“I want to hike there…”

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

Hidden from the rest of the world.

Hidden from the rest of the world.

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
  • Difficulty:Easy
  • Time:About 4 hours
Josh and Sage, Edwin, Jamie, and Charlie

Josh and Sage, Edwin, Jamie, and Charlie

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.

The wear and tear of time.

The wear and tear of time.

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.

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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.

Anasazi Damn

Anasazi Damn

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.

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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.

The Anasazi were Charlie sized.

The Anasazi were Charlie sized.

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.

Relatives?  Did I follow in their foot steps?

Relatives? Did I follow in their foot steps?

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…

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No the problem was not Jamie’s fear of heights.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Old

The Old

The New

The New

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.

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Looking for Salamanders

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.

Continuing on with the hopes that hot chocolate would be waiting for him.

Continuing on with the hopes that hot chocolate would be waiting for him.

Getting Lost, One Last Time

I’m back in Illinois for the summer, and I’m sure I’ll have many more adventures here. Before I left my adopted home, I had to go exploring one more time.  I had never wandered far beyond the Toes, so now was as good a time as any.

And I’ll be back in Kayenta soon.  Plenty more places to explore in the great southwest.

Metallica Rock

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Who: Marshall, the dogs, and I

Where: The Toes and beyond..

Difficulty:Moderate

Time: Four hours, there and back

Now, I’ve talked about the Toes, that’s my normal hiking ground.  And when I look at it, normally this is what I see, and what I show.

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However, on this hike, I got to see a very different perspective of the dominate landscape of Kayenta.

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The backside of the Toes

As always, I’m shocked by how photogenic my home is, almost always.

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I hate climbing up the slate rock, so instead we decided to go around the base.  Much more enjoyable, as we scrambled up several sand rocks.  We would take breaks along the way.    Typically we would go for a place shaded by the trees.  The dogs would get drinks of water, and so would we.

Diesel almost caught a lizard.  Marshall had pointed it out, and Diesel launched himself at it.  For a second, the tail was underneath the paw.  Slightly panicked at what would happen, Marshall got Diesel  to let him go.  For the rest of the hike, Diesel was convinced that he would catch one.

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Once we got over the sand rocks, we reached a very different portion of the Toes.  One that has more vegetation and a few more trees.  And rocks, lots and lots of rocks.  That Marshall insists on collecting.  The joke between us is that typically during a hike, one’s pack grows lighter as they drink their water and eat their snacks.  Marshall’s grows heavier as he finds chert and other rocks he wants to make into arrowheads.

I let him go on, and I took a break.   I’m not the only one who has used the area as a place to rest.  Or enjoy our beautiful weather.  I don’t know who put the stone their, but I’m thankful to them.

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We all did something interesting.  Diesel continued to look for lizards while Bentley played spider dog.  For a dog that hates heights, she likes to run up sandstone, and run back down it again.

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Also, I fell in love with these trees, they smell like cinnamon.  Marshall told me it’s name.  I forgot it already.

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After we were done playing in the ravine, we began hiking up to the top of the rock.  Originally, I did not know it’s name.  A friend had promised that the view was spectacular.  Josh, told us the name once we were back with the rest of the civilization.  However, we could have guessed.

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Don’t they look pretty?

This slate rock was not much different than the slate rock up to the Toes.  But on we climbed.  We had fun doing it.  Getting to the top felt like a huge accomplishment.

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And we found out how Metallica rock received its name.  Most of the structure is sand stone.  Very easy to dig into.  People felt the need to carve in their accomplishments, so that everyone else knew that they had gotten there.  One man left a lengthy message, that he had travel from California, and dated it before the creation of the state of Arizona.  Families carved in their initials.  Locals, who have had practice in carving in the stone got a little more creative.  The Metallica carving is the highest carving, giving the rock it’s name.

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We left our own mark.  Just our initials, no date.  Leaving a date would mean I could never go back.  I’m going back if just for the view.

There is a lot to see in the area, and it’s absolutely beautiful.   Obviously the Toes can be seen, but also a few others as well.  You can see El Capitan, the exact central location of the Navajo Nation.  You can also see Owl Rock, way out there.  I love to see both on my drives to Monument Valley.  Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of accidents.

Toes

Toes

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Owl Rock on the left and El Cap on the right

Owl Rock on the left and El Cap on the right

There is just a slight problem.  Diesel loves climbing, he’s a little bit of a mountain goat.  He’s spent some time in California running after a pack of dogs on Marshall’s family farm.  Bentley still hates heights.  Literally, we are enjoying the view, carving our initials in, and Bentley spent the entire time freaking out.

When it was time to start climbing down, Diesel would launch himself off the rocks.  Bentley, we had to drag her off.  I would push her, and Marshall would lift her up.  Then my little, nervous dog would wrap her legs around his neck.  Then she would whine, whine, whine, as if she was saying “Daddy, I’m scared.  Take care of me please!”

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When it was time to go home, we took another way out that we’ve never tried before.  It worked, until we realized we were not very close to the bottom and had to slide down the side of some sand stone.  Bentley and Diesel had fun running up and down.  Marshall had an easy enough time sliding down, me not so much.  Marshall has some better pictures, but I haven’t gotten them yet.

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Of course we took our usual couple picture.

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At the end of the day, this is what I got from my hike.  A very tired puppy.  I love my puppy

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Navajo National Monument

http://www.nps.gov/nava/index.htm

It’s amazing how time flies, but I’ve been in Kayenta for almost a year and a half.  To celebrate, Marshall and I went and recreated one of my earlier hikes.

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One of the first pictures Marshall saw of me.

Haha, not really.  To get to Kayenta, Marshall always passes the sign to Navajo National Monument.  Hoping that the ruins were open for the season, and looking for a short hike, we piled in to go visit.

Upon arriving, we learned that the guided tours to Betatakin were not opening for another month or so.  Still, we hiked around, having fun looking at the ruins from a distance.  One of my favorite trails, hands down, is Aspen Trail

Aspen Trail

DSC00756Who: Marshall and I

Where: Navajo National Monument

Difficulty: Depends on who you ask

Time: About half an hour

Navajo National Monument is worth the drive.  For one, it’s FREE!  (We love free in my family.) Secondly, they’ve done a good job building a museum to learn more about the area.  Third, they have some great books about the area, people, and wild life to buy.

Overall, the park has done a great job blending in how the natural scenery influenced the local people, from the Ancient Publoneans (to learn more about them visit the Butler Wash Hike) to the current Navajo people.

Overall the trail is a little more than a quarter mile long and starts off like this.

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Every trail I seem to go on starts like this.  It’s wonderfully smooth.  Blessedly level.  Then it becomes this.

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Though this time I knew what I was getting myself into.  I’ve been to Navajo National Monument before, and I’ve hiked the Aspen Trail all the way down to the bottom of the canyon.  Due to seasonal closers, we would only be hiking about half way.

We couldn’t see the ruins at the bottom, but we did get a look at the Aspen relict forest.

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The relict forest is a left over from glacier days.  Within the desert of the surrounding area, it looks like an oasis.  The forest provided many resources for the local peoples.

Overall, a fun hike.  I’m looking forward to hiking all the way to the bottom once the trail opens.  Stay tune!

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

BTW:  Marshall wants me to note that there are few inaccuracies about the plant labeling within the park.  Douglas-fir’s scientific name is Pseudotsuga menziesi, not whatever they have written down on the sign.