CANYON de CHELLY HIKE
Many people think Canyon de Chelly is at least as grand as the Grand Canyon but with a more spiritual quality. Canyon de Chelly National Monument is unique in that while it protects the natural and historic values there, it is still a part of the Navajo Reservation. Access to the monument is very restricted...except in ONE place.
Canyon de Chelly is set deep in a massive sandstone plateau and has been a thread of green oasis for people dating back, some think, almost 5,000 years. Today it attracts 800,000 visitors a year from around the world, many of whom see the canyon from the rim drives. From these overlooks they gaze down at the remains of one of the last, pre-historic cultures to live here, the Anasazi. One of the best views is at the head of the White House Ruins trail. While this is a national monument, title to the land still is vested in the Navajo Nation. Hiking with us is Wilson Hunter, a Navajo Park Ranger.
"This is the only trail where you can go down without a guide," says Wilson. "There are many Navajo families that live down through the valley here and that's the reason why we require most people to come in with a guide or get a permit to come down into the canyon. So this is the only place where you can hike down without a guide. It's about a mile and a quarter down to the white house ruins where you can see some of the early cliff dwellings by some of the early pueblos."
The hike is a visual treat, especially early in the morning or late in the afternoon when shadows are long and the canyon puts on its best face. Wear sturdy hiking shoes, carry water and remember, it's easy going down, but a steep, mile-long hike back out. If you want to miss a crowd of people coming on the morning guided tours, get to the bottom before 10:30 or so.
"Navajos, they call it keeneenatkay which means white house or white building," said Wilson. "These were occupied by the Anasazi. The first building was probably built around 1050 AD and used up to about the late 1200's. The Anasazi were here pretty much from about AD 1 to 1300 AD."
Apparently the Anasazi knew a little something about solar heating, this and ruins like it in south-facing alcoves in canyon bottoms assured best sunlight exposure in the winter and least exposure in the summer.
"This is probably one of our most popular spots in the canyon. It's know nation-wide. You see features in many magazines."
In the 13th century the Anasazi moved away, their descendants probably the Hopi Indians.
White house Ruins have been fenced off to prevent vandalism, making it close to impossible to get good pictures. If you are determined enough, you can find a few angles by poking your camera through and over the fence. Local Navajos have added to the visual distress by setting up tables to sell jewelry, right smack-dab in front of the ruins. Be VERY wary about the authenticity of their wares!
Canyon de Chelly (pronounced day-shay), is located in NE Arizona. From Interstate 40 just inside the eastern boundary of Arizona, take U.S. Route 191 north 75 miles to Chinle, AZ, then drive another 3 miles to the Monument Visitor Center.
Thunderbird Lodge is located right at the mouth of the Canyon and offers Navajo-guided tours into the Canyon. Lodging in the summer is expensive. There is a Holiday Inn just south of the lodge and a couple of other motels. Reservations are a must. Website for info: http://www.nps.gov/cach/index.htm.
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