Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, USA

Canyon de Chelly, Mummy Cave, ancient dwellings, Arizona, USA

The Mummy Cave in Canyon del Muerto, built around 1200 AD, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona.

Visiting Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Canyon de Chelly in the early morning, Arizona, USA

Canyon de Chelly in the early morning.

Canyon de Chelly (pronounced d’ Shay), although touted by some guide books as one of USA’s must-sees, is in our humble opinion, a less-than-wildly exciting experience, though it does offer evidence – at a considerable distance – of primitive human habitation since 2, 500 BC in the form of rock etchings and simple buildings, and is still a physical and spiritual home to Diné – the Navajo people.

A collection of large and pretty canyons belonging to Diné but administered by the National Parks Service, in Europe this would be a major attraction, but here it’s competing visually with Arches, Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon and it’s just not in the same league, apart from the ancient human structures – which unfortunately range from difficult to impossible to approach closely.

White House Trail

the start of the White House Trail, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, USA

The first view of Canyon de Chelly for most and the start of the quite strenuous White House Trail for some. Photo by Ronnie Macdonald.

Canyon de Chelly tourism basically involves drives around the north and south canyon rims, stopping off at key viewpoints for a look and a few selfies, apart from one sanctioned hike down the White House Trail.
The White House – so called due to its white, plastered internal walls – can be approached via the 2. 5 mile (4km), 2 hour round trip trail dropping 500ft from the canyon rim to the floor, but it cannot be entered.

A tour group heading down the White House Trail, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, USA

A tour group heading down the White House Trail. Photo by Ronnie Macdonald.

Canyon de Chelly, White House, Arizona, USA

Canyon de Chelly’s famous White House at the bottom of the canyon and end of the trail. Photo by Ronnie Macdonald.

Chelly History

The area’s first inhabitants were seasonal visitors, then came the Basketmakers from about 200 BC – 750 AD, who started farming the fertile land.

From 750 AD – 1300 the Pueblo created villages here, metamorphosing into Hopi from 1300-1600, who were then replaced by the Navajo in 1700.

Spanish and Mexican troops tried to dislodge the Navajo from the canyon labyrinthe but finally U. S. soldiers under Colonel Kit Carson brutally drove them out in 1864 and forced them to walk 300 miles to internment at Fort Sumner in New Mexico. Many died on the Long Walk and during four years at the fort, but in 1868 survivors were allowed to return home.

Navajo wall pictograph, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, USA

A Navajo pictograph on the subject of a raid by Utes, circa 1800.

White House, Mummy Cave, Antelope House and other buildings were constructed by the ancient Pueblo people and later occuped by the Navajo.
Private canyon tours, hiking, horse rides and 4WD excursions with Navajo guides can be arranged through the Thunderbird Lodge.

Canyon de Chelly is open 24 hours a day all year round.