Travel Back in Time at Navajo National Monument
Navajo National Monument is comprised of three sites: Inscription House, Kiet Siel and Betatakin. These cliff dwellings were inhabited by the Anasazi (Ancient Puebloans). All three are fairly well preserved, although Inscription House has not been open to the public for some time.
Kiet Siel was discovered in 1895 by the Wetherill brothers. It was first occupied in AD 1250, with a rise in construction between AD 1272-1275. After 1275 construction tapered off, with the last construction around AD 1286. Kiet Siel is thought to be mostly residential, unlike many of the dwellings of that period. It appears that there was movement toward a “planned community”. There is archaeological evidence that trees were cut and stored in preparation for families coming to live there. It was abandoned about 20 years after the end of construction. When population was at its height, there were more than 150 people at this site. It had 150 rooms and 6 kivas. The dry conditions were excellent for the preservation of artifacts and the actual dwellings themselves.
Betatakin is smaller than Kiet Siel, having approximately 135 rooms at the time it was abandoned, with two kivas. It was built between 1267 and 1286. Jeffrey Dean (U of A), who conducted excavation at Betatakin in the 1960s, estimates that 125 people, at the most, lived there at one time.
The Anazasi living here during this time period existed mainly on agriculture, with maize, beans and curbits being the mainstays of the diet. They also hunted wild game that was in the area as evidenced by turkey feathers, eggshells and hunting tools, such as projectile points.
The dwellings were made of sandstone, mortar and mud. The cliff dwellings were distinctly different from the houses on the mesas. They could only be accessed by hand and toe holds with steep angles, as opposed to the relative ease of dwellings on top of a mesa. The dwellings were also in tight, high quarters, easy to defend. These cliff dwellings had kivas, towers and pithouses.
Jacal walls (slim close-set poles tied together and filled out with mud, clay and grasses) were also found at this site. There were about 20 room clusters at Betatakin and 25 room clusters at Kiet Siel. The room clusters contained one room for living space and the rest were for storage, and the room clusters surrounded a courtyard.
These sites were abandoned in the early 1300s. Although there is debate about why they were abandoned, many feel that the “great drought” and arroyo erosion were contributing factors to people leaving. There is evidence showing that they moved to more abundant agricultural areas that were able to sustain people.
Betatakin has two daily hikes. One starts at 8:15 am and the other at 10 am. Be prepared for a 3-4 hours trip, which can be fairly strenuous. The scenery is fascinating and beautiful. Kiet Siel is a 17-mile hike, which requires a backcountry permit and is ranger guided. There is a campground available. The Kiet Siel hike is by reservation only and is capped at 20 people per day. It is suggested that reservations be made in advance, as it books fast every season.
More information about tours can be found at www.nps.gov/nava/