17 miles and 96 degrees in the shade, a venture well worth the effort, gave my Sol Journey mate and I a glimpse into the mystery left behind by the elusive Anasazi. What happened in Keet Seel over 800 years ago awaited our discovery, a question so many had asked while walking the same path we did through Navajo Territory. We were on pilgrimage to this sacred spot, devotion in each step. There was something larger than life that lured us into the depths of the canyons to bare witness to a story told to the few who could endure the voyage. We walked for our love of Anasazi heritage and for those who could not make it to the ancient ruins themselves. Only 20 people a day may enter Keet Seel in a 3 month window of time and sometimes the passage closes if there is rain due to flash flooding. Even though it was hot, we picked a perfect time to explore this slice of paradise.
The wind pulsed through the pinon and juniper calling us home as we prepared for our walkabout. Sand blowing into all our cracks and crevices while slowly carving the rocks of time, we heard the ancestor's prayer to protect this land and their ancient dwellings, a feeling present in each step along the way.
The sun beat down on us as we carried everything we needed on our backs for an overnight stay. Fully loaded we made our way down to Tsegi canyon where spring-fed water flows year round--a welcomed attribute in this desert landscape. We traded our hiking shoes for flip flops and plotted our course up the water way to Keet Seel Canyon. At times the sand and water massaged our bare feet giving us some reprieve on our long journey to our destination. We continued to walk for a long long while...
Water smooths the stone and cools the overheating mind. One of the waterfalls on the trail washed the dried sweat from our bodies and cooled our core temperatures amid the 100 degree assault. In this moment there was no rush, nothing to do, rather a simple communion ensued. A deep breath and a moment remembered. Refreshed and purified, we continued our trek onward to the ancient dwellings of our unwavering attention.
Keet Seel was discovered by the Wetherill Brothers in 1895 and the Navajo National Monument was established in 1909. The Navajo Nation became stewards of the site allowing respectful visitors to enter their territory to experience the treasure left behind by the Anasazi on two conditions: there would be no money exchanged and visitors would stay on the trail defined by white posts along the way. Two stipulations easy to agree to, yet not as easily understood by the anglo-mind. Where can you go to a place for free and additionally not have the freedom to veer off the trail to explore the bend of your heart's desire? We found the place... and ARRIVED with so much gratitude for our passage through this sacred land!
150 rooms and 6 kivas make up Keet Seel. There is a retaining wall, a unique structure to this complex, that allowed expansion of this village in the height of it's existence. Agriculture sustained the ancient ones between 1250-1300 until the "great drought", broken dams, and unanswered prayers caused a mass exodus from this arid region.
Our guide, Steve, was the grandson of the archaeologist who excavated and restored Keet Seel as it stands today. His father along with 31 other workers also assisted in the process. Steve had a palatable reverence for the ancient and current cultures that inhabited the canyons surrounding this anomaly. His expertise was bar none as he patiently answered all of the questions that bubbled to the surface of our contemplation and shared the unforgotten story.
One of the things he explained was the forbidden "Anasazi" term. He used the label freely and debunked the myth of the Navajo translation "Ancient Enemy". Anasazi as explained to Steve by a traditional Navajo woman meant: An ancestor that is not of Navajo origin. A term used in honor not of degradation.
Steve also shared the story of the last stitch efforts the Anasazi made to preserve their lifestyle and alignment with the Creator of all things. They built new kivas, one with a Macaw from Mexico embedded inside one of the stone walls, to reach the graces of the Gods. To no avail, Keet Seel was abandoned completely by its last inhabitants by 1299.
Climate change, challenged agriculture, and natural erosion caused the movement and relocation of this band of farmers. The Ancient Puebloan people did not disappear as so many have guessed, rather they morphed into the established Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, and Ute tribes that still exist today. The spirit of the Anasazi continue to live on through oral tradition, our adventure, and the broken pieces they left behind.
Leaving Keet Seel, I felt the mix of emotions that the Anasazi may have felt as they left their home behind. The land and their lifestyle was unable to sustain the bands of tribes that populated the alcove and surrounding areas. I can only imagine the feeling of defeat as they walked away with only what they could carry on their backs. They may have felt desperation for their fate yet hopeful for survival as they walked into the unknown. This is pure speculation. I honor the gravity of their choice to make an exit and survive against all odds.
I relate this decision to my personal story as my lifestyle can no longer be sustained in the current climate of today. Something must change and as the Anasazi made the choice to move from the comfort of their creation, so must I. Who knows what will be around the bend or where the path will lead?
I have been inspired by this trip into the Ancient Heart and know I am capable of letting go of everything that no longer serves me in order to open to life in a new way discovering a new expression of myself.
On my way out of the canyon a rock fell at my feet upon the canyon floor. I looked up and saw 3 wild horses looking down on me. We communicated beyond words and shared an understanding of something much greater.
I choose to be a pilgrim of life's mystery and walk with my feet firmly planted upon the earth. I am grateful for the wisdom of the desert, the canyons, and the Ancient Ones. Today, I embrace a new step in a new direction...
Alicia Wright is a creative artist and loves to explore the depth of her character within the wild.