More cliff dwellings called to us at Chinle Arizona in the Navajo nation! We stayed in Canyon de Chelly (“de-shay”) National Monument. This canyon has been continuously inhabited for nearly 5,000 years, longer than anywhere in the Colorado Plateau.
On the way in, we tried to get propane, but the place we googled was a delivery-only shop so we decided to hold off. We disconnected the car to turn the RV around near the hospital and hit a speed bump a little too fast. All the hanging clothes ended up on the floor of the closet and my jewelry stand (secured to the counter with museum putty) whipped the necklaces and tossed earrings around. Everything else held great! The campground was in a grove of cottonwoods and had a couple of spots big enough for our house, so we set-up camp.
There are nice drives, under 35 miles each, along the North and South rims with short hikes to the overlooks. The canyon is a very beautiful with ruins of dwellings lower down the wall than at Mesa Verde. The vastness of the canyon makes it harder to see the dwellings from the overlooks but the views are gorgeous. Looking straight down on cows and horses made it feel like we were in an airplane. When we heard the cows’ bellow echoing over and over, we knew that we wanted to drive the canyon floor.
Navajo families still live and farm in the canyon – for many, it’s their summer home. The land and ruins are protected and only Navajo vehicles and guides are allowed into the canyon.
The jeep tours sold out so we decided to stay another day to catch one. Our Arizona Canyon Jeep Tours guide, Teril Spencer, was raised deep in the canyon near Spider Rock, a huge pillar in the middle of the canyon. We enjoyed hearing his stories during the tour. The entrance to the canyon is flat and the walls start reaching up higher and higher from 300 feet to over 1,000 feet high! There are outstanding examples of petroglyphs (rock carvings), pictographs (rock paintings) in addition to the many ruins of dwellings. The rocks make patterns that look like art and our guide was excited to point those out as well. Teril demonstrated the awesome 4-5 return echo several times with his amazing hooting yell.
We visited First Ruins, Junction Ruins, White House Ruins, Round Corner Ruins, Ledge Ruins, Antelope house ruins. There are many unnamed ruins as well. The sites are fenced off to prevent damage from visitors as well as livestock (it seems goats liked to jump on the walls before fencing was installed). Spider Rock is even more amazing from the ground and creates a silent, almost spiritual feeling looking up at the pillar over 1,000 feet high. Teril’s grandmother kept them in line by telling them “if you don’t behave, you will be put up on Spider Rock”. They believed her!
During our 6-hour tour, we took a couple of breaks at rest stops with pit toilets and we ate our picnic lunch sitting under a tree and looking at the ruins. Navajo vendors from the canyon display their jewelry and pottery. We saw lots of wild turkeys, a coyote, and some livestock along the way.
There was such a feeling of peace and calming energy and a sense of protectiveness in the canyon, no wonder Dine people (as Navajo people call themselves) continue to live there.