Located in the center of the Navajo Reservation, Canyon de Chelly extends from the montane highlands of the Defiance Plateau and Chuska Mountains in the east to the arid expanse of the Chinle Valley far to the west. Known for its spectacular canyon vistas, prehistoric ruins, and green ribbon of Navajo agricultural fields, the canyon includes an abundance of physical landforms and ecological communities that provide a diverse mosaic for human settlement.
The Navajo were living in the canyon when the Spanish first arrived in the 1700s. The next century was marked by repeated conflicts with the Spanish and other Indian tribes, and later with the US. Finally, in 1864, Kit Carson led a campaign to remove the Navajo to Fort Sumner. Cold and hungry, most surrendered and began the Long Walk to Fort Sumner. After four years of hardship, the Navajo signed a treaty with the US, which established the reservation. Presently a few dozen families live in the canyon at least part of the year, farming and herding.
Visiting Canyon de Chelly
The National Monument actually comprises three canyons. Canyon del Muerto and Monument Canyon join to form Canyon de Chelly. At its mouth, the canyon floor is broad and flat. There is sufficient water for patches of lush vegetation. The canyon walls rise steeply for about a thousand feet.
The landscape has continued to evolve throughout the last century and, despite being established as a national monument in 1931, remains a viable, living community composed of numerous Navajo families. In short, Canyon de Chelly represents a material record of one of the most enduring and complex cultural landscapes of the American Southwest, a record which changes with each passing day.
The temperature can reach 100F on the canyon floor in the summer. Winter temperatures range from lows around 20F to highs of 40 or 60. With altitudes ranging from 5500 feet on the canyon floor to 7000 feet on the rim, it can be cold here in the spring and fall even when it is hot at lower altitudes. The weather can be changeable, with a little snow in the winter, and sudden thunderstorms in the summer and fall.
Scenic overlooks along the North and South Rim Drives provide dramatic views of the canyon below, with its sheer walls. White House Trail leads to the only Anasazi ruin that can be visited without a guide.
If you decided to visit Canyon de Chelly you definitely have to take a tour of the canyon floor in big six-wheel military transport vehicles .Your guide will show you cliff houses and petrogylphs set against spectacular cliff walls. You will learn of the Navajo’s history in the canyon, including the deaths of 115 men, women and children at the hands of the Spanish at Massacre Cave, and the siege by Kit Carson’s forces of Fortress Rock, a butte at the confluence of the three canyons, on which some 300 Navajo took refuge.
As with all high-desert locales, it can be hot in the summer, cold in the winter. Dress appropriately and remember a hat. Leave your car locked with valuables out of sight. As in much of the West, animals on the road are a hazard, especially at dusk or in the night; both deer and livestock are drawn to the vegetation supported by rain runoff from the pavement. animals on the road are a hazard, especially at dusk or in the night; both deer and livestock are drawn to the vegetation supported by rain runoff from the pavement.
[Sources : www.wmonline.com , wikitravel.org]