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?