Canyon de Chelly

After my Mesa Verde jaunt, I again caught the bug to combine my love of the outdoors with my passion for history.

I was initially going to re-visit Chaco Canyon, but Canyon de Chelly called to me.  A new place to visit, and only 2.5 hours away from Mesa Verde.

If Mesa Verde is a mirror image of Chaco Canyon (Both are national parks, but Mesa Verde is busy, near a good sized town, has a lot of amenities such as restaurants and lodging, and is easily accessible. Chaco?  Well, Chaco is none of these things!), then Canyon de Chelly is a mirror image of Hovenweep for similar reasons.

Canyon de Chelly is not where you go to be isolated. And check out the ancient dwellings in comparative quiet.

What Canyon de Chelly is a place to see not only the Ancestral Pueblo culture and admire the canyon itself, but also to see a thriving community that is very much part of the canyon’s legacy.

The canyon is part of Dine’ (Navajo) land and is administered by them as well. Forty families live in the canyon bottom at some point during the year and still cultivate the land.  The canyon is not a museum only.  It is a living, breathing, and thriving community. A unique place where history mingles in the day-to-day lives of the people who make up this community.

Also unique to this canyon? Other than one trail to the canyon bottom, none of the public is allowed to hike through the canyon without a paid guide. I did not partake in a guided tour. But I did enjoy what I saw.

I started by checking out the somewhat lesser known North Rim of the canyon.

Mummy Cave Ruins

The overlooks over the canyon were nice. And I enjoyed zooming into the ancient dwellings with my camera. But the best way to understand the land is by walking it.

Time to go into the canyon bottom via the White House trail. The aforementioned trail where the public may hike to the bottom of the canyon.

At the bottom of the canyon.

The trail was easy enough, and I soon arrived at the White House dwelling.

The jeep roads of the canyon bottom lead to this publically accessible dwelling. And nearby? People were selling their wares. Part of me was admittedly irked at getting a (low key) sales pitch at almost every overlook and even at the canyon bottom. But then I reflected on how appropriate people selling their art and jewelry was in this place.  If the theories about Chaco being an all-encompassing political, cultural, religious, and trading center are true, then I have no doubt a similar scene was played out on the other side of the Chuska Mountains hundreds of years ago. I may not have traveled on foot to be in this canyon (well, for most of the way. 😉 ), but I am a visitor.  Again, this canyon is a vibrant and living community today. A canyon not just having the ghosts and echoes of the people who lived here in the past.

Notice the petroglyphs.

It was time to head out of the canyon.  And continue to enjoy the views from above.

And the amazing view of Spider Rocks did not disappoint.

It was time to head out of the canyon, pack for a multi-day backpacking trip, and buy some supplies in town. My next stop will be more of walk through history and natural beauty. And it will be a backcountry experience that I am very much craving. However, I am thankful for being able to experience what it is like, even on a very small level, what walking through a canyon that is still a part of a vibrant community..

All the photos

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Janet Tingle
Janet Tingle
6 years ago

Hi Paul,

A few years ago I went with the Colorado Mountain Club to Canyon de Chelly and a local guide took us down the place where we camped and it was wonderful —- maybe a full moon and the outfitter took care of everything —- cooking and tents, etc. I really enjoyed it and we went on daily jaunts to discover this place. The lady was native american and knew a lot about the ancestors and stuff.

Leo Adam
Leo Adam
6 years ago

Do you ever find yourself feeling nostalgia for a world you never knew?
It is from a movie but you might not be a Che fan. He said it visiting Machu Pichu.