Canyon de Chelly

This past weekend my Meetup hiking group visited Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Canyon dee Shay) was authorized by Hoover in 1931 to protect the archaeological dwellings within the canyon, which span over 4,000 years of civilization. The Navajo Nation and the National Park Service work together to manage the 84,000 acres of land.

The canyon is located way up in the Northeast corner of the state, about five hours from Phoenix. We drove through desert up to Payson, then through forested mountains. It’s pretty amazing how much variety exists within this state. We car camped near the Visitor’s Center, and then met up with our guide. Since the land is owned by the Navajo Nation, you need a guide with you at all times.

We left the cars in a parking lot, and our guides drove us to the trailhead in pickups. We were able to use day packs, and the guides drove a truck full of water and our gear down to the campsite. Glamping at its finest!


We had some phenomenal views hiking down into the canyon.


Approaching Spider Rock

About 40 Navajo families live in the canyon. They live in traditional dwellings called hogans, but we weren’t allowed to take photos of their houses or any of the people who live there.

We took a brief lunch break by the stream, and then some of the group climbed up this rock formation. You can see Window Rock waaaay up at the top!

Great views… Well worth the climb!

It was a little stormy near our campsite… Scott had to help me set up my tent, because it was trying to blow away! It cleared up a bit and we did some exploring of the nearby cliffs.


We hung out, had a great group dinner of burritos (we even had cilantro and fresh limes, benefits of glamping), and enjoyed the campfire.

 The next morning we continued our hike along the canyon to see some cliff dwellings. Throughout the history of the canyon, the ancient Puebloans, Hopi, and Navajo peoples built their homes in alcoves to take advantage of sunlight and natural protection. The Navajo used the land in the bottom of the canyon for corn fields and peach orchards, until they were forced out by soldiers. They’ve fenced off the ruins to keep people away, but we could still get fairly close to this one.


After seeing this ruin, our Navajo guide told us about the history of her people. It was a sad tale, as we all know, involving massacres and long marches. She also spoke about how she ended up returning to be a guide in Canyon de Chelly. I learned that the Navajo people are very superstitious, and also that it’s considered rude to make direct eye contact in their culture.

After another few miles, we got to White House Ruin, which is the main draw for people visiting the park. It’s a brief hike down into the canyon, so it was the first time we saw other hikers.


The lower part used to be 4 or 5 stories tall, and connected to the top portion by ladders.


It was a gorgeous hike back up to the rim, and some sprinkling rain kept the air cool for our ascent.


Made it to the top! This photo goes to show that even if someone has a really big, really nice camera, they don’t necessarily know how to use one… We had a random French lady take our photo. Good thing I’m short, so my head didn’t get cut off!

After we got back to the cars, we drove a few miles to Spider Rock Overlook. We got to see where we’d hiked through, which was pretty cool!


After posing for photos and admiring the views, we headed back home. We weren’t feeling as accomplished as usual since we hadn’t carried full packs all weekend, but it was still a fantastic trip.

Next up, Havasupai!

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