Pronounced Canyon de Shay and located in the northeast corner of Arizona, this gorgeous red rock canyon is off the beaten path which is why the Navajo chose this place as their last refuge while fighting the U.S. Army lead by Kit Carson who wanted to drive them out of their ancestral lands and onto a reservation in the late 1800’s. Eight hundred years earlier the canyon supported the Anasazi culture, with its protective carved rock walls and a seasonal stream that flooded the canyon floor each spring replenishing crop growing soil and providing drinking water. Some of their cliff dwellings still survive.
The remoteness and the spirits that occupied Canyon de Chelly were not enough to prevent the Army from capturing the Navajo and forcing them onto a remote reservation. Kit Carson was one of the toughest SOB’s to wander the west as evidenced by his consecutive marriages to white, Native American and Mexican women, but he had been warned that the spirits would kill him if he entered the canyon and while he sent his troops in, the man who was unafraid of almost anything in the west did not enter the canyon himself.
Years later the Navajo eventually regained control of this canyon when their huge reservation was established and the Navajo Tribal Headquarters is now located in Chinle, next to Canyon de Chelly. About an hour and a half scenic ride from Monument Valley or a one-hour ride from Four Corners, this is a worthwhile destination with a nice visitor center, numerous canyon view turnouts and a number of Navajo crafts people selling their wares. There are some good motels and restaurants in Chinle, but no bars. Alcohol is not sold on the Navajo Reservation.
When I visit Canyon de Chelly I love to find a place near the rim and just stand quietly by myself staring down into the canyon and listening to the wind tell the stories of the lives and spirits that have roamed this beautiful place for a thousand years.