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Keet Seel/Kawestima tours last anywhere from 1.5 to two hours, and only five people are allowed in the ruins at the same time. It was dusk by the time we carefully climbed back down the ladder and hiked the quarter mile back to our campground to contend with flies and cook freeze-dried dinners.
A cackling raven refused to let us sleep past the first rays of dawn, which suited us just fine. We wanted to log as many miles as possible before the sun got above the canyon walls. We were all dreading the last 2.5 miles of the trail, thinking about the steep incline we would need to conquer at a point when we would be the most exhausted. When we reached the climb, the sun was high in the sky, and the promising rain clouds building on the horizon didn’t provide shade but instead humidity. Even though our backpacks were considerably lighter than they had been 24 hours earlier, the climb out of Tsegi Canyon was brutal, particularly the sand dunes. But what was even more mentally trying was the final 1.5-mile jaunt along the rim of the canyon and back to the car. We knew we were out of the canyon, but we still had to climb up and down hills at an elevation of 7,100 feet in 102-degree heat. Just when you think the ordeal is over…it’s not.
Hiking to Keet Seel/Kawestima was an adventure. Was it worth it? Absolutely not. Could it have been worth it? Definitely. If the monument allowed visitors to hike at a cooler time of the year, it would be an amazing experience. As it was, Keet Seel/Kawestima was more about enduring rather than accomplishing, and that’s just not my idea of a good time.
Permits: Reservations for backcountry permits for day hikes and backpacking trips to Keet Seel/Kawestima (there’s a maximum one-night stay at the campground) can be made by calling 928-672-2700 or in person at Navajo National Monument. Reservations can be made no more than five months in advance. Reservations must be confirmed no fewer than seven days prior to the date of your hike or they will be canceled. All hikers must attend a mandatory orientation either the afternoon before or the morning of their hike. You will receive your actual permit during orientation. There is no permit waiting list. Permits can be obtained the day of your hike if openings are available. Permits are free. For more info, visit www.nps.gov/nava.
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