The Island Trail is the main attraction at Walnut Canyon National Monument and for those who are not familiar with this destination, the experience will certainly not be a disappointment! This trail weaves is way from the visitor center down into a deep forested canyon, then the path does a complete loop around an interesting island bluff that once was the home of a large population in ancient times.
The total length of this out and back loop trail is only one and a half miles, but there is a challenging obstacle at the start and finish, which may be difficult for those who have mobility challenges to overcome. A very lengthy steep staircase descends into the deep canyon next to the visitor center and as everybody knows, what goes down, must come back up. The return trip going back up this sheer vertical staircase is enough to take the wind out of just about anybody and the high elevation does not help matters much either! For this reason, it is best to take it slow on the Island Trail return trip, so the venture remains a pleasant one.
The weather can add a dramatic effect when hiking the Island Trail and overcast conditions are best for spotting the many small pueblo structures on the surrounding canyon walls. The remains of several ancient stone block and mortar structures immediately come into view on the distant ledges and there are some located near the towering staircase. After first catching a glimpse, every few steps will reveal more evidence of the ancient Sinagua Civilization, so it is best to just plan on going at a snail's pace for the rest of the long stroll through this section of the park.
As mentioned earlier, the weather certainly can add an interesting aspect to the Island Trail experience and inclement conditions can really turn this hike into a pure adventure. There were overcast skies and steady drizzling rain during my trek, which enhanced the lush vegetation to the point of creating a jungle like atmosphere. The mood soon shifted to feeling as if being on an expedition deep into uncharted territory and this made the venture all the more interesting! When the first large pueblo on the island first came into view, it was like making the discovery of a lifetime, even though the pathway is paved.
There literally is one large ancient Sinagua Civilization pueblo dwelling after another awaiting to be discovered along the Island Trail, so be sure to set plenty of time aside for this hike. Packing some extra water is advisable too, because the climb back up the towering vertical staircase to the finish line can take the steam out of just about any engine. Plenty of information about the Sinagua Culture and the artifacts left behind can be found in the visitor center, which surely will enhance the venture. The air conditioning inside the building also feels good after doing staircase climb, so be sure to check it out!
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