Two unoccupied 13th-century cliff pueblos, Betatakin and Keet Seel, stand under the overhanging cliffs of Tsegi Canyon. The largest ancient dwellings in Arizona, these stone-and-mortar complexes were built by Ancestral Puebloans, obviously for permanent occupancy, but abandoned after less than half a century.
The well-preserved, 135-room Betatakin (Navajo for "ledge house") is a cluster of cliff dwellings from AD 1250 that seem to hang in midair before a sheer sandstone wall. When discovered in 1907 by a passing American rancher, the apartments were full of baskets, pottery, and preserved grains and ears of corn—as if the occupants had been chased away in the middle of a meal. For an impressive view of Betatakin, walk to the rim overlook about 0.5 mile from the visitor center. Ranger-led tours (a 5-mile, four-hour, strenuous round-trip hike including a 700-foot descent into the canyon) leave once or twice a day from late May to early September, and on weekends (weather-permitting)
the rest of the year. No reservations are accepted; groups of no more than 25 form on a first-come, first-served basis.
Keet Seel (Navajo for "broken pottery") is also in good condition in a serene location, with 160 rooms and five kivas dating from AD 950. Explorations of Keet Seel, which lies at an elevation of 7,000 feet and is 8.5 miles from the visitor center on foot, are restricted: only 20 people are allowed to visit per day, and only between late May and early September, when a ranger is present at the site. A permit—which also allows campers to stay overnight nearby—is required. Trips to Keet Seel are very popular, so reservations are taken up to two months in advance. Anyone who suffers from vertigo might want to avoid this trip: the trail leads down a 1,100-foot, near-vertical rock face.