Hiking in Canyon de Chelly
This is the fifth part of a series that describes a trip we took several years ago. If you have not read the first part, click here.
In the morning we packed up and drove along the south rim of the canyon. We pulled over to enjoy our first view of Canyon de Chelly, pronounced (Shey). This canyon isn’t as deep as some are, but it was beautiful. The reds and browns of the rock contrasted with the rich green of the canyon floor. I watched a tiny pick up truck drive silently along a narrow line of road, turn, and pass out of view. I changed my mind, the canyon was deeper than it seemed.
We drove on to the White House Trail pullout and walked to the viewing area. The waves and ridges of the rocks working their way down drew our eyes, and near the bottom we could see the tiny white Anasazi house tucked up against the red rock. I was thrilled, this was a ruin older than any I had ever visited. The Navaho didn’t know these Indians, but only knew of their ruins, and they called them Ancient Ones, or Anasazi.
“That looks like a long, hot, long hike, “said one kid.
“Well, we will need plenty of water.” I looked pointedly at Anna, who sighed but nodded.
“First, can we eat?” asked Joseph.
Back at our van we pulled out coolers to sit on, and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
An RV was parked nearby with the screen door open and I could hear them eating lunch as well. I said hello to a mom and her two kids as they walked by, and we quickly fell into conversation. In a few minutes she asked me if I home schooled my children. I nodded and she said she guessed as much because we were so easy going, just travelling around and eating peanut butter and jelly. She and her children continued on to enjoy the view. While lacing up my boots I smiled, thinking about her words.
“Have peanut butter will travel, that’s us.”
We gathered sunscreen, water bottles, hats and snacks, and started down the trail. Quickly we were walking on rock, striated and beautiful. The rock walls were colorful and busy, so bright that I felt dizzy. We walked through a rock tunnel, and the shade was a relief. This was only 10:30 in the morning. As we continued down we were passed by different groups of Navaho. A man nearly flew down past us, carrying a backpack full of tubes of long papers and art supplies. I thought he might have been an artist hurrying down to catch the right light conditions.
The walk was steep at times, and somewhat exposed, but it never felt dangerous or too difficult for our youngest, Laura. Taken with the natural beauty, we all enjoyed the walk. Finally we reached the flat of the canyon floor. We walked past farmlands, and by a stream. Soft purple flowers hung out over the trail. We climbed a slight rise to reach the ruins, and found a crowded bazaar. Tables were set up with displays of jewelry, pottery and art. The Navaho that had passed us were cheerfully selling their crafts and paintings. How unreal to find a craft fair at the end of a hike. Of course my girls wanted to shop, but I had no money. I’ve never hiked with cash in my pockets before; it isn’t like we find coke machines and beads behind every tree.
A fence had been set up to protect the Anasazi house, and we stood gazing at the building and the petroglyphs. The United States of America is a young country, and yet here is evidence that people were living here in societies just after the time of Christ. I was in awe. We didn’t need to go to Europe to see Ancient Cathedrals; they were here. I had always wanted to travel the world, but I had no idea how interesting my own country could be, and how diverse. It is so easy to overlook the familiar, and to ignore our own history.
The first evidence of the Anasazi was dated to around 90 AD, but generally they were thought to be living here by the 4th century, and they seemed to have disappeared around the 13th century. Although there are many theories as to why and where they went, no one really knows, not yet anyway.
After a long peaceful lunch, and some window-shopping, it was time to hike the 600 feet back up to the car. Canyon hiking is mountain hiking in reverse, saving the uphill battle for the end of the trip, when we are tired. The air was dry and dusty, and very hot. We had to walk more slowly, pacing ourselves, and remembering to drink. On the climb up the canyon we walked over fine red rock, and we enjoyed two small cave tunnels as we passed through. Finally we reached the car, hot and dry.
I looked over at the dusty children, pulled my water bottle out, aimed it at an unsuspecting sunburned neck, and squirted. Instantly the 4 of us were squirting and dodging water, laughing and cooling off. After another peanut butter and jelly sandwich we began the long drive towards the Grand Canyon.