Canyon de Chelly

Trip Start May 09, 2009
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Trip End May 27, 2010


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Where I stayed
Cottonwood Campground

Flag of United States  , Arizona
Sunday, April 18, 2010

Our last stop in Arizona was the Canyon de Chelly (pronounced d' SHAY) National Monument near Chinle, AZ.  Canyon de Chelly is unique among National Park service units, as it consists entirely of Navajo Tribal Trust Land which remains in the ownership of the Navajo Nation and is home to the canyon community, while the National Park Service administers park matters.  Access to the canyon floor is restricted, and visitors are allowed to travel in the canyons only when accompanied by a park ranger or an authorized Navajo guide (with the exception of the White House Ruin Trail.

We saw the park both from the top of the canyon, through drives along the rims, and from the bottom via a Navajo-guided truck tour (ours was run by the Thunderbird Lodge).  I recommend that you do both for totally different perspectives of the canyon.

The canyon contains numerous ruins of ancient dwellings used by Anasazi and Navajo tribes.  You can get a long-distance view of many at the overlooks on the North and South Rim drives.  But the canyon tour we took gave us a much more up-close-and-personal perspective of some of the ruins and a real sense of the height and beauty of the canyon.  The truck tour also gave us a chance to see the summer homes and farms of the Navajos who live in the canyon.  But best of all, the truck went through and across the Chinle Wash, making it a great jeep-like ride.  We had a modified all-day tour (shortened from 8 to 6 hours) since part of the canyon was still not navigable by truck due to spring run-offs.  But 6 hours is plenty when riding in a 1952 truck with little shock absorption!  But we lucked out in the truck and the driver we had, since the tour truck ahead of us got stuck in the middle of the wash and we had to tow them out.  Just part of the adventure!

At most of the rim overlooks and stops in the canyons, Navajo vendors plied their jewelry and art.  We admit we succumbed but the prices were a bargain compared to retail stores.

Visiting here also meant recognizing the terrible treatment that the Navajo Tribe endured here at the hand of the US Army after the Civil War. Having been successfully fighting Navajos since the summer of 1863, Col. Kit Carson received orders to end the campaign with a winter sweep through the Navajo stronghold of Canyon de Chelly and move the Navajo to Fort Sumner on the Bosque Redondo Reservation. When the Navajos refused to move and hid in the Canyon de Chelly, he began a campaign of economic warfare, destroying crops, lifestock and villages. By destroying their food supplies, eventually he convinced the Navajos that going to the reservation was the only way to survive. By 1864, about 8000 Navajo had surrendered to the U.S. Army, while another 8000 hid in the back country. In 1868 they were allowed to return to their tribal lands, including Canyon de Chelly,  For more on "The Long Walk," see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Walk_of_the_Navajo

Throughout the Monument are signs that succinctly state the uniqueness of Canyon de Chelly:  "Featuring the Culture While Preserving the Land."  Well worth the visit and an apt end to our Arizona adventures.

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