Thursday – Sunday, May 30 – June 2, 2019
After a quick visit to Navajo National Monument back in 2011, which was when I was on my way to visit The Wave for the very first time, I knew that I needed to come back another time so I could actually hike to the Keet Seel and Betatakin ruins. Every year since then I have thought about going back but I never got around to making the advance reservations for the Keet Seel hike which typically fills up early in the year. When I made the decision that I was going to try to obtain some hard-to-get permits earlier this year (i.e. Havasupai), the hike to Keet Seel was up near the top of my list! On the first day that reservations were being taken for Keet Seel in February I called and reserved an overnight permit for Diane and myself for the first weekend in June because it was the first Saturday of the season that you could do an overnight hike this year. Since this particular hike is only available from Memorial Day to Labor Day, which is typically the hottest part of the year on the Colorado Plateau, I hoped that the weather would cooperate with us this year and not be too warm…
Welcome to Navajo National Monument!
Since we had to be at Navajo National Monument for the mandatory Keet Seel orientation at 3:00pm on Friday afternoon, we took Friday off from work so we could hike to the Betatakin Ruins that morning. I left a little early from work on Thursday and picked Diane up in Moab since she had been working there that day. We stopped to pick up a pizza in Blanding for dinner along the way and made it to the Sunset View Campground near the Visitor Center around 7:00pm. There were a lot more people camped there on a Thursday evening than I was expecting, but there were still a few available sites, so we picked one and set up camp. We arrived shortly after it had stopped raining, which it apparently had been doing for much of the afternoon, so the ground was pretty wet. I went for a quick hike on the nearby Sandal Trail to the Betatakin Overlook at sunset and then we went to bed early.
Hiking along the Sandal Trail at sunset.
We slept in a little later on Friday morning and got up after sunrise. We made our way over to the Visitor Center by 8:00am to sign up for the ranger-guided hike to Betatakin and found that there was only one other person signed up, so we would have a nice small group going down to the ruins. Since the Aspen Trail was closed due to a rockfall over the winter we had to drive out to the parking area on Tsegi Point with the Ranger and hike down from there. This route is a little longer but it’s also the same way you take down to Keet Seel so it was a nice preview of our hike to come. Unfortunately, due to another rockfall that happened in the Betatakin alcove over ten years ago this hike no longer gets very close to these ruins, so you still can only view them from below and from a little bit of a distance. The trail does get close to a couple smaller ruins and a few pictographs and petroglyphs, though.
There was just a little bit of a golden glow at the very top of the huge alcove while we were near the ruins.
The ruins at the very far left of the alcove were already coming out of the shadows into the sunlight.
Here’s a closer look at the Betatakin Ruins from the end of the trail.
A couple nice pictographs that the trail does get close to.
A nice petroglyph of a bighorn sheep with very long horns hidden behind some leaves.
Nice clouds started building in the sky as we hiked back to the trailhead along the trail in Betatakin Canyon.
A closeup of a Yucca flower along the trail. There were a lot of wildflowers blooming this weekend!
Hiking up one of the sets of steps along the trail to the top of Tsegi Point.
A nice view over Long Canyon from the top with Navajo Mountain off in the distance at the very left of the frame.
We hung around the Visitor Center and our campsite until the orientation for the Keet Seel hike at 3:00pm. In the orientation they basically went through a PowerPoint presentation that showed most of the hike step-by-step, which included no less than four photos about how to walk through a cattle guard in a fence along the way. It was a bit overkill. When the presentation was over we received our permit to hike the following day. We decided to head into Kayenta for dinner and then returned to our campsite so we could hike a few more trails up on the rim before sunset.
Our tent in the Sunset View Campground.
I went for a hike on the Canyon View Trail.
The trail went by this old Historic Contact Station and I also walked through the Canyon View Campground while I was over in the area.
Next I hiked down the Aspen Trail to the Aspen Forest Overlook.
The view of Betatakin Canyon from the Aspen Forest Overlook.
I returned to camp for Diane and then we hiked over to the Betatakin Overlook for sunset before returning to camp and getting to bed. On Saturday morning we woke up just before sunrise, packed up our camp and drove over to the Keet Seel Trailhead so we could start our hike around 7:30am. We were originally planning on sleeping in late today and getting a later start hiking, but in the orientation on Friday they stated that they wanted all hikers on the trail to Keet Seel by 8:00am. After descending the trail into Tsegi Canyon we followed Keet Seel Canyon all the way to the campground. There was perennial water flowing in this canyon that you had to walk through often, but it typically wasn’t deep enough to get over the top of our boots if we were careful where we stepped. When we arrived at the small campground near Keet Seel, which was well-shaded, we setup our tent and then went on our tour of Keet Seel with another group of three hikers who had arrived just before us. We both really enjoyed visiting the ruins at Keet Seel and the hike there was definitely worth it!
A view down Tsegi Canyon on a hazy morning.
Starting the hike down into the canyon from Tsegi Point.
Entering Keet Seel Canyon
Just one of the many creek crossings.
Getting closer to the first and largest waterfall in Keet Seel Canyon.
Walking Through Water
Welcome to Keet Seel!
A look at the ruins on the right side of the large alcove.
These ruins are on the left side of the alcove.
This long ladder is the way up into the ruins.
Dark Side of the Ruins
This pot (jug) was sitting on top of one of the ruins.
View From Above
We hiked below this large log to get up into the ruins.
The front of this ruin reminds me of The Dollhouse near the Bears Ears.
Keet Seel Village
We used this smaller ladder to get from one level of the ruins to another.
A few small ancient relics that were found at this site.
There was a very nice glow at this end of the alcove while were were there.
Diane enjoyed looking at all the potsherds that were still scattered about.
After the tour of Keet Seel we returned to camp to rest and relax for the rest of the evening. Thankfully, the temperature out was very nice in the shade, although it was a little bit warm when you were in direct sunlight. There was a nice breeze at times which helped keep some of the bugs away, but they weren’t too bad yet anyways. We really lucked out with the weather on this trip thanks to the cooler and wetter spring we’ve been experiencing on the Colorado Plateau this year.
Our campsite near Keet Seel.
This was our view of Keet Seel from camp.
Looking the opposite direction from camp we had this view of the canyon wall shortly before sunset.
Since the weather was very nice and the forecast called for clear skies and a zero percent chance of rain, we decided to leave the rainfly off our tent this night. So imagine our surprise when I woke up at at 2:40am to the sound of rain hitting the leaves in the trees above our tent and then feeling the drops on my face. We quickly got the rainfly on our tent but by that time the rain had already stopped. I was happy we had got up to put on the rainfly when we heard a few more short rain showers throughout the rest of the night, so it wasn’t a waste of our time!
We woke up early on Sunday morning so we could get an early start hiking back in cooler temperatures, plus we had a long drive back home ahead of us. Aside from the final climb back out of the canyon, which wasn’t too bad, the hike back seemed a little bit easier since it was mostly a gradual downhill grade. The temperature was very nice this morning and we were back to our car at the trailhead before it really started to get warm out. Overall, we had a pretty great weekend in Navajo National Monument and I’m glad I was finally able to visit Keet Seel!
Keet Seel Canyon Morning
One of the smaller waterfalls along the way.
Follow the water back down the canyon…
Diane hikes ahead of me as we leave Keet Seel on our way back home.