In the heart of the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona lies Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Humans have inhabited this area for 4,500 years, leaving behind numerous pictographs and the dramatic ruins of Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings. The Navajo arrived in this region around AD1700 with sheep they gained from Spanish colonists which they utilized to weave intricate wool blankets. Wars with the Utes, Spanish, Mexicans, and then U.S. government eventually led to their forced migration (“The Long Walk”) to Bosque Redondo in New Mexico around 1864.
Spider Rock Overlook, White House Ruin, guided vehicle tours, horseback tours
Four years after being forced to the uninhabitable Bosque Redondo, the Navajo were granted the largest reservation in the country and families still inhabit Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “d’shay”) to this day. The 84,000-acre National Monument is administered cooperatively with the National Park Service (NPS). However, entrance into the canyon is limited to guided trips and one publicly accessible trail that drops 500 feet to White House Ruin. Overlooks along the North and South Rim Drives (17 and 18 miles respectively) are free and open year-round, though. It not only seems like everything runs on a different clock here, but, unlike the rest of Arizona (and now New Mexico), the Navajo Nation observes Daylight Savings Time, so is always an hour later in the summer months (the same time as New Mexico until the fall).
White House Ruin was inhabited AD1060-1275 and is named for the white plaster used to coat the wall in the upper dwelling. The 2.5-mile roundtrip White House Trail drops down the canyon wall and cuts through a tunnel.
At the end of South Rim Drive is 800-foot tall Spider Rock, a great spot to watch the sun set, which is an ideal time to photograph the canyon’s red sandstone walls.
Note that there is typically a time difference because Arizona and New Mexico do not observe Daylight Savings Time.
There is no entrance fee for the North and South Rim Drives, but guided tours into the canyon do charge admission.
All roads open to the public are paved, but guided tours can be very bumpy since they use the canyon bottom as a road.
The NPS runs Cottonwood Campground with 96 spaces (and running water in the summer) in a grove of Fremont cottonwood trees that turn yellow in the late autumn. Guided camping trips in the canyon are also available.
Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)
Navajo National Monument (Arizona)
Explore More – How many millions of years ago did sand dunes turn into Canyon de Chelly’s red sandstone?