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.