Navajo Nation, Arizona - July 2000

Picture of whitehouse Almost all of northwest Arizona as well as surrounding areas in New Mexico, Utah and Colorado are part of either the Navajo or Hopi reservations. We spent an entire day visiting the Navajo nation. The center of the Navajo national both spiritually and geographically is the Canyon de Chelley (pronounced de-SHAY). This V-shaped canyon suddenly opens in an otherwise flat section of the desert. The town of Chinle is located at the point of the V and is location of the visitor center. Of course, we didn't want to have to backtrack to reach the other canyon so we approached from the southern endpoint of the V which is not recommended for the faint of heart drivers out there. The road does connect - though in the most rudimentary sense of the word. Most of the canyon is off-limits without a Navajo guide because it is the most sacred location in the Navajo religion. The Navajo believe that they are descended from the Anasazi indians whose ruins can be found throughout the canyon. The one accessible location is the White House ruin, shown in this picture. Don't worry if you can't find it - in the bottom left corner of the sheer cliff opposite is a small pile of rubble which are the ruins. A hiking trail approaches it from between the two buttes on the right of the picture.

Picture of halfway This is a short (3 mile roundtrip) trail but it is exceedingly steep and unfortunately exposed to the sun as it winds its way into the canyon. The canyon floor looks lush from above but it is deceiving. On the rim, the temperature was about 101 (38 C), but at the bottom it was 115 F (46 C).

Picture of wh_ruins This is actually a different ruin called Antelope House but it is similar in appearance to White House. Most of the settlements were built under overhanging cliffs on ledges off the canyon floor. This gave them some protection from floods as well as the sun. At the time the Anasazi lived here (circa 1000 AD) the valley was quite fertile due to the eruption of Sunset Volcano (see next page) and they farmed at least corn and peaches from within the canyon.

Picture of antelope_house There is a river which flows through the canyon to provide water, though it was dry when we visited. When we left the north side of Canyon de Chelley we headed towards the Utah side of Monument Valley. Monument Valley (specifically from Gouldings to Kayenta) attracts a lot of tourists and appears in just about every Western movie ever. Nevertheless, Navajo Route 12 and US 191 provide equally spectacular scenery and considerably fewer souvenir stands.

Picture of mon_valley That didn't stop us from taking a picture of the 'central' area though. This is on the Utah side of the actual Navajo site known as Monument Valley. These have names but so does every other butte within 100 miles so we don't remember them. Perhaps the most memorable is actually a balanced rock just outside the town of Mexican Hat known (suprisingly enough) as Mexican Hat Rock. It might require some hallucinogenic drugs to connect with the name but it's still an impressive rock. In Kayenta, one of the larger Navajo towns, we learned that you shouldn't attempt to make reservations at Grand Canyon National Park two hours before you arrive. At least not in July. It took a series of phone calls and some web help from my sister back in Florida to secure the proclaimed 'last' room in the entire park. As a result we didn't spend the night in Navajo nation which is probably for the best. For one thing, there aren't many restaurants and those that do exist close at 9. Incidentally, the Navajo nation (but not the Hopi nation) has decided to follow daylight time, so they are in a different time zone than the rest of Arizona. We determined that our rental car would be in Pacific time from then on regardless of what people outside the car decided to do with their time. This made it simpler for us at least. When you can find a restaurant in the area (most of the Navajo leave the reservation to shop for food and supplies) you'll also be able to find a variety of dishes served on navajo fry bread. This is pretty much the same as other Indian fry breads, though we found the Navajo taco (chili on fry bread) to be particularly worth the effort.


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