If you are anywhere near Flagstaff, traveling on I-40, a stop at Walnut Canyon National Monument is required. This is a must-see landscape in Arizona possessing a history as rich as its geology and natural, forested beauty.
On reaching the monument area, two paths await visitors: The Island and Rim Trails. To reach the Island Trail, visitors pass through to the lower floor of the the visitor’s center. Bathrooms and a drinking fountain, as well as vending machines are on site. A small fee is charged by park guides. They are also available to offer information and answer questions.
An informational gallery in the center provides more opportunity to learn about this area’s native people. A small gift shop is on the premises for visitors’ enjoyment. Alternatively, the Rim Trail is reached from the parking lot.
Walnut Canyon National Monument offers us a glimpse into this area’s culturally rich history. All that remains of those inhabitants who came before us are beautifully constructed ruins of the Sinagua cliff-dwellers, constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries. While we can walk around an “island” of the ruins, there are many, many more (inaccessible) ruins across the ravines of this area that suggest a once-bustling community of activity. Pausing along the ancient pathways offers ample opportunity to imagine how richly a life was led on these 400 ft.cliffs above (once flowing, before dams) Walnut Creek. All that a community naturally required could be found in this canyon, including Arizona Walnut trees. This monument area is unique in that visitors walk along ledges that, without question, were walked by former inhabitants of these ruins. The ruins themselves are right beside the (now concrete for stability) footpath. Due to the protective nature of the rock overhangs, original construction of the ruins can still be seen today.
Although the 1 mile Island Trail loop is a bit of a walk, especially on the return trip (a 185 ft. decent/ascent via 240 concrete steps), by carrying drinking water and taking a slow pace, the ruins can be reached by most visitors.
If the vertical trek seems unmanageable, do visit the alternate Rim Trail that skirts the upper edge of the canyon. Part of this route is wheelchair accessible and has two good overlooks onto the canyon and ruins below. While you will not be in close proximity of the cliff ruins, a pair of binoculars will bring them into view. On the Rim Trail, you can also see an example of a pit house ruins, pueblo and former cropland.
Walnut Canyon National Monument is easily reached via a 3-mile paved road off I-40 (7 1/5 miles east of Flagstaff) at Exit 204. For all the information you need before visiting the Monument, we suggest visiting: http://www.nps.gov/waca/index.htm In winter, the road leading to the Monument may be closed due to snow. Pets are only allowed in the parking lot.
As with all ancient ruins, please respect the area. Take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints.