Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Overview

Introduction

Headquartered at the small town of Chinle on the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona, the Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Canyon duh-SHAY) National Monument definitely merits a one-day visit. It was there that the Navajos surrendered to Kit Carson in 1864, after which they endured their trail of tears into New Mexican exile for several years.

The monument's most notable sights are the impressive Pueblo (Anasazi) ruins and the rock art created by the Pueblo people and, later, the Navajo. There are also some imposing natural features, including Spider Rock, a towering stone needle that rises arrow-straight from the canyon floor.

The monument actually encompasses three main adjoining canyons, with most of the sights located in Canyon de Chelly itself or in Canyon del Muerto (Canyon of Death), named either for an 1804 battle between the Navajo and Spanish soldiers or in honor of two ancient mummies found there.

There are several ways to see the monument. Paved rim drives run along both Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto. You can tour them on your own, and they offer spectacular views from the overlooks, though you'll be far away from ruins. The South Rim Drive of Canyon de Chelly (35 mi/55 km round-trip) is our favorite because of its precariously steep 1,000-ft/300-m cliffs. It's possible to hike into Canyon de Chelly on your own by taking the 2.5-mi/4-km White House Ruin Trail, which leads down to a viewing area below a large Pueblo structure that retains some of its original white plaster. To enter any other parts of the canyons, you must be accompanied by a Navajo guide or Park Service ranger. Hiking, horseback and driving tours are available. Large trucks with seats in the back are used on the driving tours, and are able to cross the shallow streams that snake through the canyons. If you hike, take along plenty of water. We recommend a visit to the canyon floor if you have the time, but be aware that, even then, you'll be some distance from the ruins: They're usually perched high on the cliff sides and are not open to visitors. Take along binoculars to get a better view.

Given its high elevation, the area stays relatively cool during the summer, but it experiences severe winter weather: Plan to visit between April and October. The monument is 355 mi/570 km northeast of Phoenix.

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