Smoke rising from one of the stone and mud mortar rooms drifts upward toward the top of the 200-plus-foot high alcove that shelters the village from the elements.
A young Kayenta maiden, chased by her brother, laughs as she skillfully scampers up, one after another, the narrow-cut footholds in the bare sandstone that forms the base of the cliff dwelling.
This is a scene from the Anasazi village of Betatikin, known by the Hopi of today as Kawestima. The year is A.D. 1286 and the village of 100 inhabitants is at its peak. Less than a quarter century later, it will be abandoned and left to weather away.
Located in a side canyon to the magnificent Tsegi Canyon, a deep gorge cut through this part of northern Arizona.
The village is nestled in the blind end of the canyon perched above a grove of oak, juniper and aspen that fill its floor with brilliant foliage in the fall. Just beyond the grove, at the canyon's deep bottom, a small spring gurgles as it cascades down the rock-filled slot that it has cut through the layers of rock that make up the floor.
All around are the sheer walls of the canyon, some topping out at more than 400 feet, which dwarf the small village in the alcove. Numerous other alcoves are being shaped by the the work of countless centuries of erosion and water. None are as deep and as impressive as that which contains Betatikin. Its wide, bowl shape surrounds the village in an embrace of stone.
Everywhere, the walls reflect what is most poignant about this part of Arizona: the variety of colors of the geologic structures that formed this canyon. Reds, greens, browns, and yellows, of various shades and tints both contrast and compliment each other as they blend in along the walls and valley of this narrow and picturesque hideaway that was home to the inhabitants of Betatikin for only a short 50-year period.
Its location has been known to most of those who have descended from the villagers, and is considered both sacred and mysterious to them. They believe that, to this day, it continues to be the home of the spirits of the Kayenta Anasazi, and as such, is seldom visited by them.
Now protected as a national monument, Betatikin and its sister dwelling, Keet Seel, a few miles to the north, are visited annually by those who wish to have a glimpse into the ancient history of this part of the state. If you have the opportunity to do so, take a moment to sit quietly among the ruins and, you too, may hear the sounds of that laughing maiden for yourself.
To Get There
From Flagstaff, proceed northeast on US 89 North for 66 miles until you reach the intersection with US 160 (Navajo Trail). Turn right onto US 160 and proceed for 72 miles until you reach the intersection with Arizona Highway 564. Turn left onto this road. The visitor center for the monument is at the end of its 10-mile length.
There is no fee for camping at the monument and a number of sites are available for both tents and recreational vehicles.
The campground contains restrooms and facilities for visitors. The nearest source for fuel and grocery items is at a small gas station/store at the intersection of Highway 160 and Arizona 564.
Hikers to Betatikin and Keet Seel are required to make arrangements at the visitor center in order to be led by a park service guide.
Reservations should be made in advance. The visitor center can be reached at (928) 672-2700. Its mailing address is: Navajo National Monument, HC-71, Box 3, Tonalea, AZ 86044-9704.