March 17 – 19
We arrived at the Canyon De Chelly visitor center at 3:55 pm. It turns out that the Navajo Indian Reservation follows daylight savings time whereas the rest of Arizona does not – so we only had 5 minutes!
We picked up a couple of pamphlets and a map. There are only two campgrounds in the area so we went to the closest one. We stayed at the Cottonwood Campground maintained by the Navajo Parks & Recreation Department. We set up camp, then had some time to relax and enjoy the sun. There seem to be a lot of stray dogs roaming around the area.
Driving the North Rim of Canyon de Chelly
In the morning we drove the north rim of the Canyon de Chelly. It has three lookouts. The drive is 34 miles round trip. At the first stop is Antelope House Ruin. We talked to a Navajo woman who was selling jewelry and art work. She told us not to leave our jaw down in the canyon. The canyon is beautiful. It has beautiful red walls and ranges from 600 – 1000’ deep.
Sheep, cattle and horses graze in the grassy fields that are actively farmed by the Navajos. There were several creeks running through it.
We could see the cliff dwellings along the canyon walls.
We could also see prehistoric paintings of antelope on the walls.
There were many family farms in this area. We could see traditional Hogans as well as small buildings which were homes or shelters. The Navajo traditionally come up out of the canyon during the winter months where it is warmer and so the children can attend school.
The Dangers of the Canyon
The woman that we talked to had several of her mother’s relatives live down in the bottom of the canyon. She used to sell her art work in the canyon and told us a harrowing story of her narrow escape from a sudden heavy rainstorm. She escaped because she was always mindful of the weather. Tragically, her niece did not. She was in her car when the storm suddenly hit and was found dead at the other end of the canyon in Chinle, naked, bruised and tore up from the debris and water.
Massacre Cave was another stop on the Northern rim. In 1805 Antonio Narbona led a Spanish military expedition and killed 115 Navajos. Most of the Navajo men were away hunting so the women, children and elderly had taken shelter in the cave. The soldiers discovered them and shot them from across the rim, killing 115 and taking 33 hostages.
Fortress Rock and the Long Walk
Fortress Rock is another historical landmark in Canyon de Chelly. Colonel Kit Carson was on a crusade to remove the Navajos. In 1863 his men destroyed livestock, homes, and cornfields during numerous small attacks. Carson came back in the winter of 1864 and attacked the Canyon directly. Fortress Rock was the location where hundreds of Navajo took shelter. Being winter, having no supplies & shelter, a lot of the Navajo surrendered. They were forced to march 400 miles to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. This is called The Long Walk.
We were viewing Fortress Rock and a Navajo family was there and the father was explaining to his young adult children the history of the Long Walk. When the Navajo were allowed to return in 1868 they were on a reservation which included Canyon de Chelly. He told us the government gave us all this land above the canyon that is desert and this canyon. We felt that he was just trying to tell us how our ancestors had treated his ancestors. We let them borrow our binoculars so they could see things more closely.
The South Rim
The south rim drive is 37 miles round trip and we saw more panoramic views of the canyon, Defiance Plateau and the Chuska Mountains.
The other private campground called Spider Rock campground was at end of the drive so we decided to start there and work our way back in case we wanted to get a site. When we got to the campground and went to the info booth, a big dog jumped up on the van door trying to get to Heidi. We could tell at once it was not a place we wanted to stay. It was supposed to have WiFi but we could not detect any. WiFi would not have been reason to entice us to stay!
In the park all the horses and cattle are free range. It seems that the dogs are too! There were two dogs lying on our campsite pad and Kathy fed them some of Heidi’s treats. Heidi did NOT like that! She started woofing at the window at the dogs as we pulled away.
Spider Rock is a tall straight rock that rises 800’ from the canyon floor which is about 1000’ deep at this point. The Navajo believe that Spider Woman, the deity that taught them how to weave lives atop of this rock.
White House Ruins Trails
The next morning we took a hike on the White House Ruins Trail. This is the only trail in the National Monument that you can hike on without a certified guide. It was a 2.5 mile round trip hike that descended 600’ into the canyon and went over to the ancient Pueblo ruins on the opposite canyon wall built about 1000 years ago.
The trail was well marked and you could see that a lot of work went into building the trail. Many places had steps to make it easier. A couple of places the trail was more narrow.
A narrow passage on the edge of the cliff was an unexpected surprise.
The canyon became more beautiful as you descended. This tree provided a nice spot to sit and contemplate the stunning landscape.
At the bottom of the canyon we crossed a bridge over a fast flowing stream.
We were able to getting fairly close to the dwellings. A fence keep those from getting too close.
When we walked through this tunnel, we saw this hogan in a lovely setting.
We took a lunch break and enjoyed the peacefulness of this stream.
There were about two dozen families that lived in the canyon.
The trail is beautifully built and we enjoyed the hike very much. We walked by farmland, a fast moving stream, a woman selling jewelry at the bottom of the canyon, and the ruins. After our hike we headed on down the road to our next destination.