• View of Cliff Dwellings from the Island Trail

    Walnut Canyon

    National Monument Arizona

Natural Features & Ecosystems

Shaded forest on one side, drier canyon wall on the other

Shaded forest (on left) faces drier canyon wall (right).

NPS photo by Dallas Larsen

Walnut Canyon National Monument was established in 1915 specifically to preserve the “prehistoric ruins of ancient cliff dwellings.” Since that time, we have come to realize the importance of the canyon’s natural features, both in that ancient world and in ours today. The presence of water in a dry land made this canyon singularly rare and valuable to its early human inhabitants, and to a variety of plants and animals. The canyon’s natural abundance and diversity provided home sites, building materials, and a storehouse of foods, medicines, dyes, and other raw materials that sustained a prehistoric civilization.

This is a biological “hot spot” – a place of concentrated biological productivity – because of its varied exposures and elevations, together with seasonal water, all compressed into a narrow band within a surrounding pine forest. The canyon twists and turns, creating a patchwork of sun and shadow. Hot dry desert-like slopes and shaded forests, normally separated by thousands of feet in elevation, are found here almost side by side. With these overlapping habitats come unusual assortments of plants and animals, and a high concentration of sensitive species. At the same time, the canyon serves as an important wildlife migration corridor, linking higher elevation forests with lower pine-juniper woodlands to the east.

Did You Know?

cliff dwellings

Original proposals in 1915 called for establishment of a Cliffs National Monument at Walnut Canyon. The name was changed to Walnut Canyon National Monument to avoid confusion with a nearby railroad siding, mill town, and post office called Cliffs.