Our trip up to Columbine Campground at 8500' was quite straightforward compared to the Owens's. (Kim, Josh & Nick had a pair of flat tires during their weekend journey.) We left Saturday morning and arrived a bit after 2:00 that afternoon. Jose, his mom, Gloria, his sister, Monica, and his nephew, Alex, caravaned up there with us. We had no problems with flat tires or driving directions on the maze of unsigned dirt roads on the way.
Columbine Campground is beautiful; it is a real gem of "Nowhere Nevada." There only seven sites, and fortunately the Meyers and the Owens got there Friday night and saved us a spot. They reported that all seven sites were full on Friday night!
We set up camp, had some adult beverages, played frisbee, splashed in the creek (Stewart Creek) that our campsite backed up against, and had a fun afternoon. Josh even found an abandoned watermelon chillin' in the creek that we all devoured! Altogether, there were 14 of us, including five kids ages two to seven.
A group of us, including four of the kids, hiked across the creek and up to a ridge behind the campground with a terrific view. The peaceful silence was broken occasionally by uproarious laughter from the womenfolk in our campsite!
After we all enjoyed our various dinners (from simple to gourmet), we sat around the roaring campfire and participated in the ancient tradition of S'mores. The kids got a little sticky from warm marshmallows, but a good time was had by all.
The next morning after a 30-degree night, Chris M., Jose, and I got off to an early start in our quest to climb Arc Dome. The hike was to be about 14 miles roundtrip with about 4400' gain. We were on the trail by 5:40, and despite the freezing temperature, we were shedding layers soon, as the incline got our blood circulating. We followed the old jeep trail up a drainage to a beautiful meadow. From there the trail meanders up a slope, past a large group of grazing cattle, and finally tops out on a plateau where it intersects the Toiyabe Crest trail, a 60-mile north-south trail running along the crest of the magnificent Toiyabe range.
We took a nice break at this point (just below 11,000 feet) before continuing another mile or so, where we had a good view of the saddle to which we were heading, almost 700 feet below us... ugh!
From this saddle, Arc Dome loomed overhead, just over 1000' vertically away. The trail switchbacks up the steep slope and three of us spread out as we trudged up. Chris was laboring, suffering from the altitude, and was happy to have reached the highpoint of the Toiyabe range at 11,775'. The views were terrific despite general haziness.
The descent was fairly rapid, except for the ascent of the 700' back from the saddle. Mentally, elevation gain seems so much tougher on the way back! After that section, our spirits increased as our elevation decreased.
Along the way down we passed possibly the largest cairn I have ever seen (somehow we didn't notice it on the way up). It was unclear its purpose as it was about 100 yards off the trail! We also followed a very large bird of prey for about a half of mile on the way down. It would fly up ahead of us a couple hundred of yards, then land and seemingly wait for us to catch up, before flying ahead again!
We arrived back in camp around 2:00, happy, but tired. After breaking camp, we made the long journey home. Again, Jose and family caravaned with us. We stopped in Tonopah for dinner at the coffee shop at Tonopah Station on the way, and made it home by 9:30.
A night with a full moon during the high desert rainy season: these were two criteria for setting August 6th as the date for Carroll and me to backpack into the Tsegi Canyon complex in northern Arizona to visit the ancient Anasazi village of Keet Seel. Our group, which started as the two of us, swelled to 15 and then settled at 10: a mixture of old friends, colleagues, and their friends and colleagues.
Preserved as the Navajo National Monument, Keet Seel and its sister village, Betatakin, are located some 380 miles from Las Vegas: about 30 miles from Kayenta, AZ, which is itself about 25 miles south of the famous Monument Valley. While Keet Seel and Betatakin are but two of over 25 significant ruins in the Tsegi Canyon complex, they are the only two open to the public.
Built over a 35-year period and in a number of building spurts, the villages of Keet Seel and Betatkin are located in the Tsegi Canyon complex. Visiting either requires a permit. Betatakin is a day hike guided by a ranger. Keet Seel can be either a day hike or overnight stay at a primitive campground in an oak grove across from the ruins. (Though primitive, it has a tremendous composting toilet: one of the simple joys in life.) Only the tour of the ruins is guided by a resident ranger.
Keet Seel itself is perched on an ingenious retaining wall built of a log grid, soil and refuse fill, and sandstone. The weight of the village keeps the retaining wall in place. Though both ruins have survived for over 700 years, when the inevitable slippage places a ruin at risk, it will be closed to the public.
To get into the ruin at Keet Seel, one crawls up a ladder, said to be 70 feet tall, that tracks the original hand and toe holds of the Anasazi and steps under the trunk of white fir stretched across the entry way. The white fir was placed in the final phase of construction and had to be moved at least 45 miles with only human energy.
Anasazi villages such as Keet Seel and Betatakin provided hope, identity, and purpose for the members of their communities. The Anasazi, a people who built and populated such villages, survived and thrived as a culture for over a millennium. They lived in a harsh, dramatically beautiful environment in what is now the Four Corners region of Southwestern United States, only to abandon the high desert plateau they had called home within a few generations of building their famous “cliff dwellings.”
Populated by the “Kayenta Anasazi,” villages such as Keet Seel and Betatakin are characterized by utilitarian and mixed construction, beautiful pottery and, in my view, an energy that suggests a truly vibrant people. Little touches suggest their humanity: fingerprints in the adobe, more attention devoted to food storage areas than the living quarters, a four-fingered hand print, and evidence of burned out living quarters.
Leaving relatively suddenly in the thirteenth century, the Anasazi ultimately lost their separate identity as they merged with other tribes: leaving more questions than the answers that can be found in their ruined villages, pots, rock art, and middens. The petroglyphs, pictographs (above) and traditions of the Hopi do suggest that many of the Kayenta Anasazi migrated north as their ancestors. (There were three major branches of the Anasazi: Chaco, Mesa Verde (or Northern San Juan), and the Kayenta. A less-studied branch, the Virgin River Branch, was located near us in the Las Vegas/Overton area.)
Permits for Keet Seel are limited to 20 per day during the summer season and no more than five at a time can tour the site with the ranger. Each visit differs, but the rangers are generally fairly well-informed to expert on Anasazi culture in general and Keet Seel in particular and usually quite friendly. Sometimes they will visit in the campground. On this trip, we were invited to the Hogan-style residence of the rangers near the ruins (they hike in for a five-day stay) to view historical photos and research papers.
The nine-mile journey into the ruins is rated strenuous because of a one-mile, 1,000 foot ascent back to the road from the trailhead, the need to backpack water into the canyon, and the possibility of flash flood or quicksand. The 1,000 foot ascent includes two sand dunes and two sets of switchbacks and seems to grind along forever. The canyon water is so polluted that hikers are strongly advised to carry one gallon of water per person per day. Fortunately, one carries the heavier pack downhill. At over eight pounds a gallon, we lightened our load by caching quarts of water along the way.
As Keet Seel is located on the Navajo Nation Reservation, the route is strictly set, but there are a number of welcome, though small by Spring Mountain standards, waterfalls along the way. Carroll, ever the animal lover, made a number of bovine friends. But life is tough for all on the reservation. We found a recently dead cow along the same trail on the way back.
And, yes, at least one reason for the criteria was fulfilled. At midnight, the full moon rose in the southeast painting Keet Seel with a powerful light that seemingly brought the village to life: at least the rooms with doors. The village seemed to be looking across the stream at us: challenging us to compare how the Kayenta Anasazi lived, in such natural beauty, with our modern lives: even in Summerlin.
The next morning we bade farewell to Keet Seel (one can only stay one night per visit). We hiked back to the trailhead, including the 1,000 foot grind back out of the canyon, this time never carrying more than two liters of water. There we bid farewell to old and new friends and drove back west to meet Nadia and a LVMC group the next day for the Cedar City Shakespeare Festival and a day’s climbing at Veyo.
Keet Seel is a truly mystical experience: one that we heartily recommend for all Las Vegas Mountaineer Club members, families, and friends. Don’t hesitate to ask us for information if you are interested in exploring these ruins. (Photos with both Carroll and me are courtesy of Mr. John Fryar.)
LOOK FOR OUR NEW MONTHLY BIO FEATURE OF ONE OUR OWN LVMC MEMBERS STARTING NEXT MONTH!!!
Please contact the membership director if you have questions about your membership.
Please make your
check payable to the Las Vegas Mountaineers Club and mail to: P.O. Box
36026, Las Vegas, NV 89133-6026.
To the following members, please note that your membership will expire this month:
CLICK HERE FOR LVMC EVENT SCHEDULE
The Las Vegas Mountaineers monthly meeting this month is on Tuesday, August 25th at Sahara West Library, 9600 W. Sahara. Meeting time is 7:00 p.m.