A New Monument Unveiled: Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni — A Hidden Gem by the Grand Canyon

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Indigenous Heritage

The Grand Canyon National Park, a natural wonder that attracts a staggering 4.7 million visitors annually, is renowned for its breathtaking vistas, rugged landscapes, and diverse wildlife. However, what often goes unnoticed by the majority of these visitors is the deep cultural significance these lands hold for the 12 Indigenous tribes of the region, including the Havasupai, Hopi, Navajo, and various Paiute bands.

In a groundbreaking move on August 8, President Joseph Biden signed a proclamation giving birth to the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni, or the Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument. This newly designated monument, sprawling across more than 960,000 acres both north and south of the national park, promises a unique and less crowded experience for adventurers. What’s more, it offers an opportunity to perceive the landscape through the eyes of the Indigenous people.

“Baaj nwaavjo in Havasupai translates to ‘where the ancient people roamed,'” explains Carletta Tilousi, the coordinator of the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition. “I’tah kukveni, in Hopi, means ‘ancestral footsteps.’ This monument reaffirms their creation stories.”

Let’s delve into the journey that led to the creation of this extraordinary monument and explore its hidden treasures.

A Monument that Defies Time

Just as it took millions of years for the Grand Canyon itself to sculpt its majestic presence, the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni’s conception spanned approximately four decades. Amber Reimondo from the Grand Canyon Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the region, emphasizes that the Indigenous tribes have been advocating for the protection of these lands since the 1980s.

Many of these tribes faced displacement from their ancestral territories when the Grand Canyon National Park was established in 1919. Over the years, they tirelessly campaigned for greater protection of the lands surrounding the park, even in the face of opposition from entities desiring fewer legal barriers to development and mining. The election of President Biden in 2020 marked a turning point, as the 13 tribes united to form a powerful coalition that eventually secured federal status for these lands.

A Different Kind of Haven

While the Grand Canyon National Park is overseen by the National Park Service, monuments like Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Unlike national parks, monuments often come with fewer usage restrictions, allowing activities such as hunting or logging, and tend to have fewer visitor facilities.

Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni epitomizes the raw beauty of untouched nature. With no bathrooms or visitor centers, access is primarily via dirt roads and rugged trails. Exploring this vast expanse brings solitude and tranquility amidst the forests and grasslands of northern Arizona. Here, you can behold the Grand Canyon without jostling crowds, tread trails where your footsteps are the sole imprints, and set up camp in serene hideaways. The local wildlife, including elk, black bears, mule deer, birds, and bison, may even cross your path.

Interestingly, this solitude also holds deep significance for the Indigenous people. Carletta Tilousi notes that within the bustling South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, it’s challenging for her to find a quiet spot to offer prayers and offerings. However, in the remote lands of the new monument, she foresees this won’t be a concern.

Exploring the Uncharted Territory

The Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni is a vast wilderness divided into three distinct sections, each with its own allure.

The southernmost section, known as the Tusayan Ranger District/South Parcel, is the most accessible. Encompassing 330,000 acres within the Kaibab National Forest, it boasts pine woodlands and sagebrush prairie accessible via Forest Service roads or sections 35 through 37 of the Arizona Trail. Here, you’ll find traces of human history, like the rusty hangar of the 1920s Red Butte Airfield and the 80-foot-tall Grandview Lookout Tower, offering panoramic views of the Colorado Plateau and the Grand Canyon.

The other sections, Kanab Plateau/Northwest Parcel and Rock House Valley/Northeast Parcel, lie beyond the North Rim section of the Grand Canyon National Park.

For adventurers seeking more remote experiences, the Kanab Plateau section offers hiking trails through stunning side canyons and vistas such as Gunsight Point. The Hack Trail leads down into the Kanab Creek Wilderness, revealing colossal red-rock canyons that rival the grandeur of the Grand Canyon itself. Experienced hikers can even continue their journey down Kanab Creek to the Colorado River or explore other trails leading to breathtaking overlooks along the North Rim.

On the other hand, the Rock House Valley section tumbles across sagebrush flats toward the edge of Marble Canyon, set beneath the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Rugged trails beckon, including the Soap Creek Trail that winds down from the Rapids/Badger Camp Overlook to a primitive riverside campsite.

The Path Less Traveled

Getting to the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni may require some effort, but the journey is well worth it. The southern section is approximately a 3.5-hour drive from Phoenix, while the northern sections take about four to 5.5 hours. Primitive camping is allowed within the monument, following rules set by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

For those seeking a more comfortable stay, the Ten-X campground in the South Parcel offers campsites, bathrooms, and firepits. Nearby, the rustic Hull Cabin from the 1880s and the glamping resort Under Canvas Grand Canyon provide unique lodging experiences. The North Parcel boasts lodges along Highway 89A near Navajo Bridge, as well as an inn and campgrounds in Jacob Lake near the Northwest Parcel.

More Adventures Await

Don’t stop your exploration at Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni—there’s a world of wonder waiting nearby:

  • The Navajo Bridge: An early 20th-century bridge over the Colorado River with an interpretive center showcasing the area’s history.
  • Pipe Springs National Monument: Just west of Fredonia, this site features the remains of a 1872 Mormon settlement and exhibits on local history.

So, whether you’re an adventurer yearning for rugged landscapes, a history enthusiast seeking cultural insights, or simply someone eager to escape the crowds, the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni—Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument—welcomes you with open arms and a promise of unspoiled beauty. As you embark on your journey through its wild terrain, remember that you’re not just exploring a monument; you’re stepping into a living legacy of ancient stories and enduring connections.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Indigenous Heritage

What is Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni?

Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni is a newly created national monument near the Grand Canyon, offering less crowded and rugged recreational experiences while showcasing Indigenous heritage.

How did Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni come to be?

After decades of advocacy by 12 Indigenous tribes and a coalition formed in 2020, President Biden signed a decree in August 2023, designating the area as the Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument.

What can visitors expect at Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni?

Visitors can enjoy solitude, panoramic vistas, and diverse wildlife. The monument lacks crowds, bathrooms, and visitor centers, providing a unique natural experience. Indigenous history and culture are also celebrated.

What are the distinct sections of the monument?

Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni is divided into three sections: Tusayan Ranger District/South Parcel, Kanab Plateau/Northwest Parcel, and Rock House Valley/Northeast Parcel. Each offers its own attractions and trails.

How can I access Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni?

The southern section is around a 3.5-hour drive from Phoenix, while the northern sections take about four to 5.5 hours. Primitive camping is allowed, and there are nearby lodging options as well.

What nearby attractions can I explore?

Nearby attractions include the Navajo Bridge with an interpretive center and Pipe Springs National Monument showcasing local history and remains of a 1872 Mormon settlement.

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