Tuesday – May 24, 2016
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Chinle, New Mexico
This segment of our trip takes us to the Canyon de Chelly (pronounced "Shay"). The Cottonwood Campground, located on the Navajo Indian Reservation, will be our home-base while we explore this majestic canyon in northeastern Arizona.
Private vendors offer hiking, back-country camping, horseback, and 4-wheel-drive vehicle tours into the canyon with an authorized Navajo Indian guide. The White-House trail, a 2.5-mile round-trip trail, is the only place where a visitor can enter the canyon without a permit or an authorized Navajo guide.
People have lived in these canyons for nearly 5,000 years – longer than anyone has lived uninterrupted elsewhere on the Colorado Plateau. The first residents built no permanent homes, but remains of their campsites and images etched or painted on canyon walls tell their stories.
The Chronology of Human History at Canyon de Chelly:
Archaic 2500-200 BCE (Before Common Era)
The earliest people lived at seasonal campsites in rock shelters. Small mobile groups made hunting and gathering expeditions, covering familiar territory on the canyon floor and upland plateau.
Basketmaker 200 BCE-CE 750 (Common Era)
About 2,500 years ago a fundamental change occurred in how people lived here. Instead of relying on hunting and gathering, a group called Basketmaker, named because of their extraordinary weaving skills, learned how to farm. They farmed small fields of corn, squash and beans in corners of the canyons and on the mesas. These people became more sedentary and built communities of dispersed households, large granaries, and public structures.
About 1,250 years ago the dispersed hamlets gave way to a new kind of settlement – the village. These people raised turkeys for food and grew cotton, a crop that led to new weaving technique.
The villages offered opportunities for social interaction, trade, and ceremony. These Puebloan people crafted beautiful pottery and created a landscape that was useful and spiritual.
Puebloan life ended here about 700 years ago. Drought, desease, conflict, and possibly other factors led the people to leave the canyon. They moved south and west, establishing villages along the Little Colorado River and at the southern tip of the Black Mesa. In time, these people became the Hopi.
The Navajo, an Athabaskan-speaking people, entered Canyon de Chelly about 400 years ago. They brought domesticated sheep and goats and a culture tempered by centuries of migration and adaptation. Canyon De Chelly was known throughout the region for its fine cornfields and peach orchards planted on the canyon floors.
Tranquility ended in the late 1700s as warfare erupted among the Navajo, other tribes, and Spanish colonists. The Navajo took refuge in Canyon De Chelly’s serpentine canyons, fortifying trails with stone walls, sheltered in rock alcoves, and stockpiled food and water. Spanish, Ute, and U.S. military parties breached these defenses, leaving death in their wake.
The Long Walk 1863-1868
In 1846, the U.S. Army subdued Mexican forces, claiming present-day Arizona and New Mexico as U.S. territory. For the next 17 years conflict among the Indian tribes continued, and so did military expeditions into Navajo territory. In the winter of 1864, U.S. military troops entered the eastern end of Canyon de Chelly and pushed the Navajo toward the canyon mouth. Resistance proved futile; most Navajo were captured or killed. A bitter, humiliating trial awaited those Navajo who survived the ordeal. Forced to march over 300 miles, called The Long Walk, to Fort Sumner in New Mexico territory, scores perished from thirst, hunger and fatigue. Their years of internment at Fort Sumner were no kinder. Poor food, inadequate shelter, and disease brutalized the survivors. In 1886, the U.S. government allowed the Navajo to return home to rebuild their lives.
Trading Days 1868-1925
The Navajo returned home to find their hogans, crops, and sheep gone. Food distribution centers like the one at Fort Defiance in Arizona territory, helped the Navajo recover. Trading posts became focal points for Navajo communities – places where people could exchange news, discuss problems, and trade their jewelry, rugs, and crafts for staples.
Canyon de Chelly, then and now, is the epicenter of Navajo culture. People who live here retain that spirit of their ancestors. Traditional beliefs are reflected in everyday life – in how Navajo care for their families, live-stock, and homes, and how plants are collected for ceremonial, medicinal, and traditional uses. Each person’s well being contributes to the health of the family and community. This perspective helped the Navajo people recover from the trauma of the Long Walk.
Tomorrow another adventure begins.
Departed: Gallup, New Mexico
Departure Time: 09:45 A.M.
Arrived: Chinle, Arizona
Arrival Time: 12:30 P.M.
Campground: Cottonwood (5-Day Maximum Stay)
Type: Navajo Nation
Latitude: N 36.14917
Longitude: W 109.54127
Elevation: 5492 Feet
Camping Fee: $14.00 (Cash Only – No Checks or Credit Cards)
Campsite Hookups: None
Campground Amenities: Water Spigot, Flush Toilets, Dump
Total Campsites: 93
Cellular Service: Verizon – 3G-3 Bars
Internet Service: Verizon Jetpack – No Service
Dish TV Satellite Service: Excellent Service
Total miles traveled today: 94Route Traveled:
North on NM Highway 491
West on NM / AZ Highway 294
North on AZ Highway 191 to Chinle, AZ East on Navajo Route 7 to Visitor Center / Campground