Canyon de Chelly National Monument was one of the most intriguing and interesting places that I had visited in the Southwest. This canyon in Northeastern Arizona is owned entirely by the Navajo Tribal Trust of the Navajo Nation and is the only National Park Service unit to be cooperatively managed and owned in this manner. Considering that about 40 Navajo families still live and farm in the canyon, visitation into the the canyon is restricted. The only way to visit the canyon floor is by a park ranger or an authorized Navajo guide, which is the route we went through. The only exception to this rule is the White House Ruin Trail.
Canyon de Chelly was a place like no other place that I had visited in the United States. In this canyon, which is called “Tsegi”, Navajo families reside here having homes, farm the lands and raise livestock. They work together to manage the land’s resources, the land that their ancestors, the Anasazi once lived in. For 5,000 years, there have been people living in these canyons; longer than anyone has lived uninterrupted anywhere on the Colorado Plateau.
There are many Navajo family homes and farms in the canyon, but there are also the homes of the ancient ones, the Anasazi. These remarkable cliff dwellings pre-date Mesa Verde in Colorado, which to me was amazing. I had visited Mesa Verde prior to my visit to Canyon de Chelly and I had never thought to question where they lived prior. It is believed that after resources dried up in this canyon, the Anasazis moved along to Mesa Verde.
You cannot reach these cliff dwellings but only view them from the canyon floors or the views from above. These dwellings were very tiny and it put in perspective how small the Ancient Ones used to be.
While in the canyon, you do have the capability to visit ruins that are on the current canyon floor level. Antelope House Ruins is an ancient dwelling that is named after the antelope petroglyphs that were drawn overhead in the 1800s. What I found interesting was the swastika symbol that was popular during the tourist-era of the 1800s, and introduced into Native American art at that time. It is also an ancient Sanskrit symbol with different meanings, depending on which way it is turned. The way it is turned in the Petroglyph below, it has the meaning of prosperity and good luck.
Antelope House Ruins and Petroglyphs
There are many petroglyphs within the canyons from hand prints to animal drawings. Although there is one to pay particular attention to and it is one that was drawn in the blood of an opposing tribe. The Ute tribe had wandered into the Canyon and were bloodily defeated and decapitated. There is a drawing of this killing recorded on one of the cliff’s walls, you can see pictures of hanging bodies and ones that are decapitated. It was gruesome but very intriguing.
I found online a Navajo owned tour company to take us onto the canyon, which is the only way to see it. Canyon de Chelly Tours, operates several tours a day and are very highly rated. It was an amazing ride onto the canyon floor! I highly recommend it for those who have a sense of adventure and for those who want to be educated more about Native Americans.
— Photo Journal of Canyon de Chelly —
Wander often. Wonder Always.
For more information, please visit Canyon de Chelly National Monument.
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