Canyon de Chelly guided tour by Jeep

Trip Start Jan 04, 2010
Trip End Jan 16, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Thursday, January 7, 2010

Day 3, Thursday, January 7, 2010

Canyon de Chelly, AZ

Chinle is a small town on the HUGE Navajo Reservation.  There are many of the usual services, but restaurants are definitely not one of them.  Suffice to say we went for takeout A & W tonight rather than have another meal of 'fried bread' and the like at the next-door Junction Restaurant.  

Today was the oldest day of the trip with temperatures never above freezing and a high thin cloud cover filtering the sun.  We’re at 6,000'+ elevation.             

We met Daniel, our Navajo guide, at 9:00am sharp in the lobby and climbed into his battered 4x4 Chevy Tahoe.  After checking into the National Parks Office at the Canyon de Chelly entrance a few km out of town, we headed into the Canyon.  No one would dare drive in this place without a 4x4.  We carefully picked our way along deep tire tracks in the sandy river ("wash") bottom and forged through ice-covered streams.  In the summer rainy months, these washes and arroyos can see flash floods and quicksand conditions.

The canyon is awe-inspiring.  Sheer 1,000' sandstone walls towered above us and, some places, overhung the roadway -- that is, deep ruts.  The valley bottom was mostly loose-packed sand and about a 1/2 km. wide between the canyon walls.  Several years of drought were evident by very dry conditions and the sparse cottonwood trees.  Local Navajo families with long-standing tenures managed small grazing and corn-growing holdings in many places throughout the Canyon.   Many of these poor families leave their horses to graze on the sparse vegetation that remained from the summer.  Elsewhere, prickly pear cactus flowered in low shrubs.

Mid-way into the Canyon, Daniel stopped for a photo-op.  Five persons were sitting in a clearing sheltered beneath a canyon wall.  When we climbed out of the truck, Daniel said one of the persons was his aunt (Winnie) and "we might be interested to see what she was selling…"   It seems this hardy band of Navajos spent all day sitting in this chilly spot (which was also the site of the only trail down into the valley from the rim above that is open to the public!) to show off their necklaces, pottery, and other crafts work to the infrequent tourists.  Rich picked up a few small items while I escaped to chat up a couple of women from Santa Fe, New Mexico who were on holiday and had hiked down the trail.  We didn’t see another tourist group in the entire four-hour trip into the Canyon.  I suspect Rich’s small purchases were the only sales for the hardy artisans today.  This example of roadside vendors displaying their wares for very small reward is common in our experiences to-date throughout the whole huge Navajo area in northern Arizona.  Sadly, there is very little economic opportunity for the local people, especially the young people without skills.

The most interesting feature in the Canyon De Chelly is evidence of the early native tribes who have inhabited the canyon 5,000 years ago.  There's abundant physical evidence of their existence throughout the Canyon.  Most noteworthy are the remains of their cliff-side dwellings and their artwork on the canyon walls -- petroglyphs’, or rock-art designs, carved into the sandstone walls.  The ancient people, called Anasazi, were here from about 1100-1300 CE before vacating the Canyon, followed by the Hopi and then the Navajo (1700's) who re-occupied the Canyon and its high cliff dwellings. The stone buildings were built of adobe-like blocks in natural caves that were elevated over the canyon floor.  These buildings provided shelter, storage for food, and safety from rising floodwaters as well as marauding neighbours.  Access to the dwelling was only possible by ladder, lowered from the caves.  Access to food and water must have been plentiful because there were many artistic designs carved into and painted onto the walls all through the canyon;many are easily visible from the Canyon floor below.
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Allan Morrison on

These are fantastic, guys. Maureen & I were in this exact locale a year ago, with such strong memories and our walls still with photos of Antelope Canyon. John, I'm just finishing Fallen Man. Very different from late May in the canyon, when the tourists were plentiful. Keep up the adventure.

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