Canyon De Chelly was a National Park we haven’t heard of before and a brief search before visiting basically informed us that it is a canyon in Arizona. It may not be largely publicized because of that other little canyon in Arizona called The Grand Canyon. Canyon de Chelly is a beautiful park where the floor is still in use today by the Navajo for farming as this park is part of the Navajo Indian Reservation.
We enjoyed exploring this National Park as it is a beautiful place amongst the Colorado Plateau with the uniquely carved out canyons and amazing rock formations all made out of red tinted stone. There are numerous overlooks surrounding this park each providing a great view of canyon and surrounding area. The longer you look at the rocks you begin to see more and more details such as stone carved by the natural elements, rock stacked together creating layers upon layers highlighted by different colors, and areas where the rocks have fallen away from the cliffs created caves.
There is one designated trail that allows you to hike into the canyon without trespassing on Navajo lands at the bottom so we decided to take advantage of that opportunity. There are tours available led by Navajo guides as they are the only ones allowed to bring people down into the canyon outside of this trail.
The trail takes about 15 – 20 minutes as you wind back and forth among the stones descending about 600 feet to the bottom. Along this hiking trail there are tunnels and caves providing some great locations for people to escape the elements. They also made great additions to the scenery throughout the canyon. Once at the bottom you get a very different perspective of this stone maze. There’s a better understanding of how tall these cliffs are and how large this canyon is. Plant diversity becomes apparent as many areas are dry providing an environment for cactus to grow while near the river running along the bottom gives moisture for trees and other plants.
At the end of the trail you can explore one of the areas cliff dwellers inhabited at one time. The structures are kept behind a fence in order to preserve them but they are still interesting to see and makes it a little easier to imagine what it must have been like living in this canyon before the conveniences of horses and vehicles. What was it like to create multiple level buildings climbing up cliffs into large caves? These cliff dwellings were an unexpected surprise for us as we explored Canyon De Chelly National Monument.