June 29, 2009 - July 3, 2009
Just outside of Chinle, AZ, where the livestock roam free (and not everyone's happy about that because "tourists don't know and they hit them all the time"), ...
... a magnificent labrynth slashes the land.
The South Rim of Canyon de Chelly, a 37 mile round trip, offers several outlooks at elevations of 5,500 to 7,000 feet above the canyon floor. The North Rim, with fewer lookoffs, runs 34 miles round trip.
About 50 Navajo people live in the canyon. They farm corn, alfalfa and peach crops around their traditional log hogan homes or sell art and crafts like painted replicas of pictographs, carved replicas of petroglyphs, and jewelry to visitors who venture down into the canyon by hiking trails or guided Navajo Jeep tours.
We hiked 500 feet down into the canyon (2.5 mile round trip) on a steep, zigzag trail following three horseback riders then crossed Chinley Wash...
... to the White House ruins. Ancestral Puebloen people built and occupied the dwelling about a 1,000 years ago. Petroglyphs are easy to spot all around. White House is the only self-directed hike permitted.
A little (non-venimous) corn snake came out to inspect us.
One of the most impressive sights in the canyon, perhaps, is Spider Rock, an 800 foot sandstone spire where Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon meet.
We stayed at privately owned Spider Rock Campground, which turned out to be as tranquil as it was rustic. We dry camped for five days, woke to the lilt navajo flute music every morning, lolled under the awning every sight-see free moment, inhaled the soft sage and juniper scented breeze, watched Howard (the owner) and a friend build a hogan, and also borrowed Howard's dog, Boy, whenever we could, and for a 3.5 mile hike along Cherry Canyon that begins and ends at the campground. Boy was such a sweetheart we didn't even mind that he slowed to half-time in every single shady spot as we braked behind him in the searing sun.
We highly recommend a stay at Spider Rock Campground if you want space and quiet, or maybe a night in a cool, dark hogan.
Tip: You can find sweets, refreshing iced drinks, and a seat under an umbrella at Changing Woman Cafe near the Visitor Centre.