Feb 28, 2014

National Monument- Canyon de Chelly, where the walls tell history!

Canyon de Chelly which means 'rock canyon', the home of Navajo people! If you know Native American history then you know the Battle of Canyon de Chelly between Navajo Nation and United States military, and also the Long Walk of Navajo people. It is the only National Monument completely owned by Navajo Tribal Trust and cooperatively managed by National Park Service (NPS). By federal and tribal law, visitors are allowed to travel inside the canyon only when accompanied by a Navajo guide. But, there are no restrictions in place to view the canyon from the rim. The law is in place to protect the sacred Navajo sites and the household of the people still live there.

Tsegi Point at Canyon de Chelly

I was very curious to visit this place as I knew about the Navajo Nation's Long Walk. This land is one of the longest continuously inhabited (for about 5,000 years) landscapes of North America. The 1,000ft sheer canyon walls and the colorful trees of October down in the canyon floor got me at the first sight! The canyon system actually has two main canyons- Canyon de Chelly, Canyon Del Muerto and two smaller ones- Black Rock and Monument.

Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Spider Rock

There are two scenic drives, North Rim drive- takes you to Canyon Del Muerto and South Rim drive- takes you to Canyon de Chelly, with stops at several overlooks to view the spectacular canyons. It takes almost 4 hours to complete the drives. Allow two more hours if you want to hike down to the canyon floor. Or you may have many other options if you want to take a guided canyon tour from an authorized company or ranger led programs. I opted to explore the canyon from the rim.

White House Ruins
A sandstone spire 750ft tall, called Spider Rock is the star of the park which can be seen by driving on the South Rim drive all the way to the end. Located at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon the rock-pinacle erupts up right out of canyon floor! Lovely scene, you may feel like jumping off!! :) The rocks have special significance to the Navajo people and per Navajo traditional beliefs the taller spire is home for Spider Women. She lives on top of this rock and keeps the bones of her victims there. She is the goddess who gave the Navajo people the gift of weaving.

The only public trail available for visitors is White House Ruin trail which is self guided. The hike is about 2.5-miles roundtrip on steep well marked trail. The ruins can be clearly seen from the overlook also. Going down this trail is very easy and coming back is a bit uphill. As I was going down the trail the canyon walls were rising high up. Walking on the riverside along the colorful tree lines was wonderful experience. It was very cool even at noon. At the bottom, I spoke to a navajo painter who paints on small rock slabs which he sells as souvenirs. He said they prefer visitors use the phrase "Ancestral Puebloans" to refer to the ancient people than "Anazasis". Because Anasazi means "Ancient Enemy"! You could include this in the list of don'ts :)

Antelope House Ruins and Mummy Cave at Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Antelope House Ruins and Mummy Cave

At the junction of Canyon Del Muerto and Black Rock canyon stands a massive cliff called Navajo Fortress where Navajo people took shelter during the days of war. This can be seen from Antelope House overlook. The views of the canyon here are spectacular. Largest preserved Pueblo in Canyon de Chelly is Mummy Cave. Located 300ft above the canyon floor in a sheer cliff alcove it has 70 rooms. Cave can be seen from an overlook.

The place where two fell off!
In 1805 Navajo countered a Spanish attack where 115 Navajos were killed. The rock shelter is called Massacre Cave which can be seen from an overlook. In 1860s United States military relocated 12,000 Navajos to New Mexico to a bitter captivity. As they were walking this long 300-miles, many (around 4,000) died of exhaustion, disease and starvation. This walk is The Long Walk.From the massive cliff at Massacre Cave a Navajo woman clung to and pushed a Spanish soldier down the high cliff killing both. And so Navajo people call this cliff- The place where the two fell off!

The trip to the monument was great. It would be more exciting to take a canyon tour on a 4X4 with a Navajo guide telling mysterious stories. The need for the guide is necessary as the conditions in the canyon can be hazardous. The sloughs in the canyon sometimes can be deep. Don't miss to check the very artistic pottery and paintings of the Navajo people. It will definitely help them.

If those high walls of the canyon could talk ... they silently tell the stories of ... good days of ancient people ... their raising of families and farming ... stories of more people coming in ... the Navajo people ... the sad stories of war ... killing of tribe ... removing them from their homeland ... their sacred land ... The Long Walk ... returning after suffering the brutal captivity ... and then the beauty of the cottonwood ... and more ... only if those walls could talk!


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Related articles-
The HAT of Mexican Hat!
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Horseshoe Bend on Colorado
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American South-West: A road trip
State Parks of Utah

This post is linked to Skywatch Friday and Nature Notes.

If you want pictures please ask me :)
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Scrapbook- A Travel Blog by Kusum Sanu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


  1. I would have to bookmark this post. This place I haven't known existed before reading your post, now I want to see it.

  2. Beautiful scenes. Thanks for sharing this beauty, information and photographic talents.

  3. Nice one. Loved the captures of the beautiful landscapes.

  4. Spectacular photos. The magnitude of it all is mind blowing. Thank you for sharing . Nice sky too.

  5. Great shots. The rock foundations are fantastic.

  6. Ooops I meant to say formations not foundations

  7. Thank you so much for the history lesson...I had not heard of this place but did know of the Longest Walk. I am going to be looking up more history due to your blog. :) Beautiful land.

    1. :) History lesson! Thanks Misty, glad you like the info.

  8. Spectacular photographs. I love the back story also.

  9. What wonderful landscape!

  10. It is a sad history of the native people here in the US. I don't think that what really happened is illustrated enough in school text books, but that is only my opinion. But the scenery is just beautiful...Michelle

  11. Beautiful serie of photos, lovely colors and so many details to study!

  12. This is amazing. I agree with Michelle. This silent and amazing landscapes seems to tell the story of Native Americans and they even resemble each other.


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