A Travellerspoint blog

Oct 4 Canyon du Chelly (pronounced d'SHAY) National Monument

Navajo History Lessons, Red Walled Canyons,

sunny 29 °C

The canyon is located near Chinle, AZ, about 100 miles north of where we were staying in Holbrook. We knew little about what we would be coming to other than it was a spectacular view and that is was situated in the heart of a Navajo Reservation. We started our tour at the Visitor Centre. There is no fee for entrance at this monument.


The young Navajo working the desk suggested we start with the Antelope House Lookout, on the North Rim Drive. This lookout requires a 1/4 mile walk from the parking area, so when you arrive it is breath-taking. The northern Canyon del Muerto, so named by the Mexicans because of mummified bodies found there.

There are no guardrails, and the drop is 700 feet to the canyon bottom at this point. In both these photos you can see the rock called the Navajo Fortress, where they could hide in safety from invaders to their home.


Kit Carson, then a Col. in the US Army, led the 1863-65 campaign to subdue the Navajo, ultimately leading to the bitter and humiliating trail. The captured Navajo were forced to walk 300 miles to Fort Sumner where they were imprisoned until 1868, when the few remaining Navajo were allowed to return to their homeland in the canyon. This period is remembered by the Navajo as "The Long Walk"

The history of the canyon far predates the Navajo. As far as 2500 BC the canyon was inhabited by nomadic natives. The Pueblos built the magnificent structures in the canyon during the time they lived here, from about 700 to 1300 AD. No one knows why they left. Hopi moved in to the area from 1300 to 1600 AD, and the time of the Navajo began around 1700.

The ruins at Antelope House, so named because of the petroglyphs of antelope along the wall next to the structure:


This is a close up of the structure, from a web photo:


We only have one day to visit on this trip, but even early in our day, we have put this place on our list of places to re-visit when we plan a more focused trip in the future. Our limited travel budget on this long journey does not give us the leeway to spend either time or $$ here. A canyon tour, which gives you a close-up of the canyon bottom costs $200 at a minimum. There is a hike down into the canyon at the White House Lookout, but we don't even have time for that on our one-day visit.

We then headed off on the South Rim drive. We started at the far end, at Spider Rock Lookout, where the depth of the canyon is 1000 feet. The spider rock is 800 feet tall and stands on the canyon bottom. Navajo legend says there is a spider woman at the top of the spire, and she takes children who behave badly. I guess it must have kept the little ones in line :)


Ruins dot the canyon walls throughout the valley:


We stopped at the White House Lookout, where the 2.5 mile return trail winds down to the valley floor. At this lookout we got a good view of how the Navajo collected water. They let the rocks do it. When rain falls infrequently, it gathers in these depressions in the rock, and this water sustains until the next rainfall. Down in the valley floor there is a dry wash that fills with water during the rainy season and provides water for the crops they grow there.


This is a close up of the White House ruin, from a web photo:


We got a couple of shots of us along the cliff rim before departing back to Holbrook:


The Navajo still use the canyon floor for farming, living down there in modern, or more traditional houses, like this example:


The only guides that can take you into the canyon are Navajo. This is their land, and it is only fitting that they should be the ones to profit from taking tourists to see the ruins up close.

We will put this on our 2019 trip schedule when we hope to be able to spend 3-4 days here and hike down to the White House Ruin as well as immerse ourselves a bit more in the Navajo history and culture.

I hope this blog entry inspires people to visit this area. It is a rich piece of North American culture that needs to be seen.

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 06:38 Archived in USA Tagged navajo_history canyon_du_chelly canyon_del_muerto

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


This is one place we missed, and will put it on our future "to do" list.

by Karmen Reid

Glad you made it to Canyon De chelly . I knew you'd really like it.

by Mary Klimem

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.