Canyon de Chelly

 Posted by at 7:15 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 032010

I have just two things to say about our visit to Canyon de Chelly National Monument – “Awesome!” and “If you have never been to this natural wonderland, put it at the very top of your travel plans NOW! You won’t regret it!”

I have been to the Grand Canyon and the Salt River Canyon, I’ve seen Canyon Diablo, and a lot of other natural wonders of the Southwest, and in my opinion, none of them are as impressive as Canyon de Chelly! I only wish I had discovered this magical place years ago.

Canyon de Chelly (pronounced d’Shay) is located at Chinle, Arizona, on the Navajo Indian Reservation, and has been inhabited by native peoples for nearly 5,000 years. At the canyon’s mouth, the colorful rock walls are only 30 feet high, but deeper in the canyon, the cliffs tower over 1,000 feet above the valley floor.

Awesome canyon view

We had been advised not to take our 40 foot motorhome to Canyon de Chelly, and I’m glad we didn’t. There are two campgrounds, one the free Cottonwood Campground, which is best suited for small (under 30 feet) RVs, though we did see a couple of larger rigs that had somehow managed to squeeze in. But between the small spaces, tight turns, and trees close to the roadways, there is no way I’d take our motorhome in there.

Campground small trailer

Spider Rock Campground, about nine miles from the National Park Service Visitor Center, is privately owned, and it looked pretty run down to us. About the only amenities you’ll find there are lizards, porta-potties, and dry camping

We left the motorhome in Show Low and drove our van to Canyon de Chelly, and after a stop at the Visitor Center, we took the seventeen mile long South Rim Drive, which offered seven overlooks, each one more magnificent than the one before. Each overlook gave us a different perspective on the canyon. Our first stop was the Tunnel Canyon Overlook, which gave us nice views of the canyon, which is very green year around due to the river that flows through the bottom of the canyon.

Tunnel Canyon 5

River bottom

At our next stop, Tesgi Overlook, we saw this farm, which is owned by a Navajo family who lives in this dramatic wonderland. Can you imagine what it would be like to wake up to these kinds of views every day?

Navajo farm

Further along the South Rim Drive, at the White House Overlook, we took this photo of these ancient Indian ruins that date back to 1060 A.D. Archaeologists say that at one time the ruins had over 80 rooms, though only about 60 remain today.

White House ruins 4

It is very had to choose just one, but if I had to pick, my favorite view in Canyon de Chelly is of magnificent Spider Rock, which towers over 800 feet from the canyon floor. This rock formation is sacred to the Navajo people, who say that Spider Woman lives on top of the rock, and it was this deity who taught the first Navajo women to weave, creating a tradition that has been passed down from mother to daughter for generations.

Spider Rock best

Navajo mothers tell their children that if they misbehave, Spider Woman will carry them away and take them to the top of the rock spire to live until they learn their lesson.

I wish I had room to show you all of the wonderful photos we took at Canyon de Chelly, but there are just too many. And it doesn’t matter, because the photos just don’t do this natural wonder justice. You have to see it for yourself to believe it!

Canyon View upriver

Canyon View wedge best

In tomorrow’s blog I’ll tell you about our visit to historic Hubbell Trading Post, another Navajo Reservation landmark.

Thought For The Day –A good traveler has no fixed plan, and is not intent on arriving.

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Nick Russell

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  18 Responses to “Canyon de Chelly”

  1. Just incredible pictures! Thanks for sharing. It’ll be on our list of stops when we head west next year. See you folks in Elkhart at your Eastern Rally in August.

  2. Hey Nick!
    Joyce and I will be coming down Hwy 191 south through Chinle after our visit to Monumment Valley this Oct. Is there parking for a 38 ft. 5th wheel anywhere near there where we could drop the rig for a few hours? Thanks for your help.
    Barry Crocker

  3. Stevi says, “we came, we saw, we believe!” I had known about it for many years and i was able to finally take her there this spring. Also Nick, another must see place that is amazing is Mesa Verde near Cortez Co.

  4. This is one of our all time favorites too. We spent several days hiking around and even took a jeep tour through the bottom of the canyon. Absolutely awesome! We stayed in the Cottonwood campground, but we are only 30 feet long! We were there in the fall when all the leaves were changing. It was beautiful.

    Lots of interesting stories and customs from our Indian guide:) Would love to return to this inspiring place. Glad you enjoyed it, but can’t believe you only spent one day there:(

  5. Nick, As you know, Don and I had planned to go to Canyon de Chelly last month, but our trip plans were set in Jello and they changed when our jack failed and we had to go directly to Albuquerque instead. Thanks for showing us what we missed – it’s on our ‘bucket list’!

  6. Nick,
    Next time take the Navajo tour inside the canyon. It gives a different prospective looking up from down below. We have been there many times and it’s one of my favorite places on earth.

  7. Thanks for all the great travel photos! We’re new to being snowbirds {2 winters}, and your photos sure help us to decide where to go when we return to Arizona this fall.

  8. Thanks for the pics…wanted to visit but haven’t made it yet. Will some day!! Our new slogan is “We’re not there…yet!”

  9. Barry and Joyce,
    We saw a couple of larger RVs parked at the Visitor Center with no toads, so maybe they will let you drop your fiver there. You might call them at 928-674-5500 and ask.

  10. Gee, Spider Rock looks like the rock they put the new cars on top of, in those TV ads…?

  11. One of my favorite places…..and also Hubell Trading Post….glad you finally made it there..looking forward to reading tomorrows blog….

  12. We, too, love Canyon de Chelly. You readers who are hikers might like to know that there is only one hike into the canyon that you can make without a Native American Guide, and that is the hike to the White House – fabulous! We didn’t take the time to tour the canyon with a guide, but I think it would be a great experience.

    We stayed at the Cottonwood Campground in our “38 foot” (you know, the kind that actually needs 39.5 feet to park?) motorhome and navigated without much of a problem (this coming from folks who bang it up from time to time). We agree that not a whole lot of the sites would work for larger rigs, but we enjoyed our stay there.

    It brought back wonderful memories to see your photos; I went back in my photo archives to review our own. Thanks!

    Safe travels,
    Writing today from Clarksburg, Md (near Washington DC).

  13. God, that’s beautiful! It’s so hard to imagine that there are places like this just waiting for us to go and visit when we are still stuck here in Illinois working. One more year and we’re retired and on the road! Thank you Nick and Terry for helping us keep our dream alive and our appetites whetted for our own RV adventures.

  14. What awesome photos! We are in San Diego now and are headed east next week. We had planned to take I-10, but after reading your blog we have rerouted ourselves across I-40 so we can made a side trip to Canyon de Chelly! Our little Sprinter will have no problems in the campground

  15. Nick, After reading you blog yesterday we picked up our mail and there was
    the June/July issue of Country Magazine. And on page 32 is almost the exact
    picture of Canyon DeChelly that you took. Also many other fabulous pictures of
    Native American Sacred places. There is also a picture of shiprock. Pick up a copy
    if you can, you may get more travel ideas.
    You have beautiful pictures.

  16. It is a beautiful place but come to Utah from St. George to Durango, to Moab each National Monument is more beautiful than the others. Just hiked in Arches and drove through Canyonland. The best was at Paria Station just east of Kanab. Go into the Wave there on my second day of putting my name in the lottery. If you don’t get in there is enough to keep you going for a couple of weeks. I am seeing it all.

  17. We were there Easter time 2008 & have a 40ft W/toad. There are just a few sites that a big unit will fit into a couple are pull-thrus. It wasn’t real busy when we were there.
    Went to Sunrise service @ one of the overlooks & the singing of the Navajo women was beautiful.
    A couple things that I found interesting is the famlies that live in the canyon & farm have to send there kids to Navajo Boarding School As it’s to far to come in & out daily.
    The other was seeing some cows & horses roaming around through town :-).
    Also there was no internet there so staying a long time might be a problem for some.
    There was an Artisen there in visitoe ctr. who’s mom ‘s pix was taken by Ancil Adams in the canyon.
    Wonderful revisiting through your Pix. We plan to go again another time of the year.

  18. Nick & Miss Terry,
    Glad you finally made it there as it is a beautiful place to visit.
    At the Cottonwood cg, the biggest sites are in loop 1, with someof them being pull throughs. But as you mentioned, be carful driving the roads. First come, first served, too.
    And for the pet owners, mainly dogs, one word of caution, goat heads! Poor Pogo won’t even venture out in the grass there.
    The hike down to White House is a must do.

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