Canyon De Chelly


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Published: October 18th 2009
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We headed South from Bryce Canyon, passing through Kanab for the third time. One of the great things about this trip is that we have almost never gone back over the same road, but this time it was necessary. We drove on into Arizona, heading east. We passed the Glen Canyon dam (surprisingly narrow, impressively deep) and into the Navajo reservation. The Navajo Nation encompasses a large part of the Northeastern corner of Arizona. I think all of us were impressed with the sense of community on the reservation, and with the way the Navajos have decided to live. They have not built casinos like so many of the native people, and do not permit sales of alcohol on the reservation. Certainly the people are not wealthy, but they do seem to truly identify with their community and seem happy with what they are doing.

We reached Chinle, the town outside of Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Canyon day shay) after driving the back roads of the reservation for several hours. It was too late in the day for any touring, so we settled in at the Holiday Inn just outside the park (actually, National Monument). We found a good dinner
Our guide, EmersonOur guide, EmersonOur guide, Emerson

He stopped at this place to demonstrate an echo that took at least 4 or 5 seconds to stop reverberating through the canyon.
at a local restaurant, including some native items such as green chile on Navajo frybread. I also telephoned to make arrangements for our tour the next day.

Because the ruins at Canyon de Chelly are fragile and vulnerable, and because there are Navajos still living in the Canyon, visitors are not allowed in unless accompanied by a licensed Navajo guide. The Canyon is a sacred place for the Navajo, home to many ceremonies and a kind of ultimate homeland for all Navajos. Our guide, Emerson, was raised in the Canyon by his grandmother and his aunt. He told us a number of stories about how they taught him the Navajo language and ways, as well as the often unfortunate history of the Navajo and their interactions with Europeans and neighboring tribes.

The canyon entrance is not easy to cross without a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle. The canyon mouth is deep, loose sand. Emerson told us it was often closed during the rainy season, as it becomes impassable. After entering, we proceeded to a number of impressive cliff dwellings. The best known, the White House ruin, is a remarkable sight, particularly given the impressive cliff that both shelters it
PetroglyphsPetroglyphsPetroglyphs

These were made at various times, some as long as 600 years ago or more.
and towers over it. We also saw numerous petroglyphs left on the canyon walls over the many centuries it has been occupied.

Although there are other cliff dwellings that are larger and/or more accessible, Canyon de Chelly is a memorable experience because of the interaction with Navajos, and because the site has been more or less continually occupied for up to a thousand years or more, with a current active, if dwindling, population. Andrew and Alec agreed that they were much more enthusiastic about visiting the sites that are tied in some way to human occupation and activity. That’s good, because our next stops are all very much in that vein. Following the completion of our half-day tour, we headed for Monument Valley, another place sacred to Navajos and one with mythic stature in Western films.



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The boys on the canyon floorThe boys on the canyon floor
The boys on the canyon floor

The human element was a welcome relief from strictly natural sights.
Poison RockPoison Rock
Poison Rock

Many of the structures in the canyon have been named by the Navajos. This overhanging rock is called Poison: one drop and itll kill you.


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