Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Canyon de Chelly in the Snow

Canyon de Chelly National Monument in northeast Arizona is one of the most beautiful canyons in the southwest. The sheer walls of De Chelly sandstone were deposited 230 to 250 million years ago under desert conditions. The DeChelly sandstone is also visible in Monument Valley and is equivalent to the Cedar Mesa sandstone in southeast Utah.

In winter, the roads to the overlooks and parking areas are cleared of snow. The climate today at the mouth of the canyon is mostly dry but the upper ends of the canyon catch the winter storms. The melting snows make this area one of the best watered areas of the Navajo Reservation. There are seven overlook areas on the south rim and three on the north rim. Only the White House Ruins Trail can be hiked without an official guide.

In mid February the White House Ruins Trail is clear with patches of snow on the north facing slopes. The trail is a 3 miles round trip with 600 feet of elevation change. On a 40 F degree day the canyon tours are running and Navajo vendors have displays of their artwork for sale. There is a small alcove type arch along the trail in the upper part of the trail. The canyon walls around the White House ruins have some small pictographs to find.
The Navajo Fortress in at the Antelope House Overlook on the north rim. The Navajo are an Athabascan speaking people that entered Canyon de Chelly about 300 years ago. The canyon came to support good corn fields and peach orchards. Raids and counter raids between the Navajo and their Indian and Spanish enemies dragged on for 100 years with the Navajo Fortress becoming one of the refuges used against attack.

The Navajo Fortress lies at the junction of Del Muerto and Black Rock Canyons. This site continued to be used into the 1860s. Navajo Fortress appears to be connected to the adjacent canyon walls but it is actually an island of rock.

Mummy Cave Ruins is featured on the cover of the park brochure. The Mummy Cave overlook is about 12 miles up the canyon along the north rim. This spectacular site might be the longest occupied Ancestral Pueblo site in the canyon. The view from the overlook is a long distance away, but the structures in the center tower of the site appear to be very well preserved. They are described as Mesa Verde in style and contrast with the coarser style on each side. Perhaps people from Mesa Verde moved here after 1280.

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