Canyon de Chelly was not initially on my radar for this trip, as it’s not a National Park, it’s a National Monument. I honestly cannot remember how I heard about it, but it happened to be right on our route from Mesa Verde National Park to Petrified Forest National Park, so I decided to add it to our itinerary and I am so glad I did. Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “Canyon de SHAY”) is located in the remote city of Chinle, AZ, with 90+% of its residents being Navajo Native American.
We arrived in the afternoon and went to the Visitors Center to learn more about the canyon and what we should do there. With only a few hours, they suggested we visit the six popular stops along the southern side of the Canyon. Canyon de Chelly Map
We drove all the way to the end first as we were told that Spider Rock is what the canyon is most famous for, and we were not sure if we’d have enough time to stop at all six stops. The hike out to the Spider Rock overlook was short but beautiful. There are two large rock structures that stand up in the middle of the valley that are amazing. We happen to be there on a nice fall day, with blue skies and a sunset that was making the rock of the canyon a deep set of reds and oranges.
We met a couple at the overlook whose daughter had just accepted a job as a doctor at the hospital on the reservation. They were out visiting her for the first time and were as in awe at the view as I was.
Each of the stops had a different view of the valley. You could see homes down in the valley with farms that were currently being lived in and farmed by the Navajo. There were also a lot of fun rocks for Hannah to climb on and around.
We were just pulling into a stop when we saw a coyote about 10 feet from our car. I was glad we were in the car, but that encounter also made me a little more alert for wildlife on the rest of our stops. Being the day before Thanksgiving, the stops were not busy at all. We saw very few other cars, but we did see some men on horseback, which was our only other animal encounter. We managed to visit and do short hikes at each of the six stops noted by the park ranger along the south side of the canyon. The sun had set by the time we got back into our car after the last stop, so it was time to check into our hotel.
Good Local Eats at the Holiday Inn
The Holiday Inn was one of the only hotels in town, and it was located right outside of the park. Their outdoor pool was not open, but Hannah made sure we walked by it just to be sure. It was late, and the restaurant selection was limited in Chinle, so we decided to eat at the onsite restaurant at the Holiday Inn. I was pleasantly surprised that they offered some traditional Navajo selections! The Navajo waiter we had was great and even sat down and talked a little bit about the food and the history of the canyon and the Navajo who farmed it. He offered to set us up on a horseback ride through the canyon the following day, however, we had one more park to visit so we had to decline.
Sometimes the smaller, lesser known sites and stops are the most beautiful. I was very happy with our decision to add Canyon de Chelly to our itinerary and impressed with what we all learned about the Najavo during our short time there.