Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, April 2017

People have lived in these canyons longer than anywhere else on the Colorado Plateau.  They have been in Canyon de Chelly continuously for more than 5,000 years.  The first people were the Ancient Puebloan people. They were part of a diverse and widespread culture of long ago.  They were the original builders of the stone cliff houses.  The first people left for areas south and east in the Rio Grande River Valley from Taos, NM down through the Albuquerque area. The people who were in the Chaco Canyon area moved west into this area.  They continued building in the cliffs in some places right on top of the original cliff homes.  This group eventually moved on as well and the early Navajo people moved into this area.

In 1931 Canyon de Chelly was formed entirely within the Navajo Nation near Chinle, AZ. More than 40 families continue to live in the canyon and in the National Monument.  Susan and I were here in 1980. No easy way to get here, it is not where most go.  We visited the White House ruins, walked down the trail to the Chinle Creek.  We waded across the river and right up into the ruins.  You can’t do that any more but you can walk down and get close to the ruins.  

The Navajo called this area Tseyi, Vertical Rocks.  Canyon de Chelly is an anglicized version of Teh-say ee.  The national monument includes three canyons,  de Chelly, del Muerto and Monument.  All were carved by flowing water over millions of years as the Colorado Plateau was pushed up.  Sound familiar?

These canyons are 1100 to 1400 feet deep and very narrow.  People live in these canyons today.  Farming, cattle and sheep are the main activities.  One road follows the north side of the canyon with four overlooks. Another follows the south side with eight overlook stops.  You can hire a tour down in the canyon.  The Navajo provide this service to visitors who want to ride through the canyon in a Jeep.

It is hard to describe the sharp gashes in the plateau.  And where one canyon comes into another the sharp vertical remains are immense.

It was cold here at night, about 7,000 ft elevation.  Snow still in any shady areas. There are roads in the canyons and fields.  The Chinle  Creek runs all year long.

The river runs where you see trees on the canyon floor.

It is all about erosion.

And shear cliffs.  Right in the center of this picture at the bottom of the cliffs are ancient stone cliff houses.  The stripes on the cliff faces are from water. 


The ruins are pretty large and more than one story tall.


In these ruins the original buildings were done by the Ancient Puebloans.  The square tower in the middle was done much later in the style of the Chaco Canyon people who came later.

This is Spider Rock, 750 ft tall and still much shorter than the canyon sides.  People were climbing up this and hang gliding off the top before access and use restrictions were put into place.  Probably a good thing. 

Susan’s favorite place is away from the edges.

Cool, warm in the sun, snow here and there.  Perfect.


The crew. 

I liked this picture.  It looks like a scrawny tree on the left but it is a stump with trees on the far side of the canyon face.

Everywhere water flows trees grow.

And on the top of the cliffs at an overlook you can see how all of this started.  Some water collects, a crack forms, water flows and a million years later, a canyon.

At every overlook there are ruins.  Sometimes you have to look closely.


And down at the botton of this are the White House Ruins that we walked down to in 1980. Look right in the middle at the base of the cliffs. The trail down is about 900 feet down and a mile and a half each way.  There were several young folk headed down.  Somehow we had no idea we had walked down as far as it was. 

From the bottom of the canyon the White house ruins are on a couple levels, likely built at much different times.

We were headed back to the campground.  The Chinle Creek flows out of the canyons and into other water flowing down the “Beautiful Valley” as Navajo call it.  This is a wide long shallow valley that runs North-Shouth. 


Only to find this classic BlueBird Wanderlodge.  They are the same as the old rear engine diesel pusher BlueBird school buses.  My friend Avi, who worked with me at R and E Vans back in the 70’s has one of these school bus versions waiting for conversion into a motorhome.  If anyone can do it I expect it will be Avi.  

We met a guy in Michigan last summer who had a 34 ft Wanderlodge.  It’s gross weight was more than 20,000 lbs more than our 36′ Foretravel.  A steel frame and body is heavy.  They are famous for having “just barely” brakes.

Well that was a very quick look at Canyon de Chelly.  It is tough to pick through more than 135 pictures from here.  It is another one of those truely amazing places in America.  One that gets passed by too easily.  Take time to see what is there.

We are heading for Santa Fe.

More later,

Roger and Susan

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