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Canyon de Chelly Nat’l Monument, AZ

This national park is very different from the others.   There are people living in it.   The national monument, which is made up of both Canyon de Chelly (pronounced, “shay”) and Canyon del Muerto, is the home of Navajo people who continue to live and farm traditionally.   As long as they are there “” and they have no plan to leave “” the Anglos who come to see the monument are required to observe the canyon from the rim.   We are not allowed to enter the canyons without a Navajo guide, either by foot or by car.

We’re also asked not to photograph the Navajos, their animals, or their homes.   After all, they are real people who want privacy.   So there are two primary places that most people go when visiting this national monument.   They drive the North Rim and stop at one of four overlooks, and they drive the South Rim and stop at the other seven overlooks. From these overlooks you can see the deep walls of the canyon, cultivated fields, sandy primitive roads, an occasional house, and a couple of cliff dwelling ruins. It looks idyllic from above, and all the more interesting for being prohibited to non-Navajos.


canyon-de-chelly-white-house-ruins.jpgEveryone wants to get down to the bottom, but there is only one hike that you can do in the park without a Navajo guide or a park ranger.   The White House trail steeply winds all the way down to the canyon floor and ends at the well-preserved White House Ruin (2.5 miles roundtrip, 500 ft elev. change).   It’s a beautiful hike, which we did yesterday.

In fact, the whole canyon is stunningly beautiful.   Unlike most other Four Corners canyons, this one is lush and green, with a flat bottom and homes situated through it.   The walls are sheer and tall, like in Zion National Park, covered with natural varnish, and fanciful spires and pinnacles of rock decorate the edges.   I’ve uploaded many more pictures to my Flickr album.

There’s one other hike, led by a ranger down the Tunnel Trail.   We have signed up to take it this morning.   It leaves at 7:30 a.m., which makes sense because each day it has gotten somewhat warm and thunderstorms seem to be the pattern in the afternoon. We’re going because (a) it’s the only other hike available; (b) we’ll get some interpretation by the ranger along the way, and probably learn something.   At the amphitheater ranger talk last night, we met the ranger who will be guiding us down the trail and she is promising some very interesting sights.

The other option for getting into the canyon is to take a Jeep tour, or hire a Navajo guide to ride with you in your own car (4WD, high clearance required).   The visitor center staff does this for you.   The cost is $15 per hour (3 hour minimum) for the Navajo guide. We seriously considered it, but after having been in the canyon today and having another chance at a different part of the canyon tomorrow, we probably will skip a third opportunity.   We’ll decide that tomorrow.

One Response to “Canyon de Chelly Nat’l Monument, AZ”

  1. Airstreamer in Phoenix Says:

    Great write-up as always . . . keep enjoying the Colorado Plateau, one of the most unique places on earth. You are right near where I spent part of my second day as a full-timer in April of 2007. My Airstream is temporarily trailer-park bound now, but I am still living in aluminum.

    Hope to see you guys soon.

    Isn’t the redrock country just magic?