When driving towards Flagstaff, two mesas come up on either side, Black Mesa (so named for the coal and the darkish color of the mesa) and Skeleton Mesa (so named for…let me get back to you on that). I hiked Black Mesa early on in my first year in Kayenta, but I had never hiked Skeleton Mesa. And Skeleton Mesa is begging to be hiked, with the number of ridges, canyons, ruins, and streams that you get only a glimpse of as you zip past it down U.S. 160. Then one day back in October, it dawned on me. I had a coworker who’s family owned land off of Skeleton Mesa, and perhaps we had the connection we needed to go and explore the tempting Mesa.
Long House Valley
Now like I said, this is somebody’s land, somebody’s home, somebody’s livelihood. When anywhere that looks interesting, you need to ask permission to access the land and the sights. Be polite, what ever the answer is. Some families are open to letting people hike on their land, others you need to build a relationship with before you set out.
- Who: Josh, Sage (the littlest hiker), Jamie, Charlie, Edwin, and myself
- Where: Skeleton Mesa
- Time:About 4 hours
Spring Break came and went way too quickly. Though somehow it timed itself perfectly with some beautiful Arizona weather. The sky was a clear turquoise blue, the wind was nonexistent, and the sun warmed the earth enough so that we were comfortable. With no school to entertain us and the beautiful weather calling us out of our homes, it was time to go for a hike.
Edwin was our guide, as the Mesa had been his playground in his youth. When I originally approached him about hiking in Skeleton Mesa, I thought I would be given an okay and directions. Instead, he smiled and said of course he would take us. He had spent a lot of time on the Mesa, helping out with his family’s heard and had stories about the Mesa as well as information.
So up the slate rock we went to go see the ruins, hidden from the highway, and hidden from the Valley as well.
But this slate rock was a little different from the Toes. The slate rock had been pocketed with little pools over time. And the little pools actually contained water. We had been hit by a series of snow storms, cancelling six days of school in the two weeks before spring break. Though it’s been quickly disappearing, and you can barely tell that we were hit at all. Edwin wanted to give Charlie a bath. It’s a part of Navajo culture for children to bath in spring where they were born. Preferably the children would return to the area where they were born. This will help you live to a 100.
The other thing Navajos will do is roll in the snow. Infants are rolled in the first snowfall of their lifetime. It is supposed to help keep you from becoming cold in the winter months through out their lives. It’s the reason my students give me for wearing shorts in the middle of a snow storm.
Edwin kept teasing Charlie, telling the five year old (who has seen many snowfalls) to go roll in the snow. Charlie might have considered it, but ultimately decided he would rather stay dry.
As we continued our climb up the slate rock, or the child friendly version of the hike, Edwin pointed out a set of bricks on top of each other.
It was a former water damn for the Anasazi. (If you want to know more about the Anasazi, visit the Butler Wash Hike). There are some theories about Long House Valley. The damn, or rather serious of damns, points to an idea that the Anasazi were farming extensively in the area. The slate rock assisted in directing the water to where the Anasazi were planting. Another theory is that the early people of Long House Valley were pottery makers, since the area his made up of clay soil. A deep, rich red color clay. Also, there are multiple housing sites, an indication that this was a large communtiy filled with many people.
Speaking of which, the ruins.
Long House sneaks up on you. You’ll be chatting away, staring at something else when you realize that ruin is right in front of you. Or in our case, to the side of us. It really is it’s own little world, safe and hidden from our modern society.
There is evidence that Long House was probably two stories, as indicated by the wooden rafter still in place. It was more likely the newest house in the settlement, as it was the furthest away from the planting fields. However, Long House is tiny. Thank goodness the second story is gone, I would have come out with several head bruises. While I had some struggle getting through the tiny door, Charlie walked on through. Proof that as human beings we have been getting taller.
While Long House is a historical marker for the Anasazi, it has become something of a guest book for the area.
People carved their names into the sandstone of the bricks, telling us who the people were that visited the site, and when. Soldiers in the American Army from the mid-1800s had some of the most beautiful handwriting. Some of the individuals left artwork, rather than a name. I found some members of the Murphy family, possible relatives of mine. And there were a few famous individuals as well, mainly Zane Gray.
Once we spent our time poking around the ruins, it was down the Mesa to go and visit the nearby box canyon. However, we were faced with a little probelm…
The area is literally littered with pottery chard. In some places you could not help but step on them. Edwin mentioned that in the 60s, people would come to Long House Valley to pick up some of the pottery. It’s amazing to hear that since there is still so much of it left in the area.
Now, keep in mind that it is technically illegal to take the pottery away from the ruin. Since Longhouse is on the reservation, and the reservation is federal land; removing the pottery becomes a federal crime. Which is very difficult to follow from time to time. So much of the pottery chard retain their bright colors, handles, lips, and patterns. Many of the pottery pieces are huge (relatively speaking) and some pieces were clearly apart of the same pot.
Though that was nothing compared to what Josh found.
A full pot! Protected from destruction by the very sand that hid it from us.
Then through the sand dunes to the box canyon. The box canyon held pictographs, a small stream, wild horses, and a water spring. We had seen the horses the last time we had hiked in the area, and I was hoping to see them again, without Diesel trying to charge them. Though, they must not have liked the idea of approaching the noisy group.
So through the box canyon, with no horse spotting. In general we were following the small stream that wove its ways within the walls of the canyon. It created a small lush area, that would be green once spring began to take root in the area.
We were forced to cross the stream in several spots, and I was very thankful to have the water proof boots.
On the sides of the canyon were some pictographs, that transcended time, literally. Some of the pictographs are possibly from the when the Anasazi created them. They were faded, and hard to see. They were almost gone, threatening extinction if unprotected. The deeper ones were clearly modern artwork. It’s either that or the Anasazi liked the Bulls before Michael Jordan made them cool.
How Hipster of them.
As we continued into the canyon, the water became greater. Definitely some of it came from the recent snow fall. However, a lot of it came from getting closer to the main water source, a series of bubbling wells. The wells were modernized, and cemented, protecting the drinking water in a time from before modern plumbing.
Kayenta’s name in Navajo, Tó Dínéeshzheeʼ, means the “Place where water is”. So while the area is a desert, its a desert with water. No doubt the early people of the area knew that this was a good place to create a home. It is clear from the number of ruins they left behind.
Soon, we came to the time that is was time to head home before the cold and the dark set in. Following the stream through the box canyon and the sand dunes to the car. It was time to return to our own time, and relive the past through the pictures on our cameras. Though I don’t bump my head on the ceiling, there are no reminders that people had been in the area for hundreds of years. But mostly, it was time for a Navajo Burger.