Canyon de Chelly National Monument: A user's guide
This northeast Arizona park boasts 3 major canyons and because it lies on Navajo tribal land, you'll need a Navajo guide or ranger to get a better look at the most of ancient ruins.
Sun, Jul 31 2011 at 9:24 AM
BIG PICTURE: Views like this one from the rim of Canyon de Chelly put life in perspective. (Photo: Wolfgang Staudt/Flickr)
The steep-walled canyons of Canyon de Chelly National Monument have been home to Native Americans for thousands of years. The canyons contain the ruins of several hundred villages, most of them built between A.D. 350 and 1300, as well as the homes of about 50 present-day Navajo families.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument is comprised entirely of Navajo Tribal Trust Land, making it unique among National Park Service units. The National Park Service and the Navajo Nation are partners in managing the park, which includes three major canyons: Canyon de Chelly, about 27 miles long; Canyon del Muerto, about 18 miles long; and Monument Canyon, around 10 miles long.
President Herbert Hoover authorized Canyon de Chelly National Monument on April 1, 1931, to preserve the important archeological resources found in the canyon.
Things to do
A drive along the two canyon rim roads will offer bird’s-eye views of the canyons and a few ruins. There are seven overlooks along South Rim Drive — a 36-mile round trip. The Junction Overlook offers views of First Ruin and Junction Ruin. White House Ruin — so named for a long wall covered with white plaster — is visible from an overlook along South Rim Drive.
The overlook is also the trailhead for the only trail you can hike without a Navajo guide. The trail — about 2.5 miles round trip — drops about 600 feet down into the canyon to provide a closer look of White House Ruin (at right).
The last scenic stop on South Rim Drive is Spider Rock Overlook, which offers a view of an 800-foot sandstone spire at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon.
There are three overlooks along North Rim Drive — a 32-mile round trip. The Massacre Cave Overlook offers a view of the site where in 1805 a Spanish expedition battled with Navajos in a rock shelter in Canyon del Muerto, killing 115 people.
Why you’ll want to come back
You must be accompanied by a Navajo guide to explore the canyon floors and get a closer look at some of the 700 standing ruins found in Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Some guide offer overnight camping trips.
Flora and fauna
The habitat in Canyon de Chelly National Monument ranges from desert grassland to pinion pine-juniper woodlands along the rim of the canyon. Where there is water, you’ll find Fremont cottonwood and willows and there is where you’ll want to keep an eye out for the endangered Southwest willow flycatcher. Other birds found in the skies of the park include golden eagles and peregrine falcons. In the woodlands along the canyon rim, look for Western scrub-jays, juniper titmouse, bushtit, Bewick’s wren and white-breasted nuthatch.
Visitors may also see mule deer.
By the numbrs:
- Website: Canyon De Chelly National Monument
- Park size: 83,840 acres or 131 square miles
- 2010 visitation: 827,247
- Funky fact: Because the Navajo Nation spreads across Arizona and New Mexico, Canyon de Chelly National Monument observes Daylight Savings Time, putting it one hour ahead of the rest of Arizona from March through November.
This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. We'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.
Inset photo of White House ruins: kadha/Flickr