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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

canyon de chelly

Our trip to Canyon de Chelly for Rick's birthday was wonderful, inspiring, and exhausting. What more could we ask? Well... beer would have been nice. Naive white folks that we are, we didn't know that the entire, enormous Navajo Nation is dry as a bone, and I'm not talking about only the climate. If you go, and I hope you will, be sure to bring along your own liquid provisions, because you won't find a sip of anything anywhere. We had eight beers along in the cooler, and managed to ration them throughout the weekend. On the bright side, there was no chance for a hangover, and we were reacquainted with the refreshing taste of Fresca!

We stayed at the Thunderbird Lodge in Chinle. Nice, retro sort of place with a gift shop and marginal cafeteria. Not much in town either, but the food at the Holiday Inn was decent, and Pizza Edge was not too bad. Chinle is a weird little town. Dry and dusty, nothing to do, no street lights, and cows and horses wander loose on the roads. You have to be pretty careful if you go out at night, but since there's nowhere to go, it's fine to sit in the white plastic chairs outside your motel room and enjoy the evening breeze and the resident dog and cat who will become your new best friends if you have a bite of pizza to offer.

The only reason to go to that part of Arizona is to see Canyon de Chelly, and it's well worth the trip. We spent one whole day at the top of the canyon, driving along the rim and stopping at all the lookout points, camera and binoculars in hand. We also took a short hike that first day, a mile down to the White House Ruins. That little taste of the view from the bottom, in contrast to the view from the top, was enough to get us to sign up for the all-day truck tour the following day. Oh man, what fun that was. It's a big, gnarly, open-air truck that could climb just about anything, and our driver, Davidson, knew how to handle her. It was rough and bouncy, and the next morning we were feeling pretty beat up. It was like riding a sprinting rhino for eight hours. Totally fun. And the locals call it the Shake n' Bake for good reason. It's like an all day Disneyland ride. Something only a crazy tourist would do. But imagine spending a day winding through that long deep canyon, in knee-deep powdery sand one minute, and hard packed mud the next, surrounded by rocks and cliffs the colors of chocolate, cinnamon, and soot, fields of corn and sunflowers, dense groves of shiny green cottonwood, silvery olive trees, and willows just starting to yellow with the change of season. Imagine crossing winding streams over thirty times, eating lunch at the foot of an ancient Anasazi cliff dwelling, and pondering rock art hundreds of feet over head. Imagine what it must have been like to climb your way home to those rocky cliff houses, or to farm the land below. It's hard to comprehend, but a little bit easier after spending a day or two there.

Here are some pictures, starting with the drive, which took us by the Brazos Cliffs in New Mexico, and on to a short detour around Shiprock, to get a closer look. Every single minute on the road was worth the extra drive time.

Do you feel a little like you've been there too? I hope not. I want you to feel like you want to go there. Go everywhere. It's a pretty amazing world once we turn off the TV and head out the door.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the pictures and descriptions. New Mexico is not called the "Land of Enchantment" for nothing. I had the great good fortune to attend balloon rallys at Shiprock several times - and flew OVER shiprock in a hot air balloon twice. Awesome!!
Polly Anna

Diosa Domestica De La Locura said...

Beautiful photos! My husband and I plan on taking a road trip with our three daughters back to the wild west desert where I am originally from. All our girls have been born and raised here in Michigan, and have never seen the gorgeous, life changing desert their momma grew up in.

Thank you for sharing, and know that you have definitely uber-wetted my appetite to take my babies back to my desert heart!

Penny \IiiI

Anonymous said...

What an incredibly wild ride that appears to be. I hope Rick's back held up to it well. I'm so glad you all had the opportunity to visit; it seems like an extreme goodbye to the southwest - a real wow!


Anonymous said...

How ashamed am I living right here in Arizona and haven't been to canyon de chelly!

Thank you so much for sharing the fantastic photos of your trip with us.

I've just had bariatric surgery (lap-band) and am happy to be on the weight loss journey for real! As I lose more of this weight I'll use the stored up energy in my body to start taking more trips around my beautiful state and one day make it to New Mexico again!

Good luck on your trip to Ethiopia.

Beadily yours
Susan Feldkamp