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As part of our going to all of the nearby National Monuments and National Parks, the 3 sisters and I made our way up to the Flagstaff area, taking in Wupatki National Monument along with Sunset Crater and Walnut Canyon. At the end of this day's adventures, we stopped in Flagstaff for dinner at Huhot. We were able to get the sisters their book stamped as well as numerous photos by all of us to capture the memories. We had a picnic lunch at the Sunset Crater visitor center.

Info from: https://www.nps.gov/waca/index.htm

Remarkable Rocks and Ancient Cliff Dwellings

Come gaze across curved canyon walls. Among the remarkable geological formations of the canyon itself, the former homes of ancient inhabitants are easily evident. Along the trails, you can imagine life within Walnut Canyon, while visiting actual pueblos and walking in the steps of those who came before.

Traditionally Associated Tribes

The entire region that includes the Flagstaff Area National Monuments has been home to Native people since time immemorial.

The Flagstaff Area National Monuments (Walnut Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano, and Wupatki) are places of immeasurable importance to Native peoples in the Southwest. Wupatki shares boundaries with the Navajo Nation, and a total of thirteen federally recognized tribes are traditionally associated with the Monuments. Park staff have been working with tribal people for many years and are creating ever-better collaborative tribal partnerships.

Traditionally Associated Tribes

There are thirteen tribes connected to the lands and resources now found within the Flagstaff Area National Monuments:

Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, Arizona The Havasupai Tribe of the Havasupai Reservation, Arizona. The Hopi Tribe of Arizona. The Hualapai Tribe of the Hualapai Indian Reservation, Arizona. The Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians of the Kaibab Indian Reservation, Arizona. The Navajo Nation, Arizona, New Mexico, & Utah. The Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation. The San Carlos Apache Tribe of the San Carlos Reservation, Arizona. The San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe of Arizona. The Tonto Apache Tribe of Arizona. The White Mountain Apache Tribe of the Fort Apache Reservation, Arizona. The Yavapai-Apache Nation of the Camp Verde Indian Reservation, Arizona. The Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe. The Zuni Tribe of the Zuni Reservation, New Mexico.

Petroglyphs and Pictographs

Native American Pictographs and Petroglyphs of Walnut Canyon

Within the steep canyon walls of Walnut Canyon National Monument, images carved and painted by Native people tell the stories of their rich cultural history. These sites, far removed from modern park trails, are inaccessible to park visitors. In order to provide opportunities for visitors to digitally view and learn about these sites, the National Park Service has partnered with Northern Arizona University on a project to document 11 rock imagery sites within Walnut Canyon. For this project, archeologists have used high definition photography to document these sites. By clicking this link, you can view these images and learn about the known details about the rock imagery within the park.

In the pine forests near Flagstaff, Arizona, a steep canyon severs the rolling plateau. Twenty miles long, 400 feet deep and ¼-mile wide, it was carved by Walnut Creek over a period of 60 million years. Within its winding walls are natural riches – an abundant mix of plants and animals drawn there by water and varied topography. It seems a timeless place.

Walls of buff sandstone form the canyon’s inner gorge; the rock contours reveal their origins in the wind-scoured dunes of an ancient desert. The limestone ledges of the upper canyon contain delicate marine fossils, remnants of a later sea. Much later, the people of this canyon built their sturdy homes in shallow alcoves along these ledges.

For a brief time, from about 1100 to 1250, the canyon echoed with the rhythmic beat of a stone axe, the voice of an aged storyteller, children laughing on the rocky slopes. Masonry walls hint of this past, of a time when 100 or more people made their homes and livings here. These people well understood the gifts of the natural world. Deer, bighorn sheep, other wild game, and wild plants supplemented the corn, beans, and squash grown in fields on the canyon rim. Water flowed intermittently on the canyon floor, providing the lifeblood of the community. Shaded pools in the bottom held precious water between rains. In spring, silty snowmelt rumbled through the narrow passage.

Today, the canyon resonates with birdsong. Jays yammer, solitaires peep, and canyon wrens whistle their musical songs. There have been changes, but the canyon remains. So does the diversity of plants and animals that sustained a human community.

As a national monument, Walnut Canyon now serves as sanctuary for a larger community. Six miles of the canyon’s length are protected within the monument’s 3600 acres. For thousands of people every year, Walnut Canyon offers the perfect opportunity to admire nature and to learn from the past. With continued protection, and cooperation from visitors, this intimate canyon will educate and inspire for years to come.

Ranger Cabin

The historic Ranger Cabin at Walnut Canyon National Monument is where the monument's first rangers began their efforts to preserve the park's resources.

The Birds of Walnut Canyon

The diverse habitats of Walnut Canyon National Monument serve as a refuge for a number of resident and migratory bird species. The steep limestone and sandstone canyon walls create ideal nesting habitats for many breeding birds. Along the rim, and throughout the canyon, the sunny south facing sides of the canyon and rim are home to a pinion juniper forest. The shady north facing sides of the canyon are home to towering ponderosa pines and Douglas fir trees. These varied habitats are optimal for different bird species to nest, feed, and find shelter.


Following winters in Central and South American, many migrating species head to Northern Arizona for the breeding season. Migrants to Walnut Canyon are attracted to this location by ideal nesting sites, and abundant food sources. Many species reproduce and thrive within the steep canyon walls and within the abundant pine forest.

White-throated Swift – a harbinger of spring, these swifts are one of the first migrants to arrive at Walnut Canyon. Conspicuous as they swoop throughout the canyon, they can be heard calling as they feed on insects.

Turkey Vulture – rocking back and forth as they sore throughout the canyon, Turkey Vultures can be identified by their dark feathers and small featherless red heads.

Broad-Tailed Hummingbird – males will display by flying high up in the air, and then descending quickly. They open their tails, creating a trilling sound that helps them defend their territories and attract a mate.

Ash-throated Flycatcher – listen for their distinctive high-pitched whistle like call in the spring and early summer. These large flycatchers are often seen perched on the top of a tree or at the end of a branch waiting for an insect to fly by.


In addition to spring migrants, many resident birds use Walnut Canyon during the breeding season. From the immense golden eagle, which nests within the cliffs of the canyon, to the diminutive canyon wren, which utilizes small crevices to nest in the canyon walls.

Canyon wren - commonly heard vocalizing throughout the spring and into the summer, they are often heard before they are seen. Listen for the descending trills as they call to attract a mate or defend their territory.

Steller’s Jay – often one of the first birds seen at Walnut Canyon, these conspicuous jays with a large crest are vocal and undeterred by many human behaviors. Unfortunately, they have been given the nickname of camp robber because of their habit of trying to obtain human food. Please keep these birds healthy and wild by not feeding them.

Common Raven – commonly observed soaring on the thermals throughout the canyon, or playfully swooping throughout the canyon, this common member of the Corvid family is observed year-round at Walnut Canyon.

Acorn Woodpecker – they get their name from their behavior of collecting and storing acorns in large caches in dead trees or even telephone poles. Acorn Woodpeckers at Walnut Canyon feast and store the acorns from the Gamble Oak.


Fall migrants often times use Walnut Canyon as a quick respite on their journey south. Restoring fat supplies for their journey, in many cases their time in Northern Arizona is brief. Other winter residents arrive and begin to rebuild their fat stores to prepare for the frigid winter temperatures. Some fall migrants and winter residents that can be observed at Walnut Canyon include:

White-crowned Sparrow – these winter residents are abundant during the fall. The adults are easy to recognize, with white and black stripes on their head.

Townsend’s Solitaire – during the fall and winter, it’s common to hear the Townsend’s Solitaire vocalize its one note call. This Robin sized bird can be identified by the white eye-ring and the white external feathers on its tail.

Merlin – this small falcon is a rare sighting during the late fall and winter at Walnut Canyon. Look for them hunting flocks of small song birds.


There are many year-round residents of Walnut Canyon, and a few other species that spend their winters in Northern Arizona. These hardy birds rely on abundant sources of food throughout the winter, and their own adaptations to survive in sub-freezing temperatures. Some winter species that are commonly observed at Walnut Canyon include:

Dark-eyed Junco – large groups of Dark-eyed Juncos overwinter in Walnut Canyon. These primarily ground-feeders can be commonly seen around the parking lot and in the vegetation along the Rim Trail.

Juniper Titmouse – with its distinctive crest, and year-round vocalizations, Juniper Titmouse can be commonly found in the Pinion/Juniper forest along the Rim Trail.

Mountain Chickadee – their call mimics their common name, Chick-a-de. This year-round resident is often found in mixed flocks of nuthatches, juncos and woodpeckers.

Northern Flicker – one of the larger woodpecker species in Walnut Canyon, Northern Flickers are common year-round throughout the park. Flashes of red from their distinctive wings can help to ID this bird as it flies through the forest.

Pygmy Nuthatch – often found feeding on the trunk or branches of a tree, the nuthatch has the uncanny ability to pick and glean insects. Vocal year round, they are often heard before they are seen.

Brown Creeper – often silent, and heavily camouflaged against the bark of a tree, these insectivores can be found moving up and down trees looking for food. Their nests are very challenging to find, as they use cracks and crevices in bark to lay their eggs.

Threatened Species of Walnut Canyon

Walnut Canyon National Monument is home to the Mexican Spotted Owl, a threatened bird species in North America. By following park rules like staying on designated trails, being mindful of not making loud noises, and not approaching wildlife, we can help be sure that these animals can survive and thrive for generations to come.

Trees and Shrubs

Every plant species has certain environmental requirements for sunlight, temperature, soil conditions, moisture, drainage, exposure, etc. that determine where it can grow successfully. The idea of plant communities – of plants with similar requirements growing together in specific places on the landscape – originated near Walnut Canyon in the late 1880s.

Fire Regime

Fire is a natural process in the ponderosa pine forest. Both plants and animals have long been adapted to its presence. However, studies show that the ponderosa pine forest along the north rim of Walnut Canyon has changed considerably during the last century. Prior to 1890, the forest experienced a low-intensity fire every 4 to 8 years, and was composed of fewer, larger pine trees clustered in isolated stands with an open understory of grasses, wildflowers, and non-woody plants. The forest was open and park-like, with a vigorous mix of old and younger plants.

After 1890, many of the old-growth trees were logged, wildfires were suppressed, and the herbaceous understory was lost due to overgrazing. The resulting forest is crowded with numerous younger, smaller trees and a mid-story of woodland species such as Gambel oak, pinyon, and juniper. The dense pine and woodland canopy is shading out the rich understory flora. These “dog hair” thickets, combined with accumulated dead wood on the forest floor, can provide a ladder for flames to climb from the ground to the trees, becoming a destructive, unstoppable crown fire.

In 1990, the National Park Service began a program of management-ignited fire to restore presettlement ponderosa pine forest conditions on the canyon rim. Preliminary results from fire effects monitoring plots show that such fires can effectively reduce the number of ponderosa seedlings and saplings, junipers, and the amount of dead wood and ground litter - a step toward the return of the healthy forests once maintained by natural fire.

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