Walnut Canyon National Monument
A hike down into Walnut Canyon National Monument will take you back in time. The canyon walls hold the ancient cliff dwellings of nearly a thousand years ago. Walnut Canyon National Monument is one of the most well-preserved cliff dwellings of the Sinagua people. Sinagua means “without water” in Spanish, which refers to their method of farming.
From 1120 to 1250, the Sinagua people chose this ideal spot to build their home, with the cool stream at the bottom of the 400-foot gorge. Their dwellings are located under the natural overhangs of limestone and sandstone along the canyon walls. The Sinagua’s used stones and mortar to close on the exposed sides of their dwellings. If you look carefully, you might find the handprints in the mud left behind by the builder. At one time, there were 300 rooms at Walnut Canyon. Today, visitors can see 24 rooms.
The Visitor Center has lots of information about the Sinagua people. There are displays and artifacts recounting their existence. A showcase holds a variety of flora found in the canyon. Many of the single-family dwellings are visible from the Visitor Center. There are picnic facilities outside the Visitor Center.
At the Visitor Center, the Island Trail down to the dwellings begins. The hour-long Island Trail hike into the canyon is a must. The hike includes a 250-step downward path with handrails and several resting spots along the way. It is a hike offering wonderful natural views and glimpses of cliff dwellings. There is another easier hiking trail around the canyon rim. The Rim Trail takes you to two viewpoints and two dwellings. Along the trail, there are signs describing the plants and wildlife. Please allow 30 minutes for the half-mile loop Rim Trail. Both trails can be closed if snow and ice are present.
The monument is open every day from 8:00 to 6:00 June through August, 8:00 to 5:00 September through November, 9:00 to 5:00 March through April and the rest of the year, except Christmas and New Year’s Day. The Island Trail does close one hour before the Visitor Center closes. The admission is $3.00 per person and children under 17 are free. If you would like more information, you may call 520-526-3367.
Walnut Canyon National Monument is located seven miles east of Flagstaff, just off of Interstate 40. If you are coming from Phoenix or Tucson take Interstate 17 north to Flagstaff. Once you are in Flagstaff, take Interstate 40 east out of town. You will travel for approximately seven miles until you come exit 204 and the signs for Walnut Canyon National Monument.
Almost 100 years ago, geologist Daniel Barringer developed a theory. He believed that a meteor had slammed into the earth and created the crater just outside of Flagstaff. Those around him did not agree. They felt that the area around Flagstaff was known for its volcanic activity. A volcanic eruption was a better explanation of the crater’s creation. Barringer disagreed and staked a mining claim on the crater. He also began a search for iron and nickel, which he believed lay at the bottom of the crater. Barringer was partially correct about the crater. A meteor had created the crater, however, the minerals he was in search of were never discovered. Today the Barringer family has opened the crater for visitors. You can see it for yourself.
Meteor Crater is a gaping hole in the ground, nearly 570 feet deep and more than 4,000 feet in diameter. This hole was made by a several hundred thousand ton meteorite, which came crashing to earth at 40,000 mph, nearly 50,000 years ago. Meteor Crater is considered to be the best-preserved impact site on earth. The sheer size of this hole is hard to imagine. Try and picture a chasm deep enough for a 60-story building and wide enough for 20 football fields. It is an amazing sight!
The terrain of the crater is similar to that of the moon. This similarity interested NASA and in the 1960’s NASA decided to use the Meteor Crater for training. The Apollo astronauts used the crater as a practice ground for the moon landing.
At Meteor Crater visitors can see exhibits, movies and listen to talks about the crater. Meteor Crater’s Museum of Astrogeology gives a presentation on meteor devastation, along with the role it plays in the study of earth and space science. The largest meteorite ever found in the area is on display to see and touch. Meteor Crater honors the brave Americans who have ventured into space. The Astronaut Hall of Fame commemorates space flight. There are photographs, spacesuits, and other exhibits honoring space missions. An Apollo Space Capsule can also be seen at the crater.
One of the most exciting experiences at the crater is the rim walk. The rim itself is about 150 feet above the surrounding plateau and 570 feet above the bottom of the crater. The sides are practically vertical below the rim. You can take the three and a half mile rim trail at the top of the crater, weather permitting. Hikers do need to have the proper footwear for the walk. However, hikers are not permitted into the crater.
Astronaut Park is available for picnics and relaxing after an exciting day at the crater. The gift store has many unique items to take home. There is also a Coffee Shop on the grounds to sit and take in the experience.
Meteor Crater is open all year round. During May 15 through September 15, the hours are 6:00 to 6:00 and during September 16 through May 14 the hours are 8:00 to 5:00. The admission charge is $8.00 for adults, $7.00 for individuals over 60 and $4.00 for children 6 to 17. It is important to allow two hours for your visit to Meteor Crater. If you would like more information, you may call 520-289-2362.
You can get to the crater from Flagstaff by taking Interstate 40 east out of town for 22 miles. Then take exit 233 and follow the signs. It is only minutes south off of Interstate 40. If you are coming from Phoenix or Tucson take Interstate 17 north out of town to Flagstaff. Once in Flagstaff, take Interstate 40 east out of town. When you come to exit 233 take it and follow the signs to Meteor Crater. You can get to the crater from Winslow by taking Interstate 40 west out of town for 20 miles. Then follow the signs for the turnoff from the Interstate.
Museum of Northern Arizona
The Museum of Northern Arizona is the best place to visit and learn about the Native American cultures of Northern Arizona. The museum is internationally recognized for its research on the Colorado Plateau. The Plateau includes Northern Arizona and the Four Corners region taking in the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion National Parks, along with the Hopi and Navajo Indian Reservations. The museum is devoted to the geology, anthropology and fine arts of the area. One of the most popular exhibits at the museum is the “Native Peoples of the Colorado Plateau”, which shows the development of the people from the Anasazi to the Native Americans of today.
The museum was constructed in 1928 to house the galleries and ever-changing exhibits. The Exhibit Building covers nearly 13,000 square feet. Children will enjoy seeing the life-sized model of Diloposaurus, a carnivore dinosaur, who once roamed Northern Arizona. There is something that will interest all who come to visit. During the summer, the museum has demonstrations and dances done by Native Americans. This is a must see if you are in the area at this time. You will want to call in advance to find out exact times and events.
The museum boasts a reproduction of a Hopi Kiva. The kiva is a circular meeting room. The Kiva has a loom and rug making a display, along with information about the native people who used the kiva.
The gift shop has numerous authentic Native American art pieces for sale. There is a large selection of Indian arts, books and other items that will remind you of your visit. Outside the museum, there is a half-mile nature trail, which takes you along a creek and a canyon rim.
The Museum of Northern Arizona is open daily from 9:00 to 5:00, except on New Year’s Day, Christmas and Thanksgiving. The cost of admission is $5.00 for adults, $4.00 for seniors over 55, $3.00 for students with an ID, $2.00 for children ages 7 through 17 and children under 7 are free. You can find out more about the museum and special activities by calling 520-774-5213 or 520-774-5211.
The museum is located at 3101 North Fort Valley Road. You will take U.S. Highway 180 north out of Flagstaff for about three miles until you come to the museum on your right. If you are coming from Tucson or Phoenix take Interstate 17 north out of town to Flagstaff. Once you are in Flagstaff, travel through town on Milton Road and continue heading north on Humphrey’s Road/Fort Valley Road or U.S. Highway 180 to the Museum. The museum will be on the left side of the road, approximately two miles from downtown Flagstaff.