Monday, November 09, 2015

Canyon de Chelly

What can I say about Canyon de Chelly? (That rhymes; it's pronounced "de shay.")

As part of my dream cross-country trip I wanted to visit the Navajo nation, known to fans of author Tony Hillerman as "Hillerman country." Many small-to-medium towns on the map had familiar names to me from reading his novels, including Chinle. Chinle is at the base of Canyon de Chelly. 

Unlike the Grand Canyon, which seems to have started all at one level and been worn down in chasms by the Colorado River, Canyon de Chelly rises up from the high desert like a "V," with Chinle at the junction or starting point. 

There are many overlooks along the north and south rims, easily accessible by road and short walks, but the floor of the canyon is still inhabited by Navajo families, off limits except with approved guides.

Some of the overlooks view ancient cliff dwellings, like White House Ruins.

I didn't visit them all, but several had open paths away from the railing, where you could walk along the weather-worn stone and look at different views — with no railing.  Believe me, I kept my distance from those sloping edges.

Local people brought their crafts to a few of the overlooks to sell their wares to tourists.

At Sliding House Ruins, I got to walk along and look at the scenery to the sound of traditional flute music. Marc Begay, a young man who lives near the canyon, was playing in the parking area for tips. (If you're interested in buying his CD, e-mail me for his contact information.)

I stayed at a Navajo-owned, primitive campground near the top of the southern rim.

I'd planned to stay here several days, to finally relax after all the driving and sightseeing. But "primitive" means no electricity. My refrigerator wasn't working (food was spoiling), and my gas heat only worked when it felt like it (about every other night). It gets pretty cold at night in the high desert!

So I decided to pack up Monday morning and head for home, or at least for the campgrounds with amenities near cities and major highways.

It was a beautiful place, though. The campground was peaceful, and came with a friendly dog that liked to greet me whenever I stepped outside.

This is Spider Rock, the last overlook on the south rim, not far from the campground. It's also at the end of the paved road. The canyon continues off into the distance, and so does the rough dirt road, cutting its way to New Mexico. 

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