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April 27, 2011

National Monuments: Canyon de Chelly

Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly

In the midst of the Navajo Nation in the northeast corner of Arizona is Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “shay”).  Unique amongst the National Park service units, the Navajo Tribe retains the ownership of the land while the National Park Service administers park matters.  Canyon de Chelly was conferred National Monument status in 1931.

Despite the remote location, this National Monument receives plenty of visitors.  Indeed, if Canyon de Chelly were a National Park, its visitation would rank 24th out of 58.  This National Monument has more visitors than the nearby and easier to access Petrified Forest National Park .

Tourists visit Canyon de Chelly to see the deep picturesque gorge and the ruins of Anasazi and Navajo cliff dwellings.  These sights can be seen either from the North Rim or the South Rim.  With our short drive by visit, we only had time to visit the South Rim.

From the canyon rim, the ruins within the gorge can be seen with the naked eye.  However, even with binoculars, the view isn’t quite satisfying.  The ruins feel too remote and a little too abstract.  Better would be an excursion along the canyon floor.  Aside from a single trail down to the White House Ruin, stream level visits are only available with Navajo or Park Service guides.  In any event, our schedule did not give us the chance for a canyon floor excursion.  Next visit, we will be sure to leave time for a ravine bottom visit.  A four-wheel drive tour strikes us as particularly appealing.

Canyon de Chelly in the visual wave lengths...

...and in infrared wavelengths

Canyon de Chelly makes for an interesting outing.  And like many places in the Southwest, the roadside landscape along the way to the monument is striking.  The journey truly is the destination in this corner of the world.  Maybe we should just call the whole region a National Park.

From Holbrook Arizona to Moab Utah we traveled US 191/Navajo 12 as it rolls through the Navajo Nation.  Scattered sparsely through the countryside are the Navajo’s peculiar octagon shaped houses or hogans.  The highway splits dramatic red rock spires, cliffs, and mesas.  All told traveling US 191 in Northern Arizona is a marginally less impressive version of visiting nearby Monument Valley.

Rock Point's water towers

One thing is refreshing.  Unlike the state of Arizona, the Navajo honor the daylight savings time system.  We actually intuitively knew the correct time traveling through Navajo country.  In Arizona, near the biannual time change, we never knew for sure what time it was.

Three hundred and fifty miles of road and an extended stop at Canyons de Chelly made for a long day.  We reached Moab late.  With the late arrival came the usual blind trailer parking ritual at the campground.  It’s certain now.  Becky needs a luminescent arm.  At least this time our late night camp making escapades did not end with Becky spending the night sleeping in the bushes.

Find the remaining pictures on Picasa.

White House Ruins

Gigi has unfortunately acquired a taste for stogies

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