For most people living outside the United States – and perhaps a large number of Americans too – the word ‘canyon’ sums up the deep and stunningly beautiful chasms of the Grand Canyon. Certainly, for me, so familiar with those dramatic images from my earliest schooldays, television documentaries and travel journals, I had never considered that there might be any others. Or that they could be very different in character. Then I visited the Canyon de Chelly (pronounced ‘dee shay’).
The Canyon de Chelly National Monument is located in the north-east of the state of Arizona and fully within the Navajo Nation. Today about forty Navajo families live there.
Unique amongst the National Parks, the Canyon de Chelly is privately owned by the Navajo Nations Trust and is jointly managed by them and the National Parks Service. This arrangement was agreed after many years of negotiation in 1931.
Strict controls on entry are enforced to preserve the floor of the canyon with most parts accessible only when accompanied by a Navajo guide. One trail, the White House Ruin Trail, is an exception and it is the one that I explored, now a number of years ago, hence the rather poor quality of the images.
Long before the Navajo came to the canyon it was occupied first by the Anasazi and then the Hopi peoples making the canyons one of the longest continuous inhabited places on the continent. These early peoples built their homes not just along the valley floor but also in niches hundreds of feet up in the sheer rock face, reached by toeholds in the rock. The ruins are now preserved.
Sadly, I had very little time to explore the canyon but for my visit the weather was perfect, warm and sunny. On the drive leaving Arizona, we were caught in a duststorm – another new experience for an Englishman used to the benign British climate where extreme weather of any kind is virtually unknown.
For further information:
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
History of the Canyon de Chelly