Major rockfalls close popular Island Trail at Walnut Canyon National Monument

Photo courtesy of Walnut Canyon National Monument.

Photo courtesy of Walnut Canyon National Monument.

FLAGSTAFF - A series of at least two major rockfalls have damaged or destroyed large sections of the Island Trail, the most popular visitor attractions at Walnut Canyon National Monument. The heavily damaged trail has been closed indefinitely.

The first rockslide was minor, and occurred sometime during the evening of Nov. 30, causing trail blockage along the lower section of the trail. A second rockfall occurred during the morning of Saturday, Dec. 8. This rockslide was far more extensive and destructive in nature, smashing large sections of a concrete stairway, steel handrails, and a bench. Although the trail was open, no visitors were injured.

The Island Trail descends into Walnut Canyon in a long series of concrete stair steps allowing visitors access to a ledge lined with cliff dwellings tucked into deep limestone alcoves in the steep, rugged canyon.

Park staff are currently assessing the full extent of the damage and are in the initial stages of developing options for reopening the trail. Truck-sized blocks of unstable limestone hang precariously over sections of the trail. The largest are estimated to weigh several hundred tons. These blocks need to be removed, stabilized, or a new trail will need to be rerouted around them. The trail will likely be closed for months.

All other areas of the monument-including the visitor center, the Rim Trail, and the picnic area-remain open to the public. Entry to the monument will be free to the public during the Island Trail closure.

Walnut Canyon National Monument was established by a proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson on Nov. 30, 1915 to preserve the prehistoric ruins of ancient cliff dwellings. The Island Trail descends 185 feet (about halfway into the canyon). It passes 25 cliff dwelling rooms offering glimpses of life at Walnut Canyon 900 years ago.

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