This post is sponsored by Corning® Gorilla® Glass
It’s easy to be in awe of the incredible landscape that unfolds when standing at the canyon rim of Navajo National Monument but a descent into Tsegi Canyon to visit the Betatakin Ruins provides many important lessons and more dazzling scenery with every steep switchback. During our five mile round trip hike I learned more about the Anasazi, or Ancestral Puebloans, who lived in the Four Corners region of the United States (present day Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico) between 1250-1300 AD. My anticipated lesson in history was so much more as our volunteer guide, Jim, led us deeper into the canyon.
Throughout our journey I was reminded of the resourcefulness of the Ancient Puebloans who lived off the land in ways that have been lost in our era of consumption, respecting the power of nature whose forces not only created the Tsegi Canyon but also the harsh living environment for the tribe who sought shelter in the cliffs, and the ways travel can instill a lifelong love of learning. Incredible education can occur through experiences where we feel a personal connection to a place and it’s people, but since not everyone can learn about the Ancestral Puebloans through a trip to the Betatakin, I wanted to share a some of the knowledge gained during my visit to Navajo National Monument with Corning® Gorilla® Glass 4.
Resourcefulness of Ancient Puebloans
The nomadic Ancient Puebloans were early ethnobotanists who were skilled at identifying and using native plants as medicine, farmers who capitalized on the lush canyon floor to grow maize and squash, and gatherers who knew what grasses, seeds, and berries grew along the vertical canyon cliffs to provide necessary nutrition as well as materials for food and clothing.
As we started our hike, small pines and junipers of the pygmy conifer forest that surrounded the trail’s plateau were highlighted as a source of food, tools, and clothing. Our native Navajo guide, Jim, stopped to point out native plants as we descended deeper into the canyon. Spiky yucca had seeds that were boiled and used for food, leaves that were soaked and made into rope, or dried, split, and woven into mats. A favorite of sheep, Indian rice grass also served as a food source for early Hopi and Navajos who harvested and then scorched the grass in order to release seeds that were crushed into meal or cooked as mush, dumplings, or cakes. The tall, fibrous leaves were often braided with yucca to make bedding and clothing.
I couldn’t help being embarrassed about our present day consumption knowing how skilled Ancestral Puebloans were at living off the land. While our family has incorporated sustainable practices into our food consumption (did you know we have backyard chickens and grow our own fruits and vegetables?), there’s always more that we can be doing to consume less. The Ancient Puebloans’ ability to source food and materials from the land inspired me to be even more efficient in using what we have at our disposal, returning things to the land via compost, and recycling.
Respecting the Power of Nature
The awe-inspiring landscapes found in Navajo National Monument come from millions of years of environmental change to a geologic setting called the Colorado Plateau Physiographic Province, where rising tides and erosion carved deep canyons. As water rushed away from the canyon, it carved vertical walls in the Navajo sandstone to create Tsegi Canyon that stretch 700 feet from top to bottom. To help with that visual, 700 feet is about 70 stories!
A hike down 700 feet and back up allows you to realize the incredible power of nature. Elegant curves in the sandstone reveal striations made by wind and rain. Sandstone flaking from the canyon walls created alcoves of all sizes throughout the canyon including the large one that houses the Betatakin Ruins that unfolds before you as you emerge from the canyon floor’s lush tree canopy. Just as it took millions of years to create Tsegi Canyon, it probably took a similar amount of time for the large alcove to form where the Ancestral Puebloans built their 135 sandstone dwellings.
The size and location of the alcove made it prime real estate for Ancestral Puebloans. According to the National Park Service the Betatakin would have been attracted to this alcove because of the agriculture potential of the canyon floor but also the vast space. It was deep enough for shelter and because it faced south, it had the advantage of being warmed by the winter sun but remained cool in the summer. Porous Navajo sandstone ensured that water would run off and back down into the canyon floor, rather than flooding the homes of the 75-100 people who lived there.
How did these dwellings become known as the Betatakin? Betatakin is the Navajo word for ledge house, a perfect description of the dwellings the Ancestral Puebloans built in the side of the canyon walls.
As we climbed up another steep incline with the reddish iron-rich soil underneath my sturdy hiking shoes, I couldn’t help but wonder how often the Ancestral Puebloans scaled the canyon walls to and from their ledge houses. I wondered if they climbed barefoot or wore shoes woven from plant materials as they used the footholds to traverse the environment’s tough terrain.
Using Travel to Inspire a Lifelong Love of Learning
Human compassion is formed through connections to people, places, and situations and while a trip to and from the Betatakin Ruins is not easy, it’s a worthwhile expedition that challenges the mind and body. Deep in the recesses of my mind knowledge about the Navajo and Hopi learned during fourth grade social studies lessons in my California elementary school came flooding back. It also made me realize this education is one my own children are missing as they learn about the Northeast Woodland Native American tribes who lived up and down the East Coast.
As I look to raise well rounded kids who are global citizens, I don’t have to travel to a destination that requires a passport. It’s just as important to find learning opportunities by traveling in my own state or within the United States to better understand our country’s own history, geography, and ways that those came before us lived to broaden our own horizons and become compassionate individuals with a well rounded perspective on the world.
Did you love the photos in this piece? They were taken with a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ and you can enter to win one of your very own!
Since Navajo National Monument is a place that I want bring my family, I wanted to capture our incredible trip until I have the chance to return. Throughout the steep descent and ascent, I loved having my Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ in my pocket for snapping photos during our hike. I was comforted by the fact that Corning Gorilla Glass helps protect the Galaxy S6 edge+ in the toughest conditions so I was able to get great shots of what I was experiencing in order to inspire a family trip in the future.
Enter to win a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ via the Rafflecopter form below!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Although this post is sponsored as part of my participation as a member of The Corning Gorilla Glass 4 in the Desert program, all opinions are my own and based on personal experience. For full sweepstakes rules, visit this link: http://ow.ly/TEd1Q. Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.