Inscription House Ruin Nitsie Canyon Arizona

Located in the Navajo Reservation, the three sites—Betatakin (Navajo: “Ledge House”), Keet Seel (“Broken Pottery”; see photograph), and Inscription House—are among the best-preserved and most elaborate cliff dwellings known. The three sites, made a national monument in 1909.

Inscription House Ruin Navaho National Monument

Inscription House was partly built using a form of adobe brick. Unlike modern adobe bricks, these have ample amounts of grasses.

Inscription House. The latter ruin derives its name from an inscription scratched into the clay plaster of a wall. It reads, “Shapeiro Ano Dom 1661.” An intrepid early Spanish explorer or missionary, probably on his way to or from the Colorado River, must have entered the canyon in which this ruin is located and paused at the long-abandoned pueblo to scratch a record of his visit. So far as recorded it was not visited again until June, 1909.

Inscription House Ruin Navaho National Monument

Nitsie Canyon, in which Inscription House is located, is formed by a series of deep-cut canyons, whose courses zigzag in every direction like the tentacles of some huge devilfish, their rounded points and sides shimmering in the sunlight as though pulsating with life. At the rim one pauses in astonishment at this riot of color and form spread out below.

At Inscription House, the problems of Keet Seel were compounded by the nearby trading post and environmental problems. Since the 1930s, erosion had been visible in the wash below Inscription House. In the early 1940s, the wash eroded at the rate of about twenty feet per annum.

By 1944, it was “positively dangerous” to reach Inscription House.

In 1949, the ferocity of the flow of water caused a number of burials from the cave at Inscription House to wash out toward Lake Meade. Brewer found bones and high quality pottery in the wash after a heavy spring rain, prompting him to call for better protective measures against creeping erosion.

In addition, vandalism became more common at Inscription House in the early 1950s. Unauthorized visitors sometimes dug in the ruins. Local schoolchildren repeatedly scratched initials in the soft adobe walls. Clearly the Park Service had to take action.

But without an allocation of resources, any changes enacted remained largely cosmetic. Aubuchon optimistically concluded that the arduous trek to the outliers “precludes the person who has a mania for destruction,” but vandalism was an endemic problem.

The best mechanisms the regional office could offer were passive. Regional Director Tillotson advocated “a tightening of control over these isolated sections of the monument,” but no allocation to support those sentiments followed. Tillotson reiterated his longstanding opposition to directional signs for the trails to Keet Seel and Inscription House. He approved the idea that visitors should be required to register with the Park Service before they were allowed to proceed to either of the backcountry areas.
But
in the face of the declining condition of the two ruins, such remedies fell short of solving critical problems.

Inscription House, 36° 40′ 14″ north. 110° 51′ 32″ west.

Source: National Park Service

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