Every large canyon has its own unique characteristics. Canyon de Chelly [pronounced dee Shay] is no different. It is really a maze of canyons including Canyon de Chelly [ the longest], Canyon Muerto [the northern most], Monument Canyon [the most southern], and several other small canyons. This national park consists of 84,000 acres and is located within the Navajo Nation Reservation. What makes these canyons unique is their broad, level floors that are fairly well nourished by small rivers/creeks flowing through them as well as the fact that the park is the permanent residence for many Navajo families both up on the plateau and within the canyons. There is evidence that people have lived in these canyons for close to 5,000 years. The first residents did not build permanent homes, but there is evidence of campsites and paintings on the canyon walls. Next came those who built the cliff dwellings, and finally the Anasazi, called the ancients by the Navajo, who built the multi-story villages on the canyon floor. Around 300 years ago the current Navajo arrived and to this day still use the fertile canyon floor to grow various crops. We had the pleasure of talking with a Navajo woman who still has relatives who live in the canyon. Her husband grew up there herding sheep. I don’t believe they currently live in the canyon, but they do still have fruit trees in the canyon and a garden. There were numerous homes on the canyon floor, but it looked like a pretty austere life. We didn’t see any electricity at the bottom of the canyon, and it looked like many of the homes still used outhouses.
There is both a North Rim Road and a south. From the North Rim you can view Massacre Cave where in 1805 Spanish military killed 115 women, children, and elderly men. Mummy Cave, or House Under the Rock, was named for the two mummified Anasazi who were found there in 1880. Antelope House Ruin is very large and located on the canyon floor. House is a misnomer because it was definitely a village. It got its name from the numerous antelope painted on the wall above the ruins.
The South Rim provides better views of the canyon floor and current agriculture as well as Spider Rock which is an 800 ft. spire of rock at the intersection of two canyons. This rim also allows views of White House Ruins which is a unique, three level Puebloan house with the top level in the cliffs, the bottom level on the canyon floor, and a middle level in between. Again it was an entire village.
Most of our week was spent hanging out in Gallup, not a very exciting town, running up and down Route 66, the main street through downtown, and enjoying quite a bit of rain - especially for a desert area. Gallup has an airport that serves numerous small commuter planes. Its only runway requires all planes to arrive or depart right over the campground where we stayed. The town also has a very large railroad yard that is busy 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and of course trains either enter or exit on one of the many tracks that were right across the street from the campground. In fact we waited until our last day to go the canyons because we wanted good weather. It was a 180 mile round trip, and we wanted to make it worth our while. It was a very pleasant and peaceful ending to probably our only visit to Gallup, NM.
We are now setup in Holbrook, AZ and are hoping to have some neat experiences to tell you about.