Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Glories of a Hidden Canyon

My trip to Arizona was wonderful. Hubby and I spent several days with my niece and her husband, who made us feel right at home and took us on two fabulous sightseeing jaunts.

Casa Grande Ruins

Over 650 years old, the four-story "Great House" was built by ancient Sonoran Desert people, who also developed wide-scale irrigation farming and trade connections lasting over a thousand years until about 1450 C.E. The earthen buildings, red on buff pottery, and extensive canals are called "Hohokam" but that's not a proper term. The ancestors of the O'Odham, Hopi, and Zuni people were dubbed Hohokam -- not a word in any of their languages or the name of a separate people.
Note modern roof added to protect ruins from further degradation

Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum 

This famous zoo, natural history museum and botanical garden -- about 85% outdoors -- houses 230 animal species, 1,200 plant types, an aquarium and hummingbird enclosure. There are 2 miles of walking paths -- way too much for me! A rented wheelchair and two strong men (Hubby and niece's husband) solved the problem, and although temps were in the 90s, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day.
Cougar at the Museum, photo by Stephen Lea; wikipedia commons
Overlooking Tucson

Then it was on to Canyon de Chelly: Research Time!

We took a 400-mile scenic route to the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona. The road snaked up and down and around mountains -- not my husband's favorite driving terrain, but I loved the views! As we neared our destination, the land appeared flat and dry with hazy mountains in the distance. It was hard to believe a deep canyon lay hidden not far away.

Finally arriving in Chinle, a small mostly Navajo town only minutes from the entrance to Canyon de Chelly National Monument, we checked in at the Best Western and rested up.

Shortly before 9 the next morning, our guide from Canyon de Chelly Tours, Richard, picked us up at the hotel. I climbed into the front passenger seat of his SUV while Hubby got in back. He knew how important this excursion was to me and wanted me to have the best views. Thank you, honey!
Our guide Richard                                 Visitor Center
Richard took off and we were soon passing the Visitor Center. Then the canyon opened up before us, revealing rock walls, thick rutted sand and our first glimpse of pictographs. Eye-popping but only a taste of  what was to come.

Slogging on through the sand -- deposited by seasonal streams originating in the Chuska Mountains to the northeast -- we ogled dark streaks called patina on the canyon walls, caused by water, and a strange tower that was split almost in two. Richard took us into Canyon del Muerto, the north fork of the canyon complex where many of the best preserved pueblo ruins are located.

Then came "First Ruin," so named because it's the first pueblo ruin you see in the canyon. Built into a niche in the canyon wall by the Anasazi -- correctly called Ancient Puebloans -- the structures served as apartments for families, often with a ceremonial space and an area for storing food.

We bounced over more sand, with Richard avoiding the worst spots (some are quicksand.) The walls rose taller and taller, we saw more ruins, and stopped once where Navajo artisans were selling their wares. I couldn't resist buying a turquoise necklace! Moving on, we oohed and ahhed over the Two Lizards rock formation and Antelope House Ruin.

Antelope House is named for the pictographs of antelope on the canyon wall around it. The white figures were drawn by ancient pueblo inhabitants. The burnt orange figures were drawn by Navajos who later moved into the hidden canyon.

Finally, we arrived at the famous White House ruin, the only ruin tourists can get close to on their own, following a trail down from the south rim of the canyon. Named for the white painted interior of the rooms, this pueblo was built in two levels. Here are two photos Hubby took of the upper level. Below is a public domain photo from wikipedia showing both levels.

That was as far as we went on our 3 - 4 hour tour. To see more would have required a 7-8 hour tour. Richard dropped us off at out hotel, we grabbed some lunch then drove back to the Visitor Center to check out the model of a traditional Navajo hogan, with a somewhat modernized interior.

The following day, we drove along the south rim of the canyon, stopping at several overlooks. From these photos you get a better feel for the scope of Canyon de Chelly and the height of the walls (up to 1,200 feet at the mouth of del Muerto.) Most dramatic to see was Spider Rock, located at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon, the south fork. My biggest regret is not taking a longer tour so we could see Spider Rock from the canyon floor.
Tunnel Overlook - a short side canyon leading into the main gorge
Tsegi Overlook showing Chinli Wash
Junction Overlook - where Canyon del Muerto joins Canyon de Chelly
White House Ruin Overlook
Spider Rock Overlook
That concluded our visit to Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Someday I'd love to go back!


  1. What an adventure. I love all these fantastic pictures, Lyn.

  2. Yes, Sarah, it truly was a great adventure. I'm glad you enjoyed the pictures. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Lyn, lovely photos but they don't compare with being there, do they? We didn't get to go into the canyon but did drive along the rim. The beauty is breathtaking. Thank you for sharing your photos!

  4. Thanks, Caroline. Being inside the canyon is like nothing I've experienced before, simply awe-inspiring. Nature is a greater sculptor than any human could dream of being. It's also humbling to know people have lived there for thousands of years. I felt privileged to be there.

  5. Thanks, Lyn, for the wonderful tour, your descriptions added so much to your photos and I'm sure stirred your imagination for another book!

  6. My pleasure, Cheri. I'm glad my descriptions added to your enjoyment of the photos. There is so much more I would like to share, but thought the post was long enough. If you ever get a chance to visit Canyon de Chelly, I know you will love it.

  7. Lyn,

    My goodness but that was quite an excursion. The pictures are fabulous. Did your guide, Richard, tell stories about the area as he drove you around?

    1. Thanks, Kaye. Hubby snapped the pics with his camera set on zoom. Yes, Richard told some fascinating stories. He explained how over 100 Navajo were murdered by Spanish soldiers as they took refuge in Massacre Cave toward the head of Canyon del Muerto. The Spaniards couldn't get to them from below, but from the canyon rim, they shot the Navajo, killing most of them. Very sad story that I will refer to in my next book, A Mighty Chieftain - the conclusion of my Romancing the Guardians series.

  8. Thanks, Lyn, for the grand tour. I've only driven the rim as our vacation was getting short....always regretted not getting back there bArlettaut thanks to you, I can do it vicariously!

    1. I'm happy to share the tour with you, Arletta, especially since you've been there. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


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