Canyon de Chelly, Arizona - 25 to 26 May 2014


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North America » United States » Arizona
June 24th 2014
Published: June 25th 2014
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On our way to Canyon de Chelly we stopped at a small store to do some shopping. We wanted some breakfast porridge but could not see any so asked the shop assistant who immediately looked blank before a glimmer of recognition and she asked, ‘do you mean Oatmeal’? - that is what they call it over here……. ‘Judith you will be quite impressed as Paul is now eating porridge with fresh fruit (blueberries) most days’,…………never thought that he would be converted, after all these years saying that he hated it…….. The shop assistant did locate the ‘oatmeal’ but it came complete with Maple Sugar and Brown Sugar, but we did select the low fat version and it was jolly nice!



We continued on our journey stopping at the Hubbell Trading Post.





HUBBELL TRADING POST



The Trading Post is still situated on the original homestead which includes the trading post, family home, outbuildings, land and a now a small Visitor Centre. We chatted to a ranger and he told us that the fire in Sedona was still raging although it was now under control thank goodness. He gave us lots of useful information about the area and the history of Hubbell Trading Post. The Visitor Centre itself also had useful information as well and you could spend a quite a while just wandering around. Paul asked whether their was any link with the name Hubbell to the Hubbell Space Telescope and the ranger thought that there may have been some long distant relationship but was unsure.



Hubbell Trading Post is the oldest continuously operated trading post on the Navajo Nation steeped in the history of the West yet even today continues to thrive as an active trading post. This National Historic Site is a meeting ground of two cultures, the Navajo Indians who lived here and the Settlers who came to ‘settle’ on their land in the late 19th century - the beginning of a long sad story and a fight for survival……



For centuries before the arrival of European settlers, the Diné (or Navajo as they were called by the Spanish) were used to roaming freely over vast distances of the South West trading with neighbouring Pueblo tribes and living off the land. This was the land which their Holy People had created for them, Dinétah, the land within their four sacred mountains. This was all to change with the expansion into the west when the Euro-American inhabitants were promised protection from the ‘perceived warlike tribes’ such as the Navajo and Apache. Military posts were established and the indians fiercely protected their sacred land, the land of their ancestors. With the lure of ‘gold in the hills’ more settlers arrived and the Indians were finally driven nearly to distinction. Colonel Kit Carson (known as an American trailblazer and Indian fighter) was commissioned to follow the ‘scorched earth’ policy and destroy the Navajo tribes. After surrendering in 1863 the remaining Navajos were forced to march over 300 miles to a flat desolate 40 square mile wind swept Reservation in New Mexico far away from their homeland. This is now known in Navajo history as ‘the long walk of the Navajo’ (Nelson Mandela’s ‘long walk to freedom’ comes to mind).



Carson had left the Army and returned home before the March began, but some Navajo held him responsible for the events. He had promised that those who surrendered would not be harmed, and indeed, they were not attacked directly, but the journey was hard on the people, as they were already starving and poorly clothed, and the provisions were scanty. An estimated 300 Navajo died along the way. Many more died during the next four years on the encampment at Fort Sumner. The number of Navajo that would arrive at Sumner had been grossly underestimated and there were insufficient provisions for them, a factor that Carson deplored.



Following a Treaty agreed between General William Sherman for the US Government and Barboncito (headman), for the Navajo they were finally allowed to return to their homelands from exile in 1868. The latter stating, ‘ After we get back to our country, it will brighten up again, and the Navajo will be as happy as the land. Black clouds will rise, and there will be plenty of rain. Corn will grown in abundance and everything will look happy.’



However on their return their way of life was never to be the same again and troubled with economic depression as a result of the ‘long walk’ trade became imperative for their survival.



John Lorenzo Hubbell purchased the trading post in 1878 which was ten years after the Navajos were allowed to return to their homeland after their imposed exile. He and other traders supplied items that the Navajos needed to supplement their own homegrown products. In exchange for the trader's goods the Navajos traded wool, sheep, and later on rugs, jewellery, baskets, and pottery - it was years before cash was used between Trader and Navajo.



Inside the Hubbell Trading Post it was like stepping back in time and several rooms contained many unusual items for sale along with stories and pictures from the past. In the main ‘shop’ you could buy items of food and in the smaller rooms gifts and souvenirs. One room contained a collection of rifles including the famous Winchester Rifle which was a significant improvement on any predecessors and was a favourite of both Indian and Lawmen (these were not for sale). Another room contained some fine crafted rugs, sandpaintings and woven baskets. The Navajos believe that the Holy People, who originated with First Man and First Woman, made baskets for ceremonial purpose and each part of the basket had a special significance. In another room we saw some really fine silver jewellery embedded with turquoise - it is believed that the Navajo starting working with turquoise after the ‘long walk’. The Hubbell family operated this trading post until it was sold to the National Park Service in 1967 and today is a major tourist attraction for those travelling through the area and definitely worth a special visit.



We spent an interesting couple of hours at the Trading Post before moving on and we soon arrive at our next destination the Canyon de Chelly which had been recommended to us by several people.





CANYON DE CHELLY NATIONAL MONUMENT



We arrived in Chinle, the name in Navajo means ‘flowing out’ and is a reference to the location where the water flows out of the Canyon de Chelly. The Navajo have a close bond with the red rock canyon that cuts a green oasis through the land with the river meandering around the canyon walls.







We stopped at the Visitor Centre and chatted to one of the Rangers about what to do in the area (this was always useful and became part of our travels as the rangers were so informative) before we moved on to our campground which was right behind the Visitor Centre. It was run by the Navajo and was on a nice grassy site but was quite basic with no hook up for electricity but a nearby stand pipe supplied us with running water and a couple of toilets blocks but alas no showers! The campsite though was ideally situated at the entrance into the valley so that we could spend as much time as possible there. As always the campgrounds closest to major parks were nearly always basic but usually the best and gave quick and speedy access into the parks after all this is why we were here... ... ...







There were various options for exploring the red rock canyon, which is administered jointly by the National Park Service and the Navajo Tribe. About 10 overlooks were spaced out along the North and South Rim drives and we were close to both so set off to explore before it got too dark to see.


Before long we had parked the van and walked to the first lookout point. This first glimpse took our breath away - nestled in the valley far below was a lovely green oasis. It was like a miniature Grand Canyon but you could easily see the green valley deep below which had a small river meandering through between the high red cliffs. If you looked carefully at the rock edge you could see a few cliff-dwellings or cliff houses which were actually built into the rocks using the natural caves or niches. Some were located very high up and perched precariously near steep drop offs (I do not think I could have lived here). Many looked as though they could not be accessed at all and were true fortresses but were probably accessed by hidden from view rock steps and/or wooden ladders designed so that they could lift entry ladders during enemy attacks, which must have provided very good security.





There are many famous cliff dwellings throughout the world but most are located in North America, particularly amongst the canyons in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado as well as in Mexico some of which are still used by Native Americans today. Modern research finds no definite justification for assigning them to a distinct primitive race, or further back than the ancestors of modern Pueblo people as the areas in which they occur coincides with that in which other traces of Pueblo tribes have been found.





Ancient Pueblo or Ancestral Pueblo were an ancient Native American culture centred on the present day Four Corners area of the USA, comprising southern Utah, northeastern Arizona, northern New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado. They lived in a range of structures, including pit houses, pueblos, and the cliff dwellings we had recently seen in the Canyon.





Archaeologists referred to one of these cultural groups as the Anasází, although the term is not preferred by contemporary Pueblo peoples as the word in Navajo means ‘Ancient Ones’ or ‘Ancient Enemy’.





We enjoyed our rim drive and soon were back in our campsite to prepare supper. We chatted to Donna and Lloyd from Lake Powell who were travelling to visit relatives in Texas for their granddaughters graduation party. They showed us over their large van and invited us to stay and park our much smaller van in their drive when we get to Lake Powell in about a months time to save on camping fees - hopefully we will look them up when we drive through in about a month’s time.





We had not realised but the next day was Memorial day in the USA and at the local cemetery every grave was covered in a mass of colourful flowers and the flags were flying at half mast in memory of those who lost their lives for their country. To us every day was the same and we had long lost touch with whether it was Saturday, or Sunday which we used to so look forward to when we were working all those years ago……….





We set off early to explore the North Rim on the opposite side to our previous day’s visit. At each of the overlooks there were local Navajo selling their home produced products, some of which was truly stunning. We bought some jewellery which had been designed on Navajo traditions and believes. Another young lad was selling art drawn directly on to local rocks and demonstrated some great talent but again too heavy for our suitcases.





At most of the overlooks informative signs gave interesting information. The Navajos took refuge in Canyon de Chelly – a natural fortress during the inevitable conflict and violence that arose as the Spaniards, then the Mexicans, then the Americans pushed the frontier steadily westward, into tribal territories. Navajo raiding parties retreated into the canyon after striking and plundering the intrusive settlers. The warriors used the canyon’s vantage points to fight off military expeditions while women and children huddled in the canyon’s many secreted stone shelters.





Many horrific tales abound of those times, one mentioned that Kit Carsons’ troops stormed into the canyon from each end, rousting the people from their hogans (homes) which were then burned, along with saddles, clothing and all other supplies. Sheep and cattle were slaughtered, and crops burned and most of the inhabitants taken captive. The resulting devastation led to the surrender of the Navajos and their removal from the valley. One small band of indians had a fresh-water spring hidden in a side canyon and were able to hide from the soldiers and escape captivity, even though the soldiers were very nearby. However the Canyon de Chelly was to be the last Navajo stronghold in the area …..… its quite ironic really as to us growing up in the fifties the Indians were nearly always portrayed as the ‘bad guys’ but there is always many sides to every story… … …







We were fortunate to be able to have the time to see many of the spectacular ruins on both sides of the rim in the Canyon de Chelly valley including; the White House ruins, Mummy Cave which is set in a ledge 300 feet above the ground and named for two well preserved burials found within its ruins. We also saw Massacre Cave a landmark of a terrible battle fought between Spanish soldiers and Navajo people and Antelope House which is distinguished by the figures of four antelope painted on the canyon wall by a Navajo artist. It took us a while to find these but once seen through our binoculars were easily to spot again. You could not miss Spider Rock a huge monolith which from its base on the canyon floor stands about 800 foot tall it was really awesome.



As the sun set over the Canyon de Chelly it turned the canyon walls into all shades of red, orange and gold - such a beautiful place. We so enjoyed our time there and we thought that it was far more scenic than the Grand Canyon but that is our own personal opinion so please go see and judge for yourself ... ... ...





We left the beautiful valley early the next morning and continued our journey and what a lovely scenic drive it was to get to our next destination, Monument Valley on the border of Arizona and Utah - see you there.


Additional photos below
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26th June 2014
Spider Rock

Incredible red rocks!
Love these formations as well as your great info on the Native Americans. Thanks!
26th June 2014

Amazing Arizona
Glad you are having a wonderful trip and taking us along on your travels.
1st July 2014
Me at Mummy Cave

Wonderful Pictures
Hi Guys Enjoy each day xx Have just been looking at your pictures they are amazing what fantastic memories you have. Glad to see you both looking so well. Stay Safe. xx
2nd July 2014
Me at Mummy Cave

Hi Kit and Roger
Great to hear from you and yes we will enjoy each day - make sure you two do too. Love Paul and SheilaX

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