Touring the Grand Canyon National Park is a popular thing to do, but overcrowding has been a problem in recent years. Mainstream tourists do tend to flock in numbers to the primary destinations that are always in the limelight and they often overlook the less publicized destinations that are nearby. Because the Grand Canyon draws so many visitors, peaceful breathing room is easy to find at any of the National Monuments in the Grand Canyon region. This is like music to the ears of those who relish the thought of finding a low stress setting while on vacation!
The Navajo National Monument is only about 140 miles away from Grand Canyon Village, yet relatively few Grand Canyon tourists know about this destination. Starting from the Grand Canyon National Park East Gate, a tourist can experience the Little Colorado Gorge, historic Cameron and the Tuba City Dinosaur Tracks on the way to the Navajo National Monument. As can be imagined, an entire day of adventure awaits those who do the trip on Highway 89 and Highway 160 into the Navajo Nation. There also is a road that runs from Page, Arizona directly to the Navajo National Monument. Arizona State Road 98 goes from Page through Antelope Canyon and some pristine landscapes all the way to the community of Shonto and Highway 160, which is next to the Navajo National Monument.
The nine mile drive down the access road to the National Monument goes through some rocky high mesa desert terrain that is heavily forested with Piñon Trees. As one gazes at this terrain, it becomes evident that the Piñon Pines, juniper trees and wildlife on this plateau are capable of sustaining a sizable civilization. This will likely be reflected upon after discovering what lies ahead.
At the end of the Navajo National Monument access road is where the visitors center and campgrounds can be found. The visitors center acts as a museum that features the cultural and natural history of this majestic place. Traditional Navajo dwellings are displayed in the outdoor exhibit, which includes a unique looking Sweat House. The two campgrounds are perfect for those who want to spend some extra time in this peaceful setting. Overnight camping onsite is also a nice convenience for those who plan on doing the guided tour into Tsegi Canyon to get a closer look at the ancient pueblos, because this venture begins early in the day.
Like many of the sacred native places of the west, great lengths are taken to protect the natural environment at the Navajo National Monument. Guided tours are the only option for getting close to the ancient pueblos, so the preservation of the archaeological sites can be maintained. Guided ancient pueblo tours involve spoken native cultural history, so a bit insight can be gained when doing the hike or horseback tour. The guides also bring visitors inside the ancient pueblos, so these tours are the best option if you want to experience the ancient sites up close and personal. Information about the guided tours can be found at the Navajo National Monument Website.
There is a hiking trail at Navajo National Monument that does not require a guided tour and this trail is definitely worth taking on. The one mile round trip Sandal Trail runs along the rim of the sandstone mesa cliffs that overlook Tsegi Canyon. The Sandal Trail is paved partway and it has smooth bare bedrock sections, so those who have mobility challenges can do the trek. The canyon does not come into view till hiking a few hundred yards away from the visitors center and when it does it is like a total surprise. Tsegi Canyon is hidden from view from the highway and most everything else in this region, so it is indeed a mysterious place!
The sheer beauty of the hidden Tsegi Canyon is a majestic sight to behold. The secretive nature of this setting can be felt inside, as well as seen with the eyes. Tsegi Canyon is a very large canyon that stretches out to the horizon, yet it is a hidden canyon because of the surrounding forested high mesa topography. Majestic canyons like this truly are what lore and legends are made of, so be sure to enjoy the views!
There is a branching arm of the Sandal Trail that goes downhill almost a half mile to the Aspen Forest Overlook. The Aspen Forest Trail is unpaved and steep in some sections, so it is a bit more challenging to do. Views of the forested valley and canyon walls do add credence to the ability of this terrain for supporting life. A few pocket caves can be seen on the opposing canyon wall in this area, which look shady and cool on a hot day. The inviting canyon wall pocket caves overlook the narrow green valley below, so it is easy to picture these cozy spots as being a nice place to call home and some actually were long ago.
The views of Tsegi Canyon change along the Sandal Trail and there are many good scenic overlooks that have vantage points that photographers dream of. The views of this canyon do have a way of overwhelming the senses, when realizing how secretive the location is. All that can be done is to stop and stare in silence, while trying to take it all in. Hiding cities in canyons was common in ancient times, while in modern times a city is designed to stand out like a sore thumb. The contrast between the two philosophies is something to ponder over while following the path.
The Sandal Trail is the only unguided hiking trail that offers views of the ancient pueblos in Tsegi Canyon. Toward the end of the mile long trail, the cliffside pueblos start to come into view. Depending on the time of day, the blinding bright sunlight or the dark shadows cast by the canyon walls can keep the ancient pueblos hidden when looking from a distance, just as if by design. The canyon is a bit wide where the ancient pueblos are located, so be sure to bring binoculars or a telephoto lens in order to view the finer details.
Tsegi Canyon was first occupied by highly mobilized hunter gatherer tribes that began agricultural practices on the valley floor. The large cliff pockets were a natural choice for shelter and eventually the ancient Pueblo Culture built many structures in this canyon, just like they did in this entire region. After the age of the Pueblo Culture passed, the Navajo Nation called this place home and they have lived in this region ever since. The ancient pueblos remain in their original state and they truly are an intriguing sight to see.
When touring the Grand Canyon region or when driving through the Navajo Nation on Highway 160, the Navajo National Monument definitely a destination to keep in mind. The majestic hidden Tsegi Canyon is what memories are made of and this destination offers a chance to learn a little something about the native cultures of the west. This is a great place to do some camping and hiking, so be sure to stock up before setting sail. The Navajo National Monument is a place like no other and the experience will provide memories to ponder over for a lifetime!
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