Canyon de Chelly

On a lark, we packed up the Friday before Thanksgiving and left mid-afternoon for Canyon de Chelly National Monument (pronounced canyon d'shay) We made one quick stop for dinner in Grand Junction and only made it as far as Moab for the night. But this worked out great, because we were close enough to see the Needles Overlook of Canyonlands in early morning light, which proved to be worth setting the alarm for 5:30AM!

Needles Overlook

After the main overlook area, we also drove the 15 extra miles (one way) out to the Anticline Overlook, stopping at the Dave Minor overlook which is a cool road because it encircles a large butte. The Anticline view was fantastic, with rays of light breaking through the clouds like spotlights!

Anticline Overlook with Potash Plant and light beams (click picture for larger view)

Heading south again, we stopped at the town visitor center in Bluff. We had lunch out of our cooler at Sand Island Recreation Area, after viewing nearby petroglyphs. The drive was pretty all day, although the terrain flattened out and was less interesting as we approached Chinle. It was sad to see excessive amounts of roadside trash once we entered the Navajo Nation.

Petroglyphs at Sand Island

Spider Rock (832' high)
We checked into our room at the Holiday Inn Chinle, just a stone's throw from the CdC Visitor Center. After we got some basic info from a ranger, we headed out along South Rim Drive, stopping only once at the Junction viewpoint, where a local persistently peddled his art. Two original paintings on Whitehouse Sandstone rock later, we were on our way again.

We'd hoped to make it to Spider Rock for sunset, but we were a little too late at 4PM. We'll need to recalibrate the "golden hour" times in winter, plus sometimes late in the day some canyon features are in shadow. On the way back, we stopped at a couple of other viewpoints then enjoyed the evening light on the canyon walls.

It is different here than other National Parks and Monuments because people live in and around the canyon, which is very wide at the bottom, almost park like. Besides the pull-offs and lookout points on the rim roads, there is only one hike to the canyon floor because the Navajo Nation people don't want tourists wandering all around where they live. Seems reasonable.

Sunlight beginning to illuminate Antelope House ruin
Antelope House ruin detail

Sunday was a busy day! Early in the morning we drove out to view all the North Rim Overlooks. Back at the visitor center, the ranger recommended that we start the hike down to the White House Ruins immediately to beat the high winds. Mike happened to see a tour operator in the Visitor Center parking lot, and was able to set up a jeep tour of the canyon for that afternoon. The hike was 2.5 miles round trip and dropped about 600 feet to the canyon floor. The trail negotiated red rock canyon wall switchbacks and was an easy and enjoyable hike, though neither of us can imagine wanting to do it in summer heat. We finished the hike just in time to get to the visitor center to meet our tour guide.

White House ruin
View from White House hike

Since there are no roads to the canyon floor, the jeep tour was a must. Plus, even if you have a 4WD you can't go into the canyon without a licensed Navajo guide and permit. Our tour was private and we joined Lee Staley of de Chelly Tours in his 4WD vehicle and headed into the canyon. The way into the canyon is just driving up the wash, often through several inches of water and/or deep sand. Because Lee knew we had hiked down to the White House ruin earlier that day, at the canyon junction, he took us to the north canyon, Canyon del Muerto.

We got to see several ruins and points of interest from the canyon floor that we had seen from the north rim overlooks the previous day. All through the trip Lee stopped at various points of interest and explained the history and culture of the Canyon and its people, and patiently answered our curious questions. He and his family had lived in and around the canyon for several generations. It was a very enjoyable and informative tour and we highly recommend it.

After the tour, we returned to the Junction Overlook for sunset.

Evening light at Junction Overlook

It rained our last day, so we slept in until 7AM, then made our way to Window Rock, AZ, the administrative hub of the Navajo Nation. The elevation on Hwy 264 got up to 7700 feet and we hit snow and saw one nasty accident, but it didn't accumulate elsewhere. We spent an hour checking out the exhibits at the Navajo Nation Museum and Visitors Center before lunch at a local Mexican Restaurant.

Navajo Tribal Park and Veterans Memorial at Window Rock

Then we visited the Window Rock formation located at the Navajo Tribal Park and Veterans Memorial. This was a very nice park and memorial, with a lot of historical tributes to veterans of all wars, but especially the Navajo Code Talkers of WWII.

Then we left Window Rock driving back the scenic back road along the Arizona/NM border. Mike did a late afternoon photo shot at Spider Rock, but the light was poor due to cloud cover and he got hailed on!

Then we watched as a magnificent rainbow developed. It was fun to see the ends of it going down into the canyon. We finished off the day with another sunset at Junction Overlook, our last night in Chinle.

Evening light on the canyon

In the very chilly morning air, we drove to Page, AZ via the Hopi Villages. Our Photographing the Southwest book recommended a stop at the Shungopovi Village on the Second Mesa. No photographs are allowed anywhere on the Hopi Reservation.

We were much happier with our stop at Coal Mine Canyon, another Photographing the Southwest book recommendation. Hidden just a mile or two off the highway along a dirt road, just past the windmill, within easy walking distance was a colorful canyon full of hoodoos. And we had the place totally to ourselves! But soon we were on the road again, heading for Page, AZ.

Mike at Coal Mine Canyon

1 comment:

  1. I've visited many of southern Utah's beauty spots, and your gorgeous photos allow me to relive those places in my memory. Thank you!