Few places on the Navajo reservation are as historically and spiritually significant to The Dineh, or The People, as the Navajo call themselves, than Canyon de Chelly (pronounced as ‘de-shay’). This national monument in northern Arizona is comprised of 130 square miles of Navajo tribal trust land, but is operated by the National Park Service. There is no fee to visit here, or to camp here. Your first stop in the park should be the Visitor Center for a map and information. Knowing a bit about the Navajo way of life, both past and present, will add to your experience.
About 80 families reside in Canyon de Chelly, both on the rim and in the bottom of the canyon. Some live in modern homes, but others still prefer a traditional circular hogan with dirt floor, and tend sheep, goats, and grow peaches and corn. It wasn’t always a peaceful life here. Massacre Cave (an overlook along the North Rim Drive) is the site of the 1805 Spanish military attack that killed more than 115 Navajos. Later, in 1864, legendary Kit Carson led a brutal campaign in the canyon against the Navajo, forcing them into the grueling 300-mile “Long Walk” to a reservation in New Mexico. Some Navajo that survived the ordeal eventually returned to the canyon and slowly rebuilt their lives.
The 34-mile round trip North Rim Drive and the 36–mile round trip South Rim Drive are the two main scenic routes though the park. If you have just a short time to spend here, choose the South Rim Drive. The out and back route features seven dramatic overlooks you won’t soon forget. Near the mouth of the canyon is the Tunnel Overlook, where a short narrow canyon feeds into Chinle Wash, a wash formed by the streams that cut through the canyons of the national monument. At Junction Overlook you can see where Canyon del Muerto and Canyon de Chelly intersect. The view from Tsegi Overlook is impressive, too. Tsegi is a Navajo word meaning “rock canyon.”
Check back next week for part 2…
IF YOU GO:
Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Chinle, AZ
The park is a non-fee area.
The Visitor Center is open daily all year from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for Christmas Day. The North and South Rim Drives and the White House Trail remain open all year. The drives are paved roads.
Cottonwood Campground is open all year on a first-come, first-serve basis. No reservations are required for individual sites. Reservations are required for group site tent sites. Call 928-674-2106.
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com