Keet Seel


Here's the hogan Pelipa stayed in during ranger rotation. Often wild palominos came to graze on the foibs and bunch grasses.

Pelipa liked to meet the group in front of the hogan, just to the left of the Keet Seel ruins. There was always a chorus of oohs and aahs, as they neared the magnificent ruins.

A few minutes later she heard the first group talking their way to her.

“Hello!” Pelipa called waving from the front porch of her hogan. She joined the group and waited a few minutes for all to gather before she began her speech.

“Hi, welcome to Keet Seel I am Pelipa Eyetoo,” She began. “Keet Seel is Navajo and means Broken Pottery. It is one of the ancient sites in this place called the Navajo National Monument. The land lies wholly within the Navajo reservation, although the Hopi are the ones that lay claim to the ruins.

Both Hopi and Navajo histories agree, these ruins once housed the ancestors of the Hopi, Snake, and Horn Clans. Hopi elders still travel to these villages of mud and stone to pay their respects to their forbears. The mythic memory of the Hopi extends back to their time in these cliff dwellings. Clan elders still repeat handed down stories of the time when their people lived in these sandstone cliffs.”

Pelipa paused and told them the recitation from memory. “In this canyon with high steep walls they built large dwellings in the cavernous recess high up the canyon wall. They devoted two years just to ladder making, also cutting, and carving shallow holes up the steep rocky side. Three years more were employed in building the homes.”

“Are you Navajo?” A fellow asked Pelipa.

“No, I’m Ute. I live northwest of here in, Colorado, in Towaoc,” she explained. “The Navajo see this as a place of death and rarely come here, but their sacred mountain, Navajo Mountain, towers over the region. “

“Where is Navajo Mountain?”

“Oh, it’s fifty miles northwest of here. This mountain is the northern boundary of the Navajo reservation. Their reservation encompasses an area of 27,000 square miles and is a part of Arizona-Utah Colorado and New Mexico.”

The view to the right of the hogan.

“Your reservation in Colorado, how big is that?”

“Tiny, just over a thousand square miles. It’s called the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.”

Talking slowed as they followed the path to the impressive natural alcove carved in the salmon colored sandstone cliffs that protected thousand-year-old ruins, just as they had protected the ancient inhabitants.

Pelipa stopped at the bottom of a very tall succession of ladders, snaking their way up the sandstone face from the valley floor to the protected place seventy feet above them.

“Notice here at the base of the rock face you see broken pottery, corncobs, fragments of yucca fiber rope, squash rinds, and stone scraps from tool making, all evidence from the Puebloan occupation.”

She divided the people into two groups of five, as it was the largest number of people allowed on the ladder complex at the same time. Now admonitions of ‘be careful,' and ‘hold tight’ came from the group leader, but were unnecessary as everyone paid close attention. At the top, more oohs and aahs came forth when the people regrouped. Up here in this sheltered sandstone alcove was a thousand-year-old village of square stone dwellings and round buildings. They were connected by stone walkways winding along the outer edge of the alcove. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time to be walking on the same edge of the world as ancient people did fifty generations ago.

Now Pelipa relaxed and waited as the visitors explored the ancient alcove.

“Why do the Navajo avoid this place?” A fellow asked her.

“The Navajo believe spirits still live in these homes. In their culture when someone dies they burn the hogan of the deceased to make sure the spirit leaves,” Pelipa said. Unlike Katie, Pelipa did not fear the tug of the ancients on her.

“The Navajos entered the region during the 15th-century, learning cultivating techniques from the Pueblans. They settled in the Tsegi Canyon system but left the deserted cliff dwellings alone lest they provoke the ancient dead.”

“So the Navajo weren’t the people who built this?”

“No, it was the Anasazi, who later became the Hopi people. Now they have their reservation south of here. In fact, the Hopi snake clan came from Tsegi after migrating here from Navajo Mountain.”