C is for Canyon de Chelly and Chaco Culture

May 29 – 31, 2016: After Petrified Forest National Park we headed north in Arizona to Canyon de Chelly National Monument. The canyons within the monument have been home to people for nearly 5,000 years and, even today, some Navajo people call this home; many families still live, farm, and raise livestock within the canyons.

The National Park Service and the Navajo Nation jointly manage Canyon de Chelly National Monument (no entrance fee).

TIP: The Navajo Nation observes Mountain Daylight Savings Time from March to November whilst the rest of Arizona observes Mountain Standard Time all year. Set your timepiece (to the same time as Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah) when you enter Canyon de Chelly National Monument!

We drove South Rim Drive, stopping at nine overlooks. Some overlooks provide fantastic views of the canyon and others also include views of cliff dwellings. The canyon itself was different than what I think of as a canyon – the canyon walls were smooth and the canyon floor lush with vegetation.

There is only one overlook, White House Overlook, with public trail access (White House Trail). All other canyon access must be with a Navajo guide.

NOTE: We used a Navajo guide when visiting Antelope Canyon, on our 2014 Road Trip and had an amazing experience!

One of the most interesting parts about Canyon de Chelly National Monument is that people live within its boundaries. Can you imagine living across the street from these canyon views? Or farming within the depths of the canyon? You’ll find Navajo people at some of the overlooks selling pottery and jewelry.

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Leaving Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona, we drove back into New Mexico taking a route that took us through a mountain pass of red rock (like Sedona!) with smooth canyon walls like Canyon de Chelly, past spectacular views of Shiprock (a National Natural Landmark and sacred peak to the Navajo people), and down bumpy, unpaved roads to Chaco Culture National Historic Park in Nageezi, New Mexico.

Chaco Culture National Historic Park, containing remnants of a massive ancient (850 – 1250 A.D.) civilization, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Dark Sky Park. We viewed amazing night skies, including the Milky Way, and spent the next day exploring the Chacoan pueblo remains. The Chacoans are known for their pre-planned and advanced building techniques. Their structures were often oriented in the director of solar, lunar, or other astrological events.


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