Canyon de Chelly National Monument: People Still Live Here & I Can See Why

Stunning scenery blends with Navajo culture

We know COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is impacting RV travel plans right now. For a little inspiration we’ll continue to share stories from our favorite places so you can keep daydreaming about your next adventure.

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “de shay”) has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo, who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

People have lived in the canyon for more than 5,000 years, archaeologists believe, making it the longest continuously inhabited area on the Colorado Plateau. Ancient ruins are tucked along its cliffs, as are centuries-old pictographs.

Chinle in the Navajo Nation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the mesa east of Chinle in the Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelly is invisible. Then as one approaches, suddenly the world falls away—1,000 feet down a series of vertical red walls.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sheer walls, shaped and smoothed by thousands of years of rain and wind, provide a dramatic backdrop for those who still live and farm within the canyon.

Navajo guides at Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are two ways to experience Arizona’s lesser-known canyon. You can drive along the rim stopping at overlooks to marvel at the vertical cliffs and stone spires and hike on one trail, the White House Trail. Otherwise, there is no entry into the canyon without a permit and Navajo guide. A popular choice is riding down the canyon aboard a 20-passenger tour truck.

Hiking White House Trail at Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly is managed through a partnership between the National Park Service and the Navajo Nation, and many areas, including the backcountry, are accessible only with a permit and an official Navajo guide. Start your visit to Canyon de Chelly at the visitor center to learn more about the history and rules at this unique place. To enhance your visit, a motoring guide and a trail guide are available at the bookstore in the visitor center.

Begin your visit to Canyon de Chelly National Monument at the Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads—the North and South Rim drives. The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800-foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls and a site of special significance for the Navajo.

Spider Rock at Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the visitor center to the last overlook is about 16 miles one-way. There are seven overlooks from which to view Canyon de Chelly. Watch for changes in vegetation and geology as the elevation rises from 5,500 feet at the visitor center to 7,000 feet at Spider Rock. Allow two to three hours for this drive—and considerably longer, if you’re a photographer.

Spider Rock at Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The third overlook, Junction, affords the first look at the canyon’s depth, and the signs warn that it’s a sheer drop of 600 feet to the bottom. Junction has views of Chinle Valley and the confluence of Canyon del Muerto and Canyon de Chelly.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The scenery elevates to spectacular at the Sliding Rock Overlook, about 700 feet above the canyon floor and site of ruins that once slipped off the canyon walls. Face Rock Overlook is even higher and sort of a prelude to the most magnificent of all—Spider Rock Overlook. From here you can see the volcanic core of Black Rock Butte and the Chuska Mountains on the horizon.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to legend, Spider Woman taught the Navajo how to weave and now lives on top of the spire that is covered with white limestone. The legend says the white stuff is the bones of bad children who were carried off by Spider Woman.

Sharing the White House Trail with Navajo sheep herders at Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also worthwhile, but not quite as scenic, the North Rim Drive has only three overlooks from which to view Canyon del Muerto. Some of the most beautiful cliff dwellings are along this 34-mile route from start to finish. Allow a minimum of two hours for this drive.

White House Ruins at Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t miss the White House Ruins. This is a superb hike. Long ago, hundreds of people lived in the structure built into the cliffs. Now the walls are a reminder of how life once thrived in the canyon.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For your efforts you’ll get an up-close look at White House ruins, mentioned in the Navajo Night Chant as “white house in between”. The trail begins at the White House Overlook and is a two- or three-mile round trip, depending on which signs you believe. Allow two to three hours to complete the trail. The drop from the rim to the canyon floor is 600 feet. Since the trail is considered moderately strenuous, hiking boots are recommended. Ensure you take plenty of drinking water, especially if you’re hiking in the summer’s heat.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

We didn’t inherit the earth; we are borrowing it from our children.

—Native American Proverb

Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West

The mesas, thin buttes, and the tall spires rising above the valley, and the contrasting orange sand, makes Monument Valley the most impressive landscape in the southwest

One of the most iconic and enduring landmarks of the American Wild West, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park has isolated sandstone mesas, buttes, and a sandy desert that has been photographed and filmed countless times.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley boasts crimson mesas, surreal sandstone towers which range in height from 400 to 1,000 feet. Made of de Chelly sandstone, which is 215 million years old, the towers are the remnants of mesas, or flat-topped mountains. Mesas erode first into buttes like the Elephant, which typically are as high as they are wide, then into slender spires like the Three Sisters.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The angle of the sun accents these graceful formations, providing scenery that is simply spellbinding.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is one of those sights that takes your breath away and makes you speechless—what the Western writer Zane Grey once described as “a strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptored, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.”

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii (or Valley of the Rocks) to the Navajo, they believe it is a gift from their creator and each unique formation has a story.

Entering Monument Valley is to enter a world of mystery, incredible beauty, and age-old tradition.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The landscape overwhelms, not just by its beauty but also by its size. The fragile pinnacles of rock are surrounded by miles of mesas and buttes, shrubs, trees, and windblown sand, all comprising the magnificent colors of the valley. All of this harmoniously combines to make Monument Valley a truly wondrous experience.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our visit to Monument Valley was in two parts: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and Goulding’s Trading Post.

Our first stop was the legendary Goulding’s Trading Post located just north of the Arizona-Utah border, six miles from the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After arriving Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in mid-afternoon and obtaining information about available options for exploring this wonderland of rocks, we departed the Visitor Center at Lookout Point and started the Valley Drive, a 17-mile self-guided dirt road. The road winds past the valley’s best red rock buttes and spires, with 11 stops for photos.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is considered one of the world’s premier spots for landscape photography. The best stops for photographing the towers are the Mittens and Merrick Butte, Elephant Butte, Three Sisters, John Ford’s Point, Camel Butte, The Hub, the Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei, Sand Springs, Artist’s Point, North Window, and The Thumb. The best times for photography are early mornings and late afternoons when the shadows lengthen and the sun brings out the reds and oranges in the buttes.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Allow at least two to three hours at the posted 10 mph. Expect to eat the valley’ orange dust, because other vehicles will kick up thick clouds of it during the dry weather that you’ll find in this high desert most of the year.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a swirl of red dust we dropped down into the valley rim in our four-wheel-drive dinghy with guide map in hand.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road is dusty, steep in a couple of places and rather uneven, but does not need a four-wheel-drive—the journey is suitable for the majority of family cars, and small to medium sized RVs, though the surface is perhaps not improved too much in order to increase business for the many Navajo guides and 4WD Jeep rental outfits, which wait expectantly by the visitor center. 

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though rough in many spots and probably impassable in wet weather, the road was easily travel on this day.

We wound our way past the Mittens, Elephant Butte, the Three Sisters, and to John Ford’s Point—named for the famous director who made movies in Monument Valley, many of them starring John Wayne.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The weather was perfect—sunny and warm—as we continued on past Camel Butte, the Hub, and to the Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei. The changing light and shifting shadows created an never-ending stream of views. Continuing on around Raingod Mesa and Artist Point, we timed our drive to return to the

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After photographing the amazing sunset we drove our toad east to our camping site at Cottonwood RV Park in Bluff, Utah, a round day trip of 119 miles.

Worth Pondering…

So this is where God put the West.

—John Wayne

Canyon de Chelly National Monument: A Truly Special Place

For nearly 5,000 years, people have lived in these canyons

A one-of-a-kind landscape and the cherished homeland of the Navajo people, Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly National Monument is a truly special place.

Spanning more than 83,000 acres, Canyon de Chelly National Monument offers an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in the wild Arizona landscape, and to learn more about the history of the Navajo people.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This unique park is located entirely on Navajo Nation land and offers a rich history with countless options for outdoor recreation.

Sheer cliffs rise on either side of this flat-bottomed, sandy ravine, an area created much the way uplift and water formed the Grand Canyon. Though only a fraction of the Grand Canyon’s size and majesty, Canyon de Chelly offers more than a rugged landscape. Native Americans have worked and lived there for thousands of years, and today Navajo people still call it home.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Canyon de Chelly’s blend of landscape and cultural heritage allows a glimpse at an area originally inhabited 4,000 years ago and which still sustains people today.

From the mesa east of Chinle in the Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelly is invisible. Then as one approaches, suddenly the world falls away—1,000 feet down a series of vertical red walls.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The sheer walls, shaped and smoothed by thousands of years of rain and wind, provide a dramatic backdrop for those who still live and farm within the canyon.

Chiseled by millions of years of stream-cutting and land uplifts, the colorful sheer cliffs of Canyon de Chelly National Monument may look harsh and barren, although in fact, natural water sources and rich soil make them anything but. These canyons have supported human inhabitants for thousands of years, from the Ancient Puebloans who planted crops and raised families here 5,000 years ago to their descendants—the Hopi people—who cultivated peach orchards and cornfields among the cliffs.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Navajo—also known as the Dine’—settled in the region much later, and Canyon de Chelly National Monument continues to be a protected land for Navajo people and their culture. The park was established in 1931, largely to preserve its rich archaeological sites, and to this day, the homes and farms of the Navajo are visible from the cliff tops.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Visitor Center: Start your visit to Canyon de Chelly at the visitor center to learn more about the history and rules at this unique place. To enhance your visit a free park map, activity schedule,  and trail guide are available.  The visitor center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Scenic drives: South Rim Drive and North Rim Drive, each more than 30 miles long, are excellent driving routes along the canyons. The scenery is spectacular, including the White House Ruin cliff dwellings and the 800-foot sandstone spire known as Spider Rock.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hiking: A self-guided hiking trail is located at the White House Overlook on the South Rim. The round-trip hike usually takes about two to three hours, leading down to the White House Ruin and back.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Ranger-led programs: A wide range of free ranger-led programs are available between Memorial Day and Labor Day, including talks and guided hikes into the canyons. Because of the sensitive nature of the canyons’ geology and historic artifacts, the only way to enter is with a ranger or an authorized guide from one of the private companies that offer canyon tours.

Camping: Primitive campsites are available at the Cottonwood Campground on a first-come, first-served basis. Showers and hookups are not available, and a camping fee is required.

Getting There

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

There is no entrance fee to visit Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and the main entrance is just east of Chinle, Arizona. Starting on Highway 191, take Route 7 about 3 miles east to the park entrance and visitor center. Gas, groceries, supplies, and a post office are available in Chinle, and there is also a camp store located at the visitor center.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Nearby Parks

Canyon de Chelly National Monument is nestled in a corner of northeastern Arizona where several national parks are within a few hours’ drive of each other, including: 

  • Petrified Forest National Park
  • Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
  • Grand Canyon National Park
Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

We didn’t inherit the earth; we are borrowing it from our children.

—Native American Proverb

5 Places No One Will Be Going In 2019 (And You Can Have All To Yourself)

If you are craving a getaway far from the madden crowds and off the beaten path, consider one of the following locations that you can have all to yourself

Popular road trips and tourist spots are usually known for a variety of different reasons.

Well-known tourist destinations offer numerous options for RVers and other travelers to enjoy a variety of things such as scenic landscapes, delectable cuisine, well known historical landmarks, a variety of recreational opportunities, and local festivals and other events that are distinctive to the area and not found elsewhere.

These popular destinations often come with a few drawbacks though. In addition to large crowds and congested traffic, finding a local RV park or campground within a reasonable driving distance and at a cost effective price point can be a major issue. Also, reservations are a must, and in some cases, need to be made up to a year in advance.

Although it can be fun to visit these popular bucket-list destinations for the significance of the place and the variety of options for entertainment and activities, if you are craving a getaway far from the madden crowds and off the beaten path, consider one of the following locations that you can have all to yourself.

Below, we take a look at five different places that offer the RV traveler just as many unique opportunities as well known and crowded locations but at lower prices and with a more relaxed atmosphere.

Cumberland Island, Georgia

Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Cumberland Island is designated a National Seashore and managed by the National Park Service. Visitors must purchase ferry tickets through the Park Service.

Cumberland Island is the largest barrier island along the Atlantic Coast with the longest expanse of pristine seashore—18 glorious miles of deserted sand. No docks, houses, or other structures interrupt its serene beauty. The island boasts a healthy expanse of vegetated dunes that make it one of the most important nesting spots for loggerhead sea turtles in all of Georgia, and a sanctuary for migrating shore birds.

Walterboro, South Carolina

For those reminiscing about the warmth and familiarity of an authentic small town, Walterboro provides the perfect opportunity to step back through time. Nature lovers can take advantage of South Carolina’s year-round balmy weather and enjoy the quiet solitude of the ACE Basin and The Great Swamp Sanctuary.

Visitors are reminded of the town’s early days as a summer retreat—tree-lined streets where quaint homes with broad porches and beautiful churches date to the 18th century.

Visitors love scouring the village’s dozen antique shops and shopping the Colleton Farmers Market for farm-fresh produce and delicious homemade food products.

Lassen Volcanic Peak National Park, California

Another oft-overlooked National Park Service site is Lassen Volcanic Peak, which gets lost in the splendor of the other national parks in California. Lassen Volcanic Peak is in the northern part of the state, and is best known for the astounding hydrothermal sites.

Hiking is the most popular activity here. Many established trails will take you past—and through—those bubbling springs, including Bumpass Hell, an area with acres of bubbling mud pots. As the name implies, Lassen Peak is a volcano. On the side of the mountain, visitors can observe lava rocks left by its last eruption, in 1917.

Hubbell Trading Post, Arizona

The squeaky wooden floor greets your entry. When your eyes adjust to the dim light in the “bullpen” you find you’ve entered a mercantile. Hubbell Trading Post has been serving Ganado selling goods and Native American Art since 1878. Little has changed in more than 140 years at the oldest operating trading post on the Navajo Reservation.

Visitors also can tour the Hubbell house; browse the visitor center (built in 1920 and used originally as a school); and see barns, corrals, wagons, and other historical farm equipment, as well as a variety of farm animals, including Churro sheep.

Valley of the Gods, Utah

This little valley near Bluff, Utah is filled with sandstone formations and starry night skies. Located in the southeastern corner of Utah it is out of the way of the main Grand Circle Tour. To drive through the Valley of the Gods you will take a 17-mile, unpaved loop. Similar to Monument Valley, but only a quarter of the size, it remains quiet and peaceful. Free BLM camping is offered within the valley, a unique opportunity not to be missed. What are you waiting for?

Worth Pondering…

Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it.

—Confucius