Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Keet Seel

Welcome to the ruins of Keet Seel! In northern Arizona is the Navajo Reservation, which includes a special parcel known as Navajo National Monument. The Navajo National Monument contains three of the most intact cliff dwellings of the Hisatsinom people, a people which the Navajos refer to as Anasazi, translated as “ancient ones.”

The Navajo Native Americans were forcefully relocated to the lands of the Navajo Reservation in 1864 by the U.S. Army, a 450 mile trek on foot from their homelands in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. By the time the Navajo arrived, the cliff dwellings were already vacant. The Navajos were fearful of the spirits living in the ruins of the cliff dwellings, and the areas surrounding the dwellings where the Anasazi had buried their dead. As a result, the ruins of the cliff dwellings remained unmolested until they were “discovered” by the Wetherill Brothers in 1895.

The name Keet Seel is from Navajo language term meaning “broken house.” This was actually many broken houses. In fact, it is estimated that more than apartment-like 150 rooms once made the community of the Keet Seel cliff dwelling. There were storage rooms and single family, single room dwellings.

The Anasazi grew maize, beans, and cucurbits in the rich soil of the river bed in the narrow valley, and supplemented their diet with hunted wild game when possible. Corn was often ground into meal on flat pieces of sandstone, which often lent sand grains into their food. As you may imagine, chomping down on sand grains is not so good for your teeth! The teeth of the skulls have been found with heavy wear on there grinding surfaces.

It is suspected that settlement of the cliff began around 950. The community remained small until new and varied immigrants settled in around 1250. This wave of immigration is reflected in the different construction styles of the new rooms as well as the addition of several Kivas, chambers for religious ceremonies. Keet Seel had an estimated six Kivas, suggesting multiple varieties of faith, or perhaps specialization of rituals.

Yet despite this influx of people, Keet Seel would be abandoned shortly thereafter around 1300. It is not clear why Keet Seel was abandoned, but a prominent theory is that a combination of a 13 year drought and followed by heavy erosion through flooding made life in the river bed beyond reasonable.

Well, as they say, getting there is half the fun. They just don't tell you that it's nine tenths of the effort! It was a fun and beautiful hike to Keet Seel... a hike which began with a 700 foot descent into the river valley below. :-)

Check out this rock formation that looks like a big ship!

There were a handful of waterfalls to see along the way to the ruins. Did I mention that this was a river valley? Yeah, I had to cross the river probably about 20 times to get out there.

There were some cool sights along the way to keep things interesting, like this rock wall which looks like it could have inspired a cubist painter.

And this layered sandstone formation which looked similar to what you find in shale.

There was natural beauty all around, from flowers to the colorful rock layers.

OK, so here I am at the entrance to the ruins of Keet Seel. It was only about a 11 mile hike. One way! ;-) You can't really see the dwelling, but you can see the alcove in the cliff where they dwelling was built. It was huge!

This composite photo shows the span of the dwelling, roughly 180 feet wide!

Viola! The Keet Seel Ruins! on the right of the photo you see a shear drop off that was about 30 feet high. There was not a real easy was to get up to these dwellings until the National Park Service installed a permanent ladder.

Just think: all of these stones had to be brought up the side of the cliff wall to be assembled into houses. There was no elevator, no ladder, and no real stairs other than small foot-sized ledges carved into the cliff face.

On the wall of the cliff, there were a few paintings. I swear that one looks like a guy with a turkey growing out of his head. :-)

Here you can see a stone which was used for sharpening tools.

Pot shards were all over the place!

Below is a collection of small treasures which the ranger found, including an arrow head, a bone awl, a piece of a fine-beaded necklace, and a piece of rope wrapped with owl feathers.

The construction of the roofing was fairly simple; large sticks, crossed with small sticks, and covered with mud.

These were multi-story dwellings, and tight quarters for sure.

Here you can see the entrance to one of the rooms. There is a half-wall just inside the door which kept incoming drafts from blowing out the cooking fire.

You can tell by the soot on the cliff ceiling that there were quite a few home fires burning.

Here is the underside of a roof, blackened with soot. You can also see some rope made from yucca fibers.

This is a view down into one of the six Kivas at Keet Seel. The Kivas were circular, and had a circular fire pit just inside the doorway. You can imagine the shaman singing some incantation into the chilly night air. The alcove of the cliff was a perfect amphitheater, as even with my tiny, flat lungs I could make such an echoing raucous that I felt twenty times larger! I could just imagine how impressive a shaman's ceremony would be!

Here is a good photo showing a couple different building styles. You can see both walls made of stone as well as walls made from mud applied to upright sticks.

This was the coolest thing I saw on the way back! You'll probably have to click on the image for a larger view, but what you see here is a miniature cliff dwelling! These "ruins" were only about two feet tall, and were probably used by the children of the Anasazi just like doll houses are used by modern kids.

The light is getting dim, and I still have miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep. So I better get a move on, so I can rest my tired, wet, wrinkly feet before dark! See you next time!


Ollie Wallflower said...

Incredible! I lived in the Southwest for five years and never heard of this amazing place during that time. The degree to which these ruins have been preserved is nothing short of remarkable. As I understand it, a backcountry permit is required to visit. Thank goodness for that--I'm sure that's what has been responsible for keeping the place in such pristine condition.

I'm guessing you didn't have much of a problem with mosquitoes and chiggers. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I will never see this in person so I greatly appreciate your tour. Wonderful! I've seen more accessible cliff dwellings and they are so inspiring. Thanks for taking us along.

Flat Stanley said...

You are very welcome!