More Navajo history at Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly National Monument Travel Blog

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I overheard someone mention that the White House Ruins actually had three parts, the lower, middle, and top. The Anasazi whitewashed the cliffs so that the sunlight would bounce off the cliff and shine into the lower levels of the city. How ingenious!

George and I decided to let Jean and Karine hike the 3-mile trail to White House Ruins while we stayed in the car to watch our belongings. (Since the window was blown out, anyone could open the car and take our laptop, etc.) This trail is the only trail visitors can take into the canyon without a Navajo guide.

We dropped our friends off and took the car to the upper part of the canyon where we found a short trail to hike to another canyon overlook. I decided to stay near the car, browsing the Navajo vendor stands, while George hiked the trail to take photos of the interesting canyon, which you see here.

I was grateful that he took nearly an hour to hike the half-mile trail, as I had the opportunity to talk with two Navajo women selling pottery.

Looking into the canyon.
At first they gave me their spiel about what the symbols on the pottery signified (Kokopelli the flute player as a rain icon and hummingbird as peace, love, and harmony). After picking out a seed bowl, I sat down on a nearby rock and started casually asking questions about the canyon.

The women graciously described for several minutes Navajo life in the canyon, explaining how the Navajo were named by the Spanish using a word that the Navajo don’t even have in their vocabulary. They said that they are in the midst of a nationwide movement to call themselves their original name of Dine’ [edit. This is the way the pottery maker I talked with spelled it, but other sources spell it as "Diné."] The elders call the canyon just “saw-ay,” (that’s the pronunciation, as I don’t know how to spell it), which simply means “canyon,” and would prefer it to be called this instead of Canyon de Chelly, which both said was translated as “Canyon of Death” in Spanish.

The north side of Canyon de Chelly, near Canyon del Muerto.

(Actually, there is a Canyon del Muerto [translated as “canyon of death” in English] near Canyon de Chelly, the latter being supposedly the Spanish version of the Navajo word for canyon, as above. See Wikipedia for a better explanation. Kinda confusing seeing that de Chelly seems more a French word but pronounced the Spanish way as day-shay.)

The women felt that it was called Canyon of Death because of the canyon’s tragic history. Several women and children had hidden in within the canyon walls, and as the women explained, the Spaniards were trying to drive them out and send them to Fort Sumner. Instead of going to the fort, the women and children off the canyon cliffs jumped to their deaths.

Aren't the layers really fascinating? And see the structures underneath supporting the layers on top?
Horrific story, although I think some of the narrative has been conflated with other stories. I’m interested to look up more details. [edit. Led by Col. Kit Carson, American troops, not Spanish ones, forced the Navajo to march to Fort Sumner in NE New Mexico.] Tragedy always makes a place even more intriguing, wouldn’t you agree?

George finally came back to the trailhead, and we headed back to pick up Karine and Jean. We arrived at the agreed upon time, and sat in the car and waited for them to show. We kicked back, watched the tourists, and waited and waited. An hour and a half passed and no Jean and Karine. We didn’t have cell service, so I couldn’t call them to see when they would arrive.

The sun was beginning to set and George and I started to worry about the 3-hour evening drive in the increasingly chilly air up to Moab.

An arch amidst the canyon.
Still no Karine and Jean. Karine and Jean are incredibly put together people, so it was pretty surprising how late they were to meet us. Finally George sits up, looks around, and says he thinks we’re at the wrong stop. My stomach flipped while I looked around and realized he was right.

We sped to the next stop to find Jean and Karine hot and tired waiting on a hill for our car. The poor friends, they had been waiting for nearly 2 hours without water or bathroom or food, thinking perhaps we no longer wanted to travel with them. Fortunately, they are incredibly good spirited people and accepted our profuse apologies. We rehydrated them with water and Dr Pepper back in town and then headed north to Moab.

The drive to Moab was, believe it or not, worse than the drive to Chinle. We passed by herds of deer, who had no fear of resting in the middle of the two-lane road. At one point, George screeched to a stop to find a young buck head butting the side of our already damaged car. Not fun.

We finally made it to Moab incredibly exhausted after a long, stressful drive. Although an incredibly scenic day, we headed to bed right away so we could forget our bad luck.

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I overheard someone mention that t…
I overheard someone mention that …
Looking into the canyon.
Looking into the canyon.
The north side of Canyon de Chelly…
The north side of Canyon de Chell…
Arent the layers really fascinati…
Aren't the layers really fascinat…
An arch amidst the canyon.
An arch amidst the canyon.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
photo by: nycitalini