Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Chinle, AZ has been on our to do list for quite some time and this visit lived up to our expectations. There are only two nearby campgrounds and we opted for Cottonwood which is near the canyon entrance. It is dry camping, but has paved sites and is the closest to town. Canyon de Chelly (d'SHAY) is not only a natural wonder but also an important cultural site that has been inhabited for nearly 5000 years by various native people.
While the canyon is a National Park Service site it is on the Navajo Nation and administered by the Navajo. Entrance into the canyon is restricted to tours with rangers or authorized native guides. We opted for the four hour tour from the Thunderbird Lodge which was by the campground. They used this six wheel drive vehicle with an open top.
You can see why we liked this vehicle. The Chinle Wash still had a good bit of water from the spring snow melt. This wash will be bone dry after the snow in the mountains is gone.
It does not look like much but one of our fellow tourist's hat blew off and when our guide Dave went back to get it we started to sink in the quicksand. He had to use all six wheels to get us out. Wish I had gotten a picture of that hat lying atop the quicksand looking like there could be a person under it just like an old Western movie.
The canyon has many pictographs (paintings on the rock) and petroglyphs (images carved into the rock). Some of the very old ones were done by the Anasazi, the oldest Puebloan people, and their meaning is unknown. Here are a snake, a flute playing kokopelli, a dancer and hands marking people's presence.
The petroglyph on the left is from the time the Navajo occupied the canyon from 1700. It tells the story of how they helped a warrior who suffered from what we today call post traumatic stress disorder. The Navajo believed that to help a person they needed to make a robe from a hide with no arrow or spear holes. They would run down the deer until it was exhausted and then stuff corn meal into its nostrils to suffocate it. Then the undamaged skin would be made into a robe for the warrior.
There are many ruins in the canyon dating back to the time of the Anasazi. The round structure in the middle is a kiva that was used for ceremonies.
While the land inside the canyon is owned by many Navajo families who use it for farming and herding, very few people actually live there. They mainly use it in the summer when the kids are not in school since daily trips in and out of the canyon are very difficult.
More old ruins. While these early people were often called cliff dwellers, they where really Puebloans who built these communities (pueblos) on the canyon floor as well as in the walls.
This is Navajo Fortress. In the late 1700's warfare erupted between the Navajo and the Spanish. When their efforts to fortify the lower canyon failed many went to the top of this butte for protection. Then in 1846 the US Army drove the Mexicans out and the area became part of the United States.
This is the back of Navajo Fortress. Click on the picture to enlarge it and you can see a tree ladder they used to climb to safety. In 1863 the US Army under Kit Carson drove the Navajo out and destroyed the orchards and killed all there animals. They were marched 300 miles, known as The Long Walk, to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. They were allowed to return in 1868 but were dependent on the government since their property had been destroyed.
This pictograph shows the story of the Spanish coming into the canyon to attack the Navajo. The middle figure is the priest who accompanied the soldiers.
This is a hogan that would be used by families during their trips into the canyon. There are forty Navajo families that own property inside the canyon. This ownership dates back to the time before the Spanish. A tour into the canyon is a must to get an understanding of the Navajo culture and the history in the area.
On day two we drove the canyon rim and hiked to the floor to see the White House ruins up close.
This is the only trail you are permitted to hike into the canyon. You can see the trail, farmland and Chinle Wash. There are two main canyons and a few smaller side ones. The main canyon was the only one that had water in it, even now in early spring.
The trail has two tunnels, one at the top to get over the rim and one at the bottom to get to the floor of the canyon. They say the hike is 2.5 miles but we found it to be a bit longer. It is 600 feet to the bottom.
The White House ruins gets it name from the white adobe on the house in the back. The lower part here is on the canyon floor near the wash.
What goes down must go up. Looking from the bottom to the rim. The trail is pretty easy with many switchbacks meaning it is not very steep.
Spider Rock rises over 800 feet from the canyon floor at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and the smaller Monument Canyon. One of the things that makes Canyon de Chelly unique is you can see the mouth of the canyon, which was near the campground, and then within a few miles you can look down on to the top of this 800 foot spire.
While White House Trail is the only one you are allowed to hike down into the canyon we found a couple others. Look carefully and you can see a trail along the opposite wall and then down a ladder into the cut that is partly in shade. At the bottom you can see the line of the path through the trees. It is not a trail for the faint of heart.
Looking down on the farmland where they grow crops along the Chinle Wash. It is hard to believe ancient people could survive and thrive in such a harsh climate but then you realize the Navajo continue to thrive in the same conditions today.
Massacre Cave is the site where the Spanish killed about 115 Navajo who took shelter there. The Spanish discovered them and killed them all by firing down from the rim above. We really liked Canyon de Chelly and seeing all the ancient dwellings from a distance has us looking forward to visiting Mesa Verde where we can get an up close look.
Because we have been busy and have had slow internet connections I'm a bit behind with the blog. We have been to Monument Valley (our next post) and are now in Cortez, CO for a week to explore Mesa Verde and the area.