The little-known Canyon de Chelly

Raise your hand if you know Canyon de Chelly. Almost no one we know has any idea what it is or where it is, but we think it’s a worthy travel destination to consider. Canyon de Chelly (d’Shay) is a National Monument located within the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona. The closest town is Chinle. The Basketweaver people occupied the canyon five thousand years ago. Since then, Ancestral Puebloan people (formerly called Anasazi), Hopi, and Navajo have lived in the canyon.

We drove along the south rim of the canyon in the late afternoon and stopped at overlooks, like this one to observe Spider Rock, an 750-foot spire.

There is only one hiking trail in the National Monument. It drops down into the canyon to view the White House Ruins. The only other way to get down into the canyon itself is by jeep or horseback, led by a Navajo guide. We chose the 4-hour jeep tour with our friends, Carolyn and Robert.

The jeep drove on rough roads, as well as through the Chinle Wash, to take us to a series of historic ruins.

The first ruin we saw was appropriately named First Ruin.

Almost all the ruins had petroglyphs (rock art) on the sheer walls nearby. The petroglyphs were carved or painted by the people who lived in the canyon – first the Basketweavers, then the Ancestral Puebloans, followed by the Hopi, and Navajo. The petroglyphs, though sometimes separated by centuries, were often side-by-side.

Our guide, Don, mentioned that we could make a detour to a weaver who lived in the intersecting Canyon del Muerto. Katherine Paymella greeted us and escorted us into her hogan for a demonstration of the steps to make a finished woven piece. She raised her own sheep and used the wool for her weaving.

Her loom was set up with finished pieces for sale draped over the top.

She demonstrated how she prepared the wool and her weaving technique. Her designs are her own, based on intuition but also tradition.

If you are wondering, yes, we wanted to buy the small piece in the middle of the photo. So did our friends. Who would get it? Fortunately, there was another rug, similar to the one we’d all chosen. We each paid for a rug and then “flipped a coin.” Carolyn and Robert won. Ah, the memories and stories we will be able to tell about our Navajo-woven rug!

We had one more demonstration in the canyon and this involved handmade arrows and a cottonwood-carved atlatl (spear-thrower).

We had always assumed Indians all used bows to shoot arrows. One of the Navajo guides showed us his skill in using the atlatl to hurl the arrows quite some distance toward his target.

We thought a four-hour tour would be quite long enough to see the sites in Canyon de Chelly, but maybe we should have taken a longer tour? There was just so much to see.


May 2017

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
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17 Responses to The little-known Canyon de Chelly

  1. It has long been on my list, but I have yet to get there. Now I want to go even more. Nice post.

  2. And yet another friend emailed: “We know the place and had an absolutely magical time there. A rug from the [canyon] hangs above our fireplace!”

  3. Another friend emailed us: “Yes, both Doug and I have been to Canyon de Chelly, he as a child and me in the late ’70s before it had any restrictions in access. A friend and I hiked down to the floor late in the day when no one else was around except for a boy galloping by on a horse. It was quite something.”

  4. Marge says:

    This is one of our favorite places in the Southwest. Glad you discovered it as well.

    More than time for us to return.

    Speaking of returning, when might you be back in the rainy NW?

  5. Betsy Eggers says:

    Hi Joe & Beth! Jack & I can raise our hands! We visited the Canyon de Chelly about 4 years ago when my siblings and I grabbed a 4-Corners trip offered by Roads Scholars! It was the trip of a lifetime and I highly recommend it for those of us who lack Beth’s skills in trip planning and implementing! Love to you both! Hey— we’re gonna be grandparents! (Kathryn & Kyle are expecting!)

  6. jackhonderd says:

    Yes, we did the jeep ride and hiked into the canyon from the bluff on a Road Scholar “Four Corners” tour about 3 years ago. Very special, in that we remember it to this day. Love the fact that the canyon and tours are totally under Native American control as well. I remember Chinle as a hard-scrabble, working town. If I have my towns straight, I think we stayed overnight and walked a mile or so to a local rodeo. Thanks for a great story!

  7. Raising my hand. This was my aunt’s favorite place on earth. So glad you got to enjoy the mystical beauty!

  8. What an interesting tour. Glad you all got a rug.

  9. A place that nobody knows about is usually a great find. Looked pretty amazing.

  10. Bernice Rowe says:

    Have many friends who have gone there  we have learned about it in school out West. B

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

  11. Louise Millikan says:

    We were there in a cold rain with occasional snow showers. Our guide was exceptional, the place beautiful and haunting, and the history lesson from the native point of view was illuminating. Edward S, Curtis took some glorious photos of Cañon de Chelly. One of my favorite places in the Southwest.

  12. We did this jeep tour several years ago. It was fascinating. Thanks for the reminders.

  13. Don Maker says:

    Been to many places all around this, but never heard of it. Sounds very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  14. taphian says:

    a very beautiful and historic place

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