“Among the Cliff Dwellings”


Grey and his party rode northeast of Red Lake towards Tsegi Canyon. Along the way, Grey and his party stopped to water their horses at a place he called “Becki-shib-iti” which he claims means “cow water” in Navajo.[1]

A view of the inside of Tsegi canyon.
[click the image to enlarge]
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, Zane Grey Rainbow Bridge photograph collection, P0672, Box 1, Image 158)

Tsegi Canyon

Before Zane Grey and his party reached Kayenta, they met up with John Wetherill’s son who guided them through Tsegi Canyon to the Betetakin cliff ruins, an Ancestral Pueblo dwelling. Grey mentions Segi Canyon in many of his writings including his most famous, Riders of the Purple Sage. Here he refers to the canyon as “Deception Pass:”[2]

“Far across that wide waste began the slow lift of uplands through which Deception Pass cut its tortuous many-canyoned way. . . . The opening into Deception Pass was one of the remarkable natural phenomena in a country remarkable for vast slopes of sage, uplands insulated by gigantic red walls, and deep canyons of mysterious source and outlet. Here the valley floor was level, and here opened a narrow chasm, a ragged vent in yellow walls of stone. The trail down the five hundred feet of sheer depth always tested Venters's nerve. It was bad going for even a burro.”[3]

As Grey suggests, Tsegi Canyon is deceptive with its multiple branches and canyons.

A side view of Betatakin Cliff Dwelling.
[click the image to enlarge]
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, Zane Grey Rainbow Bridge photograph collection, P0672, Box 1, Image 162)

Betatakin, an Ancestral Pueblo Cliff Dwelling

Like Rainbow Bridge, Betatakin was also discovered by John Wetherill and Byron Cummings in 1909. The party had been traveling out of canyon when they met Nedi Cloey, a Navajo woman. Upon hearing that the party was looking for Anasazi ruins, she told them of a large ruin that her children discovered while herding sheep. The party returned with her son in law on August 9, 1909 and named the ruin “Betat’ akin” which means hillside house in Navajo.[4]

Zane Grey was fascinated by Betatakin and included the cliff dwellings in several of his books including Riders of the Purple Sage. In “Down into the Desert” he states:

“Men had lived there once, made their homes high in that inaccessible place, fought for their women and their lives. And now they were gone. Those little vacant windows staring black out of the dwellings, spoke eloquently of the mystery of life.”[5]

Grey, like many others at the time, contemplated the fate of the people who lived at these ruins. This led Grey and others to create their own imaginings of what happened. Grey even explains in “Tales of Lonely Trails,” a book that recorded his adventures for the pleasure of his fans, that his “dream people of romance [the Ancestral Puebloans] had really lived there once upon a time.”[6] Although, it is unclear what Grey means by “dream people of romance,” this makes it apparent that he had a certain expectation for what their life must have been like.

[1] Zane Grey, “Down into the Desert,” 43.
[2]Kevin Blake, “The Geography of the Rainbow Trail,” Zane Grey Review (May 2015), 16, accessed June 12, 2020, https://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2097/35793/The%20Geography%20of%20The%20Rainbow%20Trail%2C%20May%202015.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
[3] Zane Grey, Riders of the Purple Sage (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1912), Project Gutenburg Chapter 4, accessed June 5, 2020, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1300/1300-h/1300-h.htm#link2HCH0004.
[4] Hal K. Rothman, Navajo National Monument: A Place and its People: an Administrative History (Santa Fe: Southwest Cultural Resources Center, 1991), 23, accessed June 16, 2020, http://npshistory.com/publications/nava/adhi.pdf.
[5] Zane Grey, “Down into the Desert,” 43.
[6] Zane Grey, Tales of Lonely Trails (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1922) Project Gutenburg, accessed   June 16 2020, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/12225/12225-h/12225-h.htm#image-0007.