Saturday, September 13, 2008

25-08 Bonus Report, Canyon de Chelly Arizona

Canyon de Chelly AZ campground:

Price: Free. Yes it’s right on the grounds of the National Monument and is surrounded by modest Navajo Indian homes. The campground does have water and a dump station and the Thunderbird Lodge which is next to the campground has a dining hall/buffet.
Chinle AZ

Canyon De Chelly National Monument.

Part of the huge Navajo Nation Reservation. This was to be my final big adventure for the season. I parked the camper in their free campground and headed out to one of the two loop trails along the top of the canyon, each is approx. 18 miles long. The next day I would take one of their jeep tours.

Canyon De Chelly has been occupied by people for nearly 5,000 years. Beginning with the Archaic, Basketmaker, Pueblo, Hopi and finally today the Navajo. The stone structures, cliff dwellings, were begun by the Pueblo people, also known as the Anasazi or Ancient Ones around 750-1300 AD. The town, of Chinle AZ sits directly outside of Canyon De Chelly and all of this is on the Navajo land.

I was fortunate to get on a jeep tour led by a Navajo who not only give tours in the canyon, but grew up during the summer in the canyon in his parents summer home with his 6 brothers and 6 sisters and his grandmother. Frank told us how as a kid growing up, the family would move down into the canyon where they would grow corn, beans and squash, raise their horses and sheep. They had no vehicle, so to get out of the canyons, which are many miles in length, the only transportation they had were their horses. He told of sliding down smooth rocks on the sides of the canyon. They would find a flat stone to sit on and then slide down the smooth sandstone slopes. For adventure, they would explore some of the Ancient Ones cliff dwellings, finding old pottery and arrow heads.

They could get water by digging about 2 feet down into the sandy clay mixture. Today, they would have to dig deeper, but since the Gov. has decided to destroy some of the cottonwood trees planted by the CCC’s in the 50’s the water has been poisoned by the chemical they’ve used to kills some of the undergrowth.

He explained that neither the Hopi before them nor the Navajo really claim the Anasazi as their relatives. To the point that many say that if they get really ill, that it’s the Ancient Ones who have brought on the illness and they (the Navajo) will ask for a healing dance to cure their ills.

A number of the dwellings were on the floor of the canyon, indicating that they were actually trading posts set up by the Navajo. Items such as Macaw feathers from Mexico and sea shells from the Pacific were found along with other items from distant lands.

The saddest stories occur when the you find that the Hopi were not pleased that the Navajo moved into their canyon and continued to have skirmishes with them. Later, as the Spanish came into the area searching for gold and silver (and that’s all they were interested in), ended up killing many of the Navajo Indians. Finally in 1863 Colonel Kit Carson under U.S. military command herded the Navajo into one end the canyon, killing them and sending the rest to trial. Along the way his troops destroyed their homes, farms and livestock.

Today, the Navajo live in peace on this huge reservation, which they simply call, their land. It’s a bit overwhelming to learn of the history and meet the people who are descendants of these ancient tribes. But they are gradually loosing their identity. Kids can, in many cases, understand the Navajo language, but can’t read, write or speak it. They play their Nintendo’s and don’t experience the nature that surrounds them. And they have long days. I noticed this evening a school bus dropping of kids who live on the edge of Canyon de Chelly at 6:30 in the evening.

They can build a house on any part of their land as long as they have the ok of two nearby families and themselves, making for a vote of 3. They never own the land they build on as it is owned by the tribe. But once they build it, it is then passed down generation to generation.

Frank told us his mother knows all the medicinal uses of the various plants, he’s learned a few. His mother kept saying one day she’d go out with the kids and teach them, but now she’s in a wheel chair and the knowledge will be lost. I asked if anyone was writing down this stuff and he said no. Frank described the songs they sing, the summer songs and winter songs that can only be sung in their time of the year. I asked were the words being written down and he said no. They’re sung in Navajo and need to be written out in English so as not to loose them. They’re gentle people, kind people, linked to the earth and the sun and the moon and to their ancestors and the past.

More photos at:

Ps I found diesel for as low as $3.99. This is all Navajo Nation land so the price of fuel is a great deal while your in the area.


Along with all these adventures, I’ve finish reading another great book called “1421: The Year China Discovered America”. The author Gavin Menzies is a retired British sailor who is fascinated with old world maps. His sleuthing, findings and discoveries are just on the edge of incredulity. A fascinating book for the person who loves history and a good detective story.

He gets a bit long winded on his descriptions of his findings, but if you can get past that and go along for the journey which literally takes you around the world, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It was completely different than the previous book I’ve mentioned, 1491, New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus. Both books are true gems for the history buff.

Side note: The author believes some Indians may have Mongollian or Chinese DNA and they are doing testing right now.

1 comment:

Mexanese said...

love your blogs! we really miss it out that way...this way I still get to peak and they are informative too which is incredible. Thanks for taking the time to put your stuff up here.