Canyon the of the dead

I changed my today to head south via a return trip to Chinle. I weighed the choice between Grand Canyon and a horseback tour of the Canyon de Chelly and picked the latter. I wanted to know more than I’d tried to guess from the few hour visit previously.

There are only three ways to legally access the canyon: a restricted walk on the White House trail or being guided by either a warden or Navajo Guide. The Navajo either have 4X4 or horseback tours. So really no choice but to try the riding tour.

Their are three Navajo operations, two at the mouth of the canyon. They were surprised someone called in December. My guide was a 64 year old Navajo, Justin. Here’s his camp

We talked about the options and decided to go up the north arm, Canyon del Muerto to Antelope House, about three hours away. There were two horses saddled up ready to go quickly and when we were ready to go I headed to the smaller and safer looking of the two. No such luck – he laughed and said I was on the other, worryingly named Birdy. I looked at her closer for hopeful signs that she was fat or old but she looked the picture of health.

No history blurb here. Some of the names and words are confusing anyway. For instance both the terms Anasazi (translation: ancient enemy, Justin tells me, although Google says ancient ones ) and Navajo (translation: thieves) are apparently not used as they would tell it. The Navajo are correctly the Dine’, or Dineh. They originated from northern Canada and Alaska. However, Canyon de Chelly was first inhabited 4000 years ago and extinguished finally by Kit Carson’s forces in the 1860’s.

A couple of pictographs separated by 1500 years

Ancient – BC according to Justin. Hey a Hopi flutist!

Post Spanish incursions

We saw several of the cliff dwellings, walking up to the base of the cliffs to see how hard the climbs must have been.

They were suffering from a drought and the canyon base was a sea of sand

There are a number of families living in the Canyon. We stopped at one and Justin told me about the structures and the fields surrounding them. The central structure is old, one room, has a central fire and is used for main living and cooking. The trailer is used for sleeping. The bunks to the left are where the kids sleep. They farm alfalfa in the field in the foreground and behind is a sheep field. They are about to move the household and sheep up to the cliff top for the winter.

Justin with his dogs, below a ruin

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Our destination, the Antelope Village. So named because of the antelope pictographs nearby. The structure is at canyon floor level, which is unusual.

This is a short post because this is one of the most covered subjects in the blogosphere.


One Comment so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Alex Elgard,

    I hope the Navajo guide enriched your experience. There history and traditions are so very different than mainstream society.

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