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Hike to Betatakin

There is only one trick to seeing Betatakin Ruin, one of the best-preserved cliff house dwellings in the entire southwest:   get up early.

The reason is the crazy time zones around here.   Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time, so it stays on Mountain Standard Time all year long.   However, the Navajo nation does observe Daylight Savings Time, which means that in the summer it is one hour later here than in the rest of Arizona.

Seven people signed up for the ranger-led tour of Betatakin Ruin, but only five showed up at 10:00 a.m. MDT.   The other two were probably thinking they still had an hour to get ready.

navajo-betatakin-potsherds.jpgBetatakin is a jewel among the many Ancient Puebloan ruins scattered around the Four Corners.   Tucked under a massive natural alcove, it has been preserved from rain for over 700 years.   It is a fairly large dwelling, with several kivas, pictographs and petroglyphs, and a “supergranary” high above for food storage.   We saw dried corn cobs and potsherds all over the place, and original wood still in the ceilings.   It was an amazing tour.


navajo-betatakin-ruin.jpgThe only way to see Betatakin up close is to take the free ranger-guided hike.   If you are physically capable, you definitely should make the effort. The interpretation done by our ranger was superb, and with five hours of hiking and viewing time, we got a very good understanding of everything we saw.   This was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our Four Corners tour, and that’s saying a lot!

Taking the tour requires that you be able to hike five miles with a descent and ascent of 700 feet including some steep switchbacks and a little bit of sand.   The altitude is 7300 feet, so being acclimated for at least a few days is essential.   You also should have good hiking shoes,   at least two liters of water per person, snacks, and all the usual sun-protection stuff (hat, sunglasses, sunscreen).   But for all the warnings and preparation, it wasn’t terribly hard and it certainly was well worth the effort.

navajo-betatakin-eleanor-canyon.jpgYou have to be here to understand the beauty of this place.   Even if you can’t do the hikes, the rear patio of the visitor center will give you a clue.   The air is clear and the long canyon vistas are gorgeous.   Down in the canyons and sandstone alcoves there is water, year-round.   The stone provides shelter from heat and rain.   Wildlife is hidden but present.   Everything you need to survive is here, if you have the proper knowledge.

The Ancient Puebloans recognized the values of this area and managed to “dry” farm it for decades before they suddenly (and mysteriously) moved on.   Today, the Navajos live here, a bit modernized, but still carrying on values and traditions that have been part of their culture for centuries.   Both the Navajos and the Ancients have their secrets, making the entire place seem mysterious and magical.


We were so impressed by today’s tour that we are talking about coming out next year to hike 17 miles (roundtrip) to the Keet Seel ruin.   We’d tent camp overnight for that one.   It’s logistically a bit harder, but within our grasp with a little pre-planning. Perhaps in June”¦

Navajo NMON may be little visited, and far off the beaten path, but I can recommend it.   Bring what you need, and stay a couple of days.

3 Responses to “Hike to Betatakin”

  1. Tin Can Says:

    Five hours of hiking? Yikes!

    Imagine what life must have been like there.

  2. Judy Hazen Says:

    See my comments under Grand Canyon to Glen Canyon section. We are curently working on a power point slide show based on the photos that we took at Chaco Canyon and other ancient peoples of the American Southwest sites that we visited on our summer 2008 trip. Another book that covers some of the sites that you have visited is Stephen Plog’s “Ancient Peoples of the American Southwest”.
    Fred Hazen

  3. Bert Gildart Says:

    Rich & Eleanor, Janie and I consider the hike we made about three years ago to Keet Seel Ruins to be one of our most memorable overnight adventures. (You must do it!) We slept that night in the shadow of the ancients and the moaning winds of the night made us think ancients still stalked the canyon. Pottery was everywhere and you got the feeling inhabitants had simply stepped out for a moment or two and would soon return. Emma would love it…