Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Canyon de Chelly

The photo above is an iconic image of Canyon de Chelly with Navajos riding on horseback,taken by Edward S.Curtis in 1904.

Canyon de Chelly is a National Monument located in northeastern Arizona, headquartered at Chinle. It is on the Navajo Reservation and is jointly administered by the National Park Service and the tribe. There are actually two large canyons in the park which come together just before Chinle. Chinle means “place where the water runs out of the rock” in Navajo. “Chelly” is a bastardization of the Navajo word “tsegi” which means “rock canyon”; it is pronounced “shay”. The major south canyon is called de Chelly and the major north canyon is called Canyon del Muerte, named by the Spanish. To enter the canyon you go east of Chinle into the wash formed when the canyons come together. To enter the canyon you must be accompanied by a Navajo guide. There are two rim roads (North and South) which provide overlooks, anywhere from 600 to over 1000 feet above the canyon floor; no guide is needed for these drives. The canyon floor is about 5500 feet in elevation. The photo below shows Gnorbert reunited with his foster parents at an overlook on the North rim drive.

Thunderbird Lodge, which is owned by the tribe, as well as being a good place to stay and eat, provides guided half and full day tours. These are called “Shake and Bake” tours. The vehicle looks like an Army 2 ½ ton truck, open bed, with bus seats provided. On the full day tour lunch is provided. I highly recommend a full day tour.
Shake and bake truck shown below.

Canyon de Chelly has been inhabited for almost 2000 years. The Anasazi inhabited it from about 300 AD until around 1200 AD, followed by the Hopi and then the Navajo. There are still some Navajos who occupy parts of the canyon, farming and grazing some sheep, goats, cattle and horses. There a number of Anasazi ruins, petroglyphs and pictographs and Navajo hogans.

The photo below is of First Ruin-so called because it is the first Anasazi ruin you come to driving up the canyon floor.

The next photo is typical of the canyons. A beautiful place.

Antelope ruin, another Anasazi ruin, is shown below. The pictograph associated with this ruin is shown in the next photo. The antelope was painted by a Navajo artist approximately 1864.

The next photo shows a Navajo hogan with some pictographs on the rock wall of the canyon. The cow is a Navajo painting.

The next photo is of White House ruin, called this because of the white ruin at the top. It is Anasazi.

The photo below shows a natural window or arch on the left side of the canyon. It is called appropriately Window Rock. This is not the Window Rock that is the seat of Navajo tribal government.

Spider Rock, shown below, is as far up the south canyon as the tour goes. It is sacred to the Navajos. It is here that Spider Woman taught the Navajos how to weave.

Finally, as we were heading out of the canyon, here was this yellow horse under a yellow cottonwood tree.


  1. These are some beautiful shots. I have spent many hours in the back of a deuce and a half (Army truck) and I've also spent considerable time in Arizona and I can certainly understand why they are called "shake and bake" tours.

  2. Thanks. I've spent some time in the Army deuce and a half trucks too. Not as comfortable as these trucks.

  3. This is one of the most intriguing and stunning places I've ever visited. Your photos really capture the stark beauty.

  4. I remember the time we went when I was in high school. So hauntingly beautiful. These pictures are amazing. I look forward to going back some day -- hopefully soon.