I have visited Canyon de Chelly or Tseyi (The Rock Canyon) many times—and each time is always a great adventure. Visitors can more intimately explore ruins at Chaco Culture National Historic Park or wander on their own a bit across the landscape at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. But Canyon de Chelly is special. Its mark of distinction is its link to the past. Native peoples have lived in the area continuously for 4,000 years, and Navajo families still reside there today. It is only through Navajo-led tours that visitors can wander the canyons themselves for a close look at the ruins and pictographs of the past.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument is located in Arizona within the Navajo Nation. The area is actually comprised of the floors and rims of three major canyons: de Chelly, del Muerto, and Monument. Its 84,000 acres of land were authorized as a National Monument in 1931 by President Herbert Hoover. In 1970, the park was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The park is jointly managed by the National Park Service and the Navajo Nation. Free access is provided via the scenic rim drives and a moderate hike to one of the ruins. Navajo guides conduct private tours (hikes, horseback or tour bus), providing access to the canyon floor.
The area surrounding Canyon de Chelly offers gorgeous vistas that showcase the area flora as well as wonderful clouds. From the road, the vistas can even belie the existence of the steep canyons that are not far off.
This ram was hurrying to catch up with his little harem that was taking off without him alongside the road. (I think his actions must be an example of leading from behind!) Some horses were wandering around as well along the road and near the visitor center.
Two scenic rim drives—The North Rim Drive (seven overlooks) and The South Rim Drive (three overlooks)—offer some dramatic views.
The first time I visited Canyon de Chelly, I took a bus tour through the canyon. I especially enjoyed meeting the Navajo tour guides and ease-dropping on our senior guide talking to the guide-in-training in native Navajo. It is a beautiful language. I also just loved the canyon walls, the cottonwoods and the occasional wildflower evident throughout the day.
DRIVING THROUGH THE NORTH CANYON
SOME MORE PICTOGRAPHS
WHITE HOUSE RUINS is accessible via a moderate hike from the surface as well as via the ground tours. Although visitors cannot enter the ruins, the area does offer some picnic tables and bathrooms.
SPIDER ROCK is probably the best known geologic feature of Canyon de Chelly. It is two sandstone spires, rising nearly 800 feet about the canyon floor. Spider Woman is prominent in creation myths for several Native American peoples. Accounts vary, but the core of the story is that Spider Woman is responsible for the stars in the sky. She spun a web, laced it with dew and threw it into the sky, creating the stars. Navajo stories explain that Spider Woman lives on the taller of the two spires. Spider Woman is said to have given the rug loom and the artistry of weaving to Navajos.
I encourage you to visit this wondrous place.
Its links to the past always captivate me.