Canyon de Chelly

This has been another quite unique experience. The canyon is kind of square, with sheer cliffs on each side and a flat bottom, which is fertile and where all sorts of agriculture is going on, on a crofter like scale. There are peach trees, and corn and alfalfa fields.

You can take a four wheel drive tour into the canyon but the people in the room next door to us said they did it and it wasn’t really worth it, so we did a drive round the rim of the canyon on both sides in the morning, and in the late afternoon we took the only trail you are allowed to do without a Navajo guide, down into (and therefore back up again, very hot work!) the canyon so we saw the canyon floor close up, as well as some of the cliff dwellings.

The cliff dwellings here were not so well preserved as those at Mesa Verde. They were also much nearer the canyon floor, in the main built above the flood line. As you looked down into the canyon you could see lots of the remains of them, as well as piles of rubble where they had once stood.

We were staying just outside the canyon area in a Navajo run motel, though we later discovered it is owned by a big chain. The restaurant was a cafeteria, and though not very inspiring, we had what turned out to be a nice meal last night. We had seen lots of signs by the roadside advertising little roadside shacks selling ‘fry bread’. So we tried it last night and it was delicious. I hate to think of its calorie count though!

There was also a display of Navajo dancing on the lawn which we very much enjoyed. The costumes were beautiful and the musician who was introducing it gave us lots of background into the dances and culture of the Navajo.

Our morning drive round the rim:

View at Massacre Cave, where 115 Navajo were shot by the Spanish from the canyon rim in 1805.

Looking into Mummy Cave, where the body of a mummified child was discovered, and the view of the canyon from the Mummy Cave overlook.

View at Antelope House and the view at Tsegi overlook.

View of the junction of Canyon Muerte and Canyon de Chelly.

Canyon view at White House overlook and the White House ruins, which we walked down to in the afternoon - please note the steepness of the cliffs!

The most sacred bit of the canyon for the Navajo is Spider Rock, where religious ceremonies are still held. We heard someone explain to her son that it is called Spider Rock because only a spider could climb it. The Navajo musician explained to us that Spider Woman in their traditional stories was the first to weave her web of the universe and taught the Navajo to create beauty in their own life and spread the teaching of balance within the mind, body, and soul.

After our morning’s tour, which started off in the beautiful cool of the early morning and ended in the searing heat of midday, we went back to the hotel to put our feet up and wait for late afternoon and our hike down the side of the cliff to White House Ruins. We set off again at 5, with lots of water in the rucksack and hiking boots on feet. By this time most of the walk was in the shade. It was tough, and when we got back to the car we discovered the temperature was still 100 degrees. But we did it! Going down and across the bottom of the canyon was easy and with wonderful views. Going back up was a slog. Fortunately there were benches on the way from time to time and we made good use of them, and the water.

Some photos:

Going down

The White House ruins close up and the canyon floor

When we got to the ruins, the furthest point of the walk, we sat under a shady tree and chatted with a group of young people who were also doing the hike. They had descended in silence and quite a few of them had overtaken us. They apologised for not not saying hello on the way down, because of their silence. They were a group of theological students from a college in Pennsylvania. I said I had a theology degree and Matthew told them I was ordained, something I tend not to tell people in general conversation because it is such a conversation stopper. By this time the stragglers from their group had arrived and they said would we like to join them in singing the Doxology, which we did.

Down there in the beauty of the canyon, having walked to ruins dated around 1250AD of native people most of whose present day descendants are Christian, it seemed the most natural thing to do. It was Sunday, we hadn’t been to church because we couldn’t find anywhere in the area with a Eucharist. We sang the Doxology with them, it lasted less than a minute, but it was like a sacrament. A moment to treasure, and to bring out in darker times.

We set off back up the path ahead of them, expecting to be overtaken, but they remained and we heard them sing again as we climbed, their praises echoing round the canyon. It was a hard climb and very, very sweaty but we felt a real sense of achievement at the end of it.

This evening (Monday 4 Sept) finds us in Williams, Arizona. We arrived at the hotel, had a swim in the deserted pool and hit the town. I am looking for a pair of black Wrangler jeans with short legs. On our search for the Brewery Pub and its happy hour, where we got further discount as hotel guests, I found a shop selling them. ‘Oh no’, said the lady, ‘we only have ‘Me-ens’ black jeans’. I thought that was a different make of black jeans so I asked to see them. Then it dawned that ‘me-ens’ meant ‘men’s’.

So often we find language things confusing or amusing. Not only that but we find we are picking up some of it ourselves, especially when we try to converse. If we don’t lose it after we leave the US we look to our friends at home to put us right on our return!

Tomorrow the south rim of the Grand Canyon will complete our amazing and wonderful canyon voyage of discovery. I have a feeling it will be ‘grand’ as in ‘huge’ but perhaps not as special as some of the others. We shall see…

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