Friday, May 20, 2016

Canyon de Chelly: Heart of the Navajo Nation

“For nearly 5,000 years, people have lived in these canyons - longer than anyone has lived uninterrupted anywhere on the Colorado Plateau.  In the place called Tseyi, their homes and images tell us their stories. Today, Navajo families make their homes, raise livestock, and farm the lands in these canyons. The National Park Service and Navajo Nation actively work together to manage park resources.” ~ National Park Service.
Canyon de Chelly ca. 1904; public domain photo by Edward S. Curtis

Canyon de Chelly National Monument (pronounced de Shay) was established on April 1, 1931 as a unit of the National Park Service. Located in northeastern Arizona within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation, the monument is comprised of three canyons: de Chelly, del Muerto, and Monument.

Both maps from National Park Service; in public domain

These canyons were cut by streams that spring from the Chuska mountains east of the monument. The land belongs to the Navajo Nation. Canyon de Chelly National Monument is one of the most visited national monuments in the United States. Tourists can drive along the South Rim and North Rim where overlooks offer dramatic views of the canyon below. They are not allowed into the canyon by themselves, except for one trail leading down from the rim to the White House Ruins. If they wish to explore the canyon floor, they must be accompanied by a park ranger or a Navajo guide.
White House Ruins ca. 1873; photo by Army Corps of Engineers; public domain
One of the longest continuously inhabited areas of North America, the monument preserves ruins of early indigenous tribes who lived there, including the Ancient Pueblo Peoples (also called Anasazi). The monument covers 83,840 acres (131.0 sq mi; 339.3 km2) including the floors and rims of the connected canyons.
The canyons are known for steep walls dotted with greenery and hundreds of ancient pueblo ruins. The unique architecture, artifacts and rock imagery have been amazingly preserved, providing a peek into the lives of the pre-historic inhabitants. Built between 350 and 1300 A.D, these dwellings were built by the Ancient Puebloan People. In the 1700s, Navajo Indians were driven southwest by their enemies, eventually settling in Canyon de Chelly.

Canyon de Chelly's most unusual geological feature is Spider Rock, an 800-foot sandstone spire that juts from the canyon floor.

Spider Rock; photo © Brian W. Schaller / License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0orFAL 1.3

Now I will let Josie Tseda, the Navajo heroine of CAPTURING GABRIEL, tell you a little about her homeland as she takes Gabriel on a tour of the canyon. You might call this book a modern day western, set mainly in the rugged mountains of Colombia with horses, gunplay and sexy romance. Eventually, it comes home to Canyon de Chelly.
As Josie drove, she pointed out pueblo ruins built into the rock walls and petroglyphs – paintings and etchings created by ancient peoples who once lived in Canyon de Chelly.

“The canyon is one of the longest continually inhabited areas in North America, so archaeologists say. The Anasazi, our Navajo word for ancient ones, built the pueblos, but other, older ones, lived here long before them.”
“Do you trace your roots to those ancients?” Gabriel asked.
“No, they were the ancestors of the Pueblo and Hopi people. We Navajo come from a different line called Athabaskan. It is said our old ones migrated from the far north hundreds of years ago. They settled in New Mexico and parts of Arizona and traded with the Pueblo people.”
“How did the Navajo come to be here in Canyon de Chelly?”
She shrugged. “They warred with other tribes and Spanish settlers who invaded our lands. Many Diné – as we call ourselves – fled into what is now Utah and Colorado. Others took refuge in the mountains and canyons. The Spanish found this place, of course, and on a winter day in 1805, their soldiers attacked the Diné living in the canyon. The two sides fought all day. At the end, 115 Navajo lay dead in a cave where they sought refuge. We call the place Massacre Cave. It lies in Canyon Del Muerto to our left. I will take you there.”
Gabriel stayed silent while she drove to the site. When they got out to view the cave, he said grimly, “You have reason to hate anyone of Spanish blood, including me.”
She sent him a startled glance. “Don’t be silly. What happened here was tragic but that was over two hundred years ago. It has nothing to do with you and me.”
“Does it not?”
“No, of course not. The Diné fought whites here too, but I don’t hate all white people.” She shivered in the biting wind. “Come on, I’m cold and this place gives me the creeps. Besides, I have something special to show you.” Gripping his hand, she hurried him back to the Jeep.
Sorry for telling him about Massacre Cave and making him feel bad, she drove him to the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon where Spider Rock soared skyward.
"Madre de Dios!” Gabriel exclaimed as she stopped the Jeep.
“Welcome to Spider Rock,” she said, opening her door and stepping out. A blast of wind immediately buffeted her, but she grinned at the look of awe on his face when he joined her to stare up at the eight-hundred-foot-tall tower of stone. “This is the most famous site in the canyon. It’s even been used in television commercials.”
“Amazing! But why the strange name for such an impressive monolith?”
She laughed lightly. “In our creation story, it is said Spider Woman possesses supernatural power, kind of like you Guardians. She loved the Diné and because monsters roamed the land long ago, killing many people, she gave special power to two of our heroes to find Sun-God, their father. Sun-God showed them how to kill all the monsters. Because Spider Woman saved the Diné, she became one of our most honored gods. Her home is said to be on top of Spider Rock.”
“That is a long climb even for a spider woman,” Gabriel said skeptically. “But she has super power. I suppose that makes it easy for her, sí?” Grinning, he drew Josie to his side, sheltering her from the wind.
She wrapped her arm around his waist. “Sure. She also taught us how to weave on a loom. Since then, the Navajo have become fine weavers. But the goddess can be fearsome. As children we are warned to behave or Spider Woman will let down her web and carry us up to her home, where she will devour us.”
“Fearsome indeed!” Gabriel chuckled, eyes glinting as he gazed down at her “But you must have been a good little girl, since she did not get you.”
“Hah! My father might think different.” Giving him a mischievous grin, she was glad to sees she’d managed to lighten his mood. “If you’d like to see the canyon from above, I’ll drive us around the rim.”
“I will enjoy anything you wish to show me, querida.” Turning to face her, he kissed her, warming her better than any fire could.
They returned to the Jeep and she headed back to the canyon entrance. From there, she wended along the South Rim Drive, stopping at several overlook points where they got out to gaze at the canyon from above. The last stop was Spider Rock Overlook.
“What a magnificent sight,” Gabriel said. “I see why you love this land.”
“Yeah, it is gorgeous,” she agreed.
“Sí, most gorgeous.” He spoke in a soft, caressing tone.
Looking up, she found him gazing at her with such adoration that she caught her breath and stared, hypnotized by his moss-green eyes.

***Canyon de Chelly fills an important role in not only Capturing Gabriel, but in the entire Romancing the Guardians series.
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  1. Lyn, I love the cover of this book and I know I'll love the story. I don't want to miss any of the Guardian books!
    We didn't go down into the canyon but did drive a part of the rim. we especially enjoy touring Anasazi ruins and have spent many vacations in that part of the country. Great post.

  2. Interesting post. We have added Canyon de Chelly to our list for our next road trip. Love the pictures and history. Your book sounds interesting. I'll have to check out the Guardian books.

  3. Caroline and Linda, thank you for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed reading about Canyon de Chelly. There's so much history associated with it that I could write another post about it. I hope to visit the canyon before I write the final Romancing the Guardians book, which will be largely set there.

  4. Bravo! Lyn, this is a wonderful post. I like your clever way of getting your book into the post.
    I've been to Grand Canyon but that's about it for Arizona. Of course, I've heard of these places and structures, such as Spider Rock...and seen it in various ways in a photograph...and would love to return one day. The Navajos have a rich varied history to be appreciated.
    Your book cover is great! And the story sounds great, too.
    Good luck!

    1. Thank you, Celia. Since I described parts of the canyon in Capturing Gabriel, it made sense to use what I'd already written through a character's eyes. Glad you like the book cover and the excerpt.

      I've been to the Grand Canyon and other beautiful places in Arizona, but not Canyon de Chelly. I truly hope to go there and hire a Navajo guide to give hubby and I a tour of the canyon.

  5. Wonderful snippet, and I love the history lesson.

    1. I'm so happy you enjoyed the excerpt, Savanna, and I'm glad I didn't bore you with the history. Believe me, there's much, much more to tell.

  6. I like how your excerpt read like a guided tour of Canyon de Chelly. This was an article loaded with information and I loved the pictures, too. I would not have known such a place existed until my sister went there and sent me a patch. You'd think the column of rock called Spider Rock would just tumble over. You certainly delivered on your promise to tell us more about this unique and beautiful place. I truly enjoyed it, Lyn.

    1. Sarah, what a pleasure it is to know you enjoyed reading about Canyon de Chelly. It's becoming almost a character in my Romancing the Guardians books. By the time the final installment comes out, readers will understand why I chose this very special place for the Guardians to gather and have a final showdown with their mortal enemies, the Hellhounds.

  7. Hi Sarah. I love those photos. Amazing how small the people on the horses look in comparison. I agree, that's a great cover with the girl put into the top corner like that. So interesting to hear about those rock formations. Best of luck with great sales.

    1. Hey Paisley, I agree the riders and their mounts look tiny next to the tall rock walls of the canyon. Puts things in perspective for us. I'm glad you like the book cover. Kim Killian is my designer. She's using the same design style for all of the books in this series. Except the final one. I have no idea what it will look like. Thanks much for stopping by.


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