp. After thanking my guide, I head back.

The evening passed uneventfully enough with snow showers continuing on and off through the night. Towards morning the skies cleared, allowing the temperature to drop into the teens.

Home sweet home. You can be sure there were many moments when I wished I had the TC instead of being a TC (tent camper).

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After thawing out my boots as best I could with my camp stove, I began the long walk back. Although cold, the skies were clear and by about 11:00 a.m. the sun finally made it over the edge of the canyon. Another plus was that the mud in the streambed was frozen, making for easier progress on the way out.

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A partially frozen waterfall.

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As the day progressed the sun managed to melt most of the snow except in the shaded areas, and the hike out was so much more enjoyable than the way in.

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Finally after hiking 6.5 miles comes the climb - 1000 feet up the sandstone walls. By this point I am a tired pup, but as with all canyon hiking putting one foot in front of another eventually gets you out.

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The hike was tough - cold snowy weather, a forgotten but much needed jacket, and 18 miles and 2000 foot elevation change in 30 hours. But the experience of seeing firsthand a spectacular cliff dwelling in a remote and beautiful setting made it all worthwhile.

I only posted a fraction of the pictures from this trip here. If anyone wants to see more, visit my Keet Seel Hike gallery.

Happy Trails!


The Road Goes Ever On



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c.traveler2

Moreno Valley,Ca.

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Posted: 11/16/09 02:39am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

seldomseensmith, this journey of your was absolute awesome.


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silversand

Montreal

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Posted: 11/16/09 04:27am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thanks for returning and making such a meticulous document of a place very few of us will ever manage a trek to!

An old colleague of mine has several reels of 8mm movie film he shot of Keet and Inscription way back in 1957. Other than marked trails, this locale has changed little since then.

Cheers,
Silver-


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weymard

NORMANDY

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Posted: 11/16/09 05:06am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

fantastic landscape ! Thanks for sharing


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sleepy

Oak Ridge,Tennessee

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Posted: 11/16/09 06:03am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thanks for sharing... this is one trip that I will be enjoying only through your eyes.

I hate to admit.... age does start limiting the extreme things that we once did, and then begins to nibble away the desire to rough-it.

Thank goodness for TC's.

Sleepy


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whazoo

Idahome

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Posted: 11/16/09 06:39am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Oh man, what a cool looking hike, no pun intended. The snow adds a lot to the pictures and it's one of those things a guy just can't plan. Perfect timing there Seldom. I checked out your other pictures, all are great shots, and all make me want to get out again. But it beads me how they made such small jewelry.
Thanks for making my day with your pictures...as I head out to work.

kohldad

Goose Creek, SC

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Posted: 11/16/09 06:48am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thanks for the report on one trek of yours I probably will never be able to make. While the snow and teens may not have been the weather hoped for, I'm sure it made the trip more memorable and definitely unique.

Thanks for sharing.


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hwybnb

Southern California

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Posted: 11/16/09 07:39am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thank you. Your earlier report on NNM prompted me to visit there last mont, and I loved it. I don't know if my old legs could do Keet Seel but it is on my bucket list.

cewillis

Tucson, az, usa

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Posted: 11/16/09 07:39am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Another incredible journey of Seldomseen.
Keet Seel is amazing.


Cal


1mtnman

Colorado

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Posted: 11/16/09 07:50am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

seldomseensmith,Great pictures of your wonderful experience. The art of discovery is a wonderful thing. I have hiked into many of the Anasazi ruins on the Colorado Plateau and have many fond memories of this amazing culture and their ability to have survived and thrived in this truly amazing and beautiful area.





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