Photos & Multimedia
The following six virtual tours take you along Walnut Canyon National Monument's Ancient Trail to Water. This trail was used by the canyon's inhabitants during the 1100's to make their way down to the bottom of the canyon. Water flowed intermittently on the canyon floor, providing the lifeblood of the community. To best preserve the ancient masonry of the trail for future generations and continuing archeological research, it is not currently open for public access. This virtual tour allows visitors to experience the trail while protecting it from damage and increased erosion. The photo you see above is an overview of the main portions of the trail.
Clicking the red dots in the virtual tours will take you to a non-existing web page (we are trying to correct this). You can scroll down through the six tours to see where the dots would have taken you and get the full experience without clicking the red dots. Enjoy!
From this view at the Visitor Center you can get a feel for the depth and vertical drop into the canyon. Notice to the left of the Cliff Dwelling target how steep the Coconino Sandstone cliffs are at the edge of the canyon. The well constructed Trail to Water allowed Walnut Canyon's early residents to overcome this geologic challenge safely.
The cliff dwelling is typical of the masonry style of many of the structures in Walnut Canyon, such as those open to the public on the Island Trail, and likely served as shelter and home for a single or extended family during the 12th and 13th centuries. Notice how it is built into a natural alcove in the bedrock. The alcove provides a ready-made rear wall and roof, needing only side and front walls of masonry to form a totally protected structure. Carved by nature long ago, the many alcoves offered the early residents of Walnut Canyon ideal locations for home-building.
From this point you may still see the Visitor Center up on the cliff to the left. The discovery of this trail was significant in understanding how the people who lived in the canyon traveled between the cliff dwellings above and the streambed below. Imagine having to carry all your water several hundred feet up a cliff each day.
This is the steepest portion of the trail, extending almost 400 feet from this spot and dropping over 80 vertical feet to the canyon floor below, but the trail is only one-third as steep as the natural slope beneath. This difference in grade would have made trips to and from the canyon bottom far less dangerous and strenuous, especially when heavily laden with seasonal plant resources-or more commonly, ollas (jars) full of water.
The stacked boulders and large limestone blocks in the retaining wall to the left have provided a structural base for the switchback trail for over eight hundred years. Some of the stones used in the retaining walls weigh over 2,000 pounds. These massive blocks were necessary for strong and heavy walls to support sufficient earth behind them to create and maintain the relatively level surface that persists today.
You are now at the bottom of the trail where it enters the creek bed of Walnut Canyon. This would have been an intermittent stream during the 1100's when people lived here. The bedrock bowl that is overgrown in front of you and to the left used to hold much more runoff than it does today. With the construction upstream of Lake Mary and its dam in 1905, water no longer flowed seasonally through the canyon as it had for thousands of years. Sediment has filled many of the water basins and plant life has flourished.
Did You Know?
Walnut Canyon has been protected since 1904, first as part of the San Francisco Mountain Reserve (later Coconino National Forest). Early caretakers lived in a log cabin on the canyon rim. Walnut Canyon National Monument was established in 1915, one year before the National Park Service.