Here's another lightly-visited National Monument that, if it were located just about anyplace else, would probably enjoy much more fame & acclaim. But a great part of the joy for us in traveling through our National Park system is discovering places like this where you won't be trampled by tourists.
Getting to Canyon de Chelly is somewhat of a challenge. You won't just be "passing through"; it will be a destination. It's located just east of the small town of Chinle in northeastern Arizona, not far from the Four Corners. Chinle itself is a little depressing, a seemingly poor Navajo town with about a million stray dogs running loose. The locals seemed friendlier & more helpful than before on our last visit. Service was good in both restaurants we tried.
We spent two nights in the National Park campground at Canyon de Chelly just before Memorial Day. This campground, believe it or not, is free of charge. No amenities but the price is certainly right. Nearby, also inside the park boundary, is a reasonable lodge, & there are at least two decent motels just outside in Chinle. All of these properties are rated by AAA at 3 diamonds.
The park is viewed mostly by scenic drives from the rims both north & south of the canyon. Both drives are along paved roads & will take about 2 hours with stops & short walks at the overlooks. The further you drive away from the visitor center, the higher you get above the canyon floor. At the last overlook, you are about 1000' up, with a spectacular view of a formation called Spider Rock along with other red sandstone for which Arizona is famous.
As the Navajo still live & farm in the canyon itself, access is extremely limited below the rim. There is only one hiking trail, to a ruin called White House. If you take this trail, remember that the hike comes at the end as you have to climb back out of the canyon. It's worth every painful step, in my opinion. It was especially fascinating to share the trail with people who were returning from their day's work at the bottom; they make this round-trip hike every day during the summer months as it is too hot to live on the floor. They carried a lot more than I did & it was impressive to see them move along so fast in the late-afternoon heat. They were obviously in a lot better shape than I was.
There are 4-wheel drive roads into the canyon but you must be on a tour or accompanied by a Navajo guide to experience them. That looked like an interesting adventure but one we weren't able to take on this trip.
We spent one full day inside the park, & another making a combination side trip to nearby Monument Valley & Navajo National Monument, near Kayenta.
You will leave Canyon de Chelly with lots of emotions as there is a great variety here- Natural & human history, great scenery, & a way of life that
isn't easily experienced in many other places.
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