Destination: Canyon de Chelly (de-shay) National Monument, located in the heart of the Navajo Indian reservation in northeast Arizona, near Chinle. The labyrinth monument is made up of three canyons: Canyon de Chelly, Canyon del Muerto, and Monument Canyon. Canyon walls rise to more than 1,000 feet above the floor. Elevation ranges from 5,500 feet to just over 7,000 feet.
History: Anasazi (a Navajo word meaning “the ancient ones”) inhabited the canyon for about 600 years, from about 700 to 1300 AD. Evidence of their existence can be seen throughout the canyon: homesites tucked into the canyon walls; pictographs; petroglyphs; and pottery shards.
Since the 1700s, the Navajo Nation has inhabited these lands. In 1931, Canyon de Chelly National Monument was established to preserve archeological ruins and their record in human history.
Embracing 84,000 acres within the Navajo Indian Reservation and comprised entirely of Navajo Tribal Trust Land, the monument is administered by the National Park Service in partnership with the Navajo Nation.
Horses: You can bring your own horse, or rent one there. Canyon de Chelly has strict health requirements for horses and mules. All documents must be submitted to the National Park Service a minimum of two weeks prior to arrival. Click here for a downloadable PDF on livestock use, provided by the National Park Service.
Accommodations: You can camp in the Coolidge-Martin Campground, or stay in the Thunderbird Lodge across the street from the campground.
Guide services: To enter the monument, you must be accompanied by an authorized Navajo guide. The park requires one guide per 10 riders.
On-trail report: We rode out from camp into the canyon mouth. As we rode deeper into the canyon, the sheer cliffs got higher and higher. We rode primarily along a wash, sloshing through water.
Along the way, we stopped at significant archeological sites, and gathered round to hear stories about Navajo culture and Anasazi history from our Navajo guides.
Next, we rode to Standing Cow Ruins where the Navajo etched drawings into the canyon walls depicting the Spaniards’ arrival in the late 1700s. Twenty-three miles later, we arrived back at camp.
The second day, we rode to White House ruins, the second largest Anasazi ruins in the canyon. Occupied about 1,000 years ago, it’s the only place in the canyon that visitors can see without a guide ? after hiking down from the rim about 500 feet.
Our final destination was Mummy Cave, the largest Anasazi ruins site.
Season: The best time of the year to ride is spring and late fall. In the summer, temperatures can climb to the triple digits; in the winter, the canyon does get snow.