Saturday, 11 April 2015

700 year old Fixer Upper

Canyon de Chelly National Park, Arizona

When we arrived in Canyon de Chelly (d’shay) two weeks ago there had been a ranger talk that night and a ranger walk the next day, but because we couldn’t drive our truck we missed out on both of them. Now the next ranger walks are not for two weeks due to staff shortages, so we miss out again.

This national monument is on Navajo reservation land and observes daylight saving while the rest of Arizona does not. So we were a bit confused as to the right time to see sunrise and sunset. My photography app showed nearby towns with and a different current time and a different time for sunrise and sunset to what we had been told. Reality was somewhere in between.



People have lived here for over 5,000 years. The current inhabitants are the Navajo, who first arrived in 1700 only to be captured or killed before or during the long 300 mile walk of 1863 when the land now known as Arizona and New Mexico was taken from the Mexicans and became part of the US. In 1868 after internment in New Mexico they were allowed to return to their land only to find everything gone; crops were destroyed and animals had been killed by the US army. Trading posts helped them recover, giving them guidance and a place to trade their wares.

Between 750-1300, the Pueblo changed housing from dispersed hamlets to villages. These are the ruins that are still found here today. They raised turkeys, grew cotton and made beautiful pottery. Villages allowed social interaction, trade and ceremonies to take place.
There are two drives here. The North rim drive, which is better in the morning, takes you to Antelope House overlook where you can see the Ledge Ruin, Antelope House Ruin and the Standing Cow Ruin. Further down the 17 mile trip is Mummy Cave Overlook where you can see Mummy Cave Ruin and Yucca Cave Ruin. The Mummy cave was inhabited up until the 1300’s by the Puebloan’s that came from the Mesa Verde about twenty years beforehand. They built the tower complex on the central ledge. Another road takes you to Massacre Cave where the Navajo were killed in 1805 by the Spanish.

Antelope House Ruin overlook
The South Rim Drive, which best in the afternoons, covers 19 miles with stops at Tsegi Overlook, Junction Overlook, White House Ruin and Spider Rock. We managed to find and photograph the ruins at Junction Overlook as they had metal tubes pointing us in the right direction. Spider Rock is an 800 foot sandstone spire at the junction of Monument Canyon and Canyon de Chelly. 

White House Ruin

We had heard there were no walks that you could do on your own but there is one that takes you down to the White House Ruin. A pleasant one and a half mile walk down and a tiring one and a half mile back. Any sound near the ruins echoes back at you; this would have given the inhabitants of the village ample warning of danger arriving. The ruins are in two parts and the bottom rooms used to reach the bottom of the upper ones, then a ladder would have been used to enter.

Spider Rock is 800ft tall

On the way back from the canyon we spoke to one of the rangers which really helped the climb uphill as your mind was elsewhere. It can snow right up until April, which then feeds the rivers and streams running through the canyon in spring. They had some rain and snow a few weeks ago; which is probably why the area is so green. There are small farmer’s houses dotted around the canyon floor, which look abandoned but are not. There are about one hundred farmers who still use the land down here raising sheep, planting corn and growing peaches. Every now and then, they complain that the wild horses are raiding their orchards, so the horses are rounded up and taken elsewhere. The farmers live above the canyon floors where their houses have electricity and running water and come down to work on their land during the day, it is all accessible by vehicle as there are tracks everywhere. The younger generation are not interested in working the land, so it won’t last forever. At all the stops along the rims there are people selling their art work, mostly pictures on bits of rock and jewelry despite the signs saying no vendors allowed. Down near the white house there was also pottery similar to what the Puebloan’s made centuries ago. 

These dwellings are high up the cliff face


On the way up we passed a group of people with shovels, racks and other implements and we asked them if they were the gardening party, but we didn’t get a straight answer. The ranger said they were volunteers from all over the country. Here to maintain the trails and cover the shortcuts children take that cause erosion etc. 



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