Raise your hand if you know the difference between a national park and a national monument. In simple terms, a national park is an area that is set apart for use by the public, typically because of the scenic, inspirational, or recreational value. A national monument on the other hand has pieces of history that need to be preserved such as fossil sites, ruins, or military forts.
Knowing the difference between the two can help give us an idea of what to expect when visiting America’s parks. I recently took a trip to Walnut Canyon National Monument in Flagstaff, Arizona and took a step back through time. What made this location a National Monument were the preserved cliff dwellings that are over 800 years old.
The Island Trail is the trail you’ll want to walk first, a quick one mile out and back loop taking you along a flat path to view 25 cliff dwelling rooms. The elevation of this park is near 7000′ providing expansive views of the surroundings cliffs.
There is also a short trail that walks the rim of the below cliff, providing a view from the other side. It’s a small park, one you can easily see all of within two hours, but one that showcases an amazing part of human history.
While you don’t need to be in great shape for this adventure, you’ll want to be mobile. In order to access the Island Trail you must descend a set of steps 185 ft down from the visitors center. It’s well worth the stair master burn though, there’s no better way to experience the dwellings.
I absolutely love taking a step back in time to see how people lived before America was so privileged. I couldn’t help but wonder what these people did to pass time, you know without technology and the unnecessary distractions we have today. I try hard to spend some of my time without distractions, but I admit it’s difficult.
One of the reasons I enjoy living a minimalistic life is because I crave the simplicity that accompanies it. I’m not saying these people had a simple life, they worked damn hard to survive, but the contrast of lifestyles couldn’t be more different. I think our survival goal is the same today as it was back then, but the approach is so vastly different.
Some of the dwellings were open like the above photo, and some were more enclosed with small doors and a small hole to allow smoke to exit the rocks. Each “apartment” like dwelling was connected to the neighbor next door. I imagine these people living like families, raising their children together and hunting for food together.
The smoke stains on the walls brought my imagination to life. Did they have parties together? Did they keep isolated? Did they live a happy life?
It’s no secret that often times those with less appreciate life more than those with excess. Those with less have a knack for making themselves happy without inanimate objects. When living in cliff walls I assume the focus of each day was where the next meal was going to come from, where the fresh water source was, and what to do in the event of an attack.
I’m incredibly thankful for the life I have, but it’s good to have reminders like this, that the roof over my head evolved from something like a cliff dwelling. Eventually the people that lived in these cliffs moved onto new dwellings, naturally following the path of change.
Time is valuable. Figuring out how to be content with idle time is a blessing I think a lot of us could benefit from. Myself included. Sitting in silence, not needing a distraction, and of course spending time with others. Surviving is a necessity, but how we do so is sometimes a choice. This choice is personalized, and no one way is wrong or right, but perhaps we can all learn something from those that live with less.
Q: What’s your favorite national monument, and why?
30 thoughts on “Walnut Canyon National Monument”
Let me think about your question and circle back. But in the meantime the photos near Flagstaff are great. We have not spent much time there and need to get back for an extended trip. Our son has several runner friends who train there professionally and he is contemplating moving out there to do the same. Looks like a great place.
It’s a nice reprieve from the intense heat of the valley, and a bit more green! If he enjoys snow, he’d do well.
The question is tough but I loved the Castillo San Marcos in St Augustine. Also Fort Washington across the river in Maryland. Forts bring out my little boy imagination. You can’t help but wonder what life was like living in them.
As to idle time, my bike tours taught me the value of solitude. There’s plenty of time for people and for technology. Make sure there is time for your self.
I’ll have to add the forts to my list!
We also have lots of old plantation houses. I live 6 miles from three (and a Frank Lloyd Wright house to boot). So if you’re ever in the area….
Noted! I’d most definitely meet for a cup of joe.
I was sitting on the bus the other day. I hadn’t taken out my book to read and I hadn’t plugged in my headphones. I spent the first half of the trip thinking. For a brief moment I chided myself for not using the time “wisely”, but then realized that I was using the time wisely.
Yes!! Great example, thanks for sharing.
You should read the book Outlander. It’s like stepping back in time.
I’ll add it to the list! Thanks for the recommendation. 🙏🏻
Walnut Canyon is on my list of places to visit! Even more so now. Of the NMs I have visited, I have really appreciated the caves; Jewel Cave and Oregon Caves. They are amazing! But there is so much history at others too.
Another distinction between the NMs and the NPs is that the NMs can be designated just by Presidential order, while the NPs need an act of Congress. So often the NPs have started as NMs. It is a wonderful (although not without its controversy) way to protect these sites for the public and future generations.
Great call out on the differences! Thank you. I want to visit more caves. 👍🏻
AMEN!! As always, thank you SO much for the reminder to appreciate the simple things in life. Definitely needed to hear that today. ❤️ And even though I’ve been going to AZ for 27+ years, I haven’t seen these before!! Going on my list of things I want to see the next time I’m there! 🤓
I’d not been here before either! It was my stepmoms idea and it was a great one! We went up north to visit my dads property in Flagstaff, so this was a nice day trip!
Powerful and thoughtful post. Thank you!
Thank you for reading! 🙏🏻
” I think our survival goal is the same today as it was back then, but the approach is so vastly different.”
Cool thought…am mulling over this one.
Deep thoughts with Brittany. Haha.
My hand is officially raised. I’ve actually visited Walnut Canyon National Monument, it was years ago but I’ve been… Yay! I don’t remember going on any hikes so that means it must have been when I was overweight. I have to go back asap, it looks incredible. Ohhhhh smoke signals, soooooo freakin cool
You gotta see the dwellings! But I’m sure you saw some of them from afar. 🙌🏻
Wow, what a cool place! Up until now, I didn’t have a favorite monument, but the Wallace Monument in Stirling, Scotland is mine. I love the history and the meaning of it, the fact that it is about a real hero with such significance to the outcome of Scotland.
Ohhh girl. I may have to add this to my list!
Simple does NOT mean easy! #vanlife 😉
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Devils Tower…. We just have to climb it!!!!
Good choice! I’m going to WY this summer, I hope to visit!
Cave dwelling are fascinating to me. I have visited the ones in Santa Fe at Bandalier. Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? – Kat
It DOES. So much so.
Totally didn’t know the difference between a National Monument and Park, eek!! Walnut Canyon is so gorgeous! Also, love what you said about idle time. I needed that today 🙂
It’s a fun fact knowing the differences!