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March 20th Part 2: Canyon De Chelly National Monument

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<– Day 3 Part I – March 20th Part I: Dead Horse State Park | Overview | Day 4 & 5 – March 21 & 22: Joe and Joe in Mesa, FC Roundup Part I –>


Almost to the observation point at Spider Point, Canyon De Chelly, just before we dodged Craig . . .


This post covers our time in Canyon De Chelly, after which we drove to Flagstaff to spend the night.

For more than a decade Canyon De Chelly National Monument has been on my bucket list of places to visit. I’d read about the beautiful canyons and seen pictures of the Puebloan dwellings perched high within the walls. Yet, I had never visited the place, because its location deep within the Navajo Reservation has kept it from being a convenient side trip. In fact, if you do a search of the web, you’ll find a variety of potential visitors asking if it is worth the trip. While many of the responses gush over the place, Ann and I were deeply disappointed.

We arrived at 4pm under a cloudy sky, having driven through hundreds of miles of Navajo Reservation land (an experience in itself). The winds were blowing pretty good, adding to an already cool day. Fortunately we had plenty of warm clothes, so cold temperatures couldn’t stop us. We entered the visitor center to pay our park fee and learned that the park is free. We thought that strange, but took it as a sign of good fortune.

We told the ranger we knew little about the park and asked if he could make some suggestions on what to see. He described a north tour and a south tour, with the coup-de-grace being Spider Point, the farthest vista along the south drive. We chose to save the best for first and began driving along the south drive.

As soon as we entered the park, we saw the jeep tour sign. Then, there was cowboy woman’s coffee shack, and the term shack might be stretching it, for it wasn’t that nice. But, it was local flavor so we just mentioned it and moved on. But, the local flavor never disappeared. As we drove up the park road we’d see view points for the canyon on our left and Navajo homesteads on our right. As we talked about it, we realized we weren’t in a park, but in the Navajo’s back yard.

After twenty minutes of driving we rounded the Spider Point access road when we saw an unwashed filthy old man wearing a dora explorer pink backpack. He popped out of the bushes some distance in front of us, crossed the road, and was walking off into the middle of nowhere. Ann looked at me and said, “Well, that’s not odd . . .”  Several hundred feet later we saw these two young men of Navajo descent digging with a couple shovels on what seemed to be park land. It just seemed odd.


Spider Point Parking Lot Overlook at Canyon De Chelly. I liked the simple tubes for viewing. They really helped.

Ten minutes later we were standing at the parking lot at a fence with a beautiful view of the canyon. There was one other car, so it was very quiet. I particularly liked the low budget pointers used to direct visitor’s eyes to different Puebloan ruins. Just as I was beginning to think this might be a cool place, Craig showed up. Well, I guess he didn’t just show up, rather he jumped out of a plateless mini-van that barely slowed down before it sped off again.

It took all of thirty seconds for Craig to amble over to us and introduce himself. Craig’s high pitched  feminine voice was unexpected; so was the smell that followed him. Craig claimed that his grandmother owned the hogan that just happened to be located at the end of the walking path off of Spider Point. He asked if we like to see that? I said yes, just to see what his response was. He took off excitedly down the path to the observation point. Meanwhile, Ann saw two men of apparently Navajo descent disappear into the bushes nearby. We never did figure out where they went.

Given our location, Ann joked that her Spidey senses were on full alert. I had to agree with her, as something felt completely wrong with the situation. Yet, feeling intrepid, we decided to walk down to the observation point path so we could see the view. We found a cool spot and took some photos, lingering to let Craig disappear.

Eventually we made it to the observation point itself, though I could see Craig lurking at a point beyond the view point. After a few quick photos, neither of us were enjoying the view. It just felled odd. So, we decided to get out of there.


Spider Point at Canyon De Chelly

About a mile passed Spider point was another view point. Parked just to the side of the parking lot was the same van that dropped off Craig. Someone sat inside, waiting for something. So, we sped off to the main road.

At the main road, we began to weave our way back to the park entrance. We saw another spur road that led to another view point. What the heck, we thought. We drove to the parking lot, only to find a peddler of trinkets and necklaces waiting for anyone to appear. We’ve run across similar peddling at Four Corners and Gooseneck State Park in Utah, but never in a national park. That being the last straw, we decided to leave the park.

It turned out we couldn’t leave the park fast enough. The road back to the entrance had a speed limit of 45mph. The road had no shoulders. It bobbed and weaved down a hillside. I was traveling 50mph. A white car behind me was following at a reasonable distance. At one point I looked back at the car and, out of no where, a yellow school bus appeared. It was riding the rear of the white car. The bus was aggressive enough that it caught my attention.

We were halfway down to the park entrance when I saw the white car pull off at a view point. If I were the white car I would have done the same thing. In fact, because the bus was going to be behind me, I sped up to 55mph, figuring that would keep me ahead of the bus. It seems I thought wrong. I watched the bus round two corners behind me, the weight of the bus would cause it to lean. The driver compensated by veering multiple times into the opposing lane. It took several shifts of the steering wheel before the bus driver got control. Once the driver found a straight away, all he/she knew how to do was go fast, because even at 55mph, that driver caught me quickly .

I had two choices, I could remain at 55mph and have some freaking careless driver riding my butt, or I could pull off and let the driver go by. I chose the latter course, because I didn’t need to put our safety risk. Sure enough, that bus roared passed us and we never saw it again.

We thought about stopping at the Visitor’s Center and complaining, but it was closed by the time we arrived, so we bolted. Heck, we wanted our money back, even though we hadn’t paid anything!

As we were about to leave Chinle, the town where Canyon De Chelly is located, Ann noticed the High School had double perimeter fencing, an outside fence consisting of a security fence (barbed wire) and an inner fence. Between the two fences was a security car patroling the area. To enter the school a person had to go through a security booth. Given Chinle is in the middle of nowhere, it was surreal.

That was our image as we left the area. That school bus might as well have followed us out of town, because we weren’t wasting anytime leaving. Besides, there was nothing there that we hadn’t seen at Mesa Verde, Zion, Canyonlands, or other parks in the NPS or Utah State Park system.

We left Canyon De Chelly and drove to Flagstaff, where we spent the night. Tomorrow, March 21st, we will spend a little time in Flagstaff, then leave for Phoenix.

<– Day 3 Part I – March 20th Part I: Dead Horse State Park | Overview | Day 4 & 5 – March 21 & 22: Joe and Joe in Mesa, FC Roundup Part I –>


13 Comments on “March 20th Part 2: Canyon De Chelly National Monument

  1. Bob

    Sounds like getting out of there was the right thing to do! I’ve run into “Craig” all over the place, on a subway in South Korea, a Jeepney in the Philippines, even at swap meets!

  2. SE Pennsylvania Steve

    I’m glad you and Ann made it out of there intact, Dave. It all sounds like an episode of the Twilight Zone…

  3. tom

    i was thinking outer limits

    as dirty harry said; it’ll blow your head clear off. in times like these it pays to carry backup. dave you should have one traveling around like that.

  4. Jack

    That’s too bad. Chalk up another unsatisfactory visitor experience to the effects of a poorly funded National Park Service system. If the system were adequately funded there would be staff there to manage the resource and the experience. It’s not just Canyon de Chelly, NPS sites all across the country are affected. The resource and the visitor both suffer. I understand that our nation is in an economic crisis, but this is not a new issue. It’s been this way for decades. The sites within the NPS system are the treasures of our nation. Too bad they don’t get the support they need.

  5. slowfun

    Sadly……you have just experienced the current state of life on any Indian reservation in this country. It really has nothing to do with funding for national parks or funding for Indian reservations.

  6. Ed Lee

    That trip sounds like a story line for a new movie. I think I would have had to listen to spidy before I ever followed Craig down a trail in any situation. I’m glad to be reading your entry today. And remember, don’t ever leave home alone. (reference Tom’s comment)

  7. Jack

    Take away adequate law enforcement and basic government support services from any community in our country and there will be people who will step up to take advantage of that situation.

  8. DJ Bill

    As a previous poster said, you just experienced life on the rez…..It is a scary place. Not good for the tourism industry.

    More police presence might help but I doubt it. It is an attitude that is taught in the gangs that have tried to take over the Indian youth. Couple that with very little opportunity besides the tourism biz, and you get a whole generation of disenchanted kids with no future. Their only hope for a real job is to move off the rez. Or work for the government if they know someone.

    It is like a little third world country out there.. A few years back my job included towing away repoed cars on the rez, not a very fun job and you weren’t going to find anything left if you did succeed in finding your car. I picked up a 2 year old S-10 that was a rolling shell stripped of anything useable, which was typical of what was left when they were done. There are Navaho Police out there but they are few and far between, and have their hands full.

    I wouldn’t send anyone out there to Chinle to see the sights. You guys were smart to take off. Definitely not a place to be at night either.

  9. DC

    Spent some time on the Blackfeet res in Montana (Browning, MT). Every store had chain link and bars on the doors and windows. If a building was empty it had no windows. Even the phone booth had no glass! The schools and churches had ten foot fences with coiled wire at the top. The government would build a new subdivision and within a couple years there were junk cars in the yards, windows either left open or broken with curtains hanging out. That was my experience on the res.

  10. Gordon west

    I did some forestry consulting at the Ramah Navajo Chapter. Nice folks, kind of lacking in self-confidence around Anglos, but I found them to be smart, capable, and proud, nonetheless. The tourism thing attracts low-lifes everywhere that it isn’t well-regulated.

    I think the idea that packing heat to protect oneself from one’s fears to be a dangerous notion.

  11. Jack

    I made my original comments with the hope that I could use the Canyon de Chelly incident to highlight the underfunding that exists throughout the N.P.S. system. Our parks are deteriorating and they will continue to do so unless they get the support they need.

    I did not intend for it to be a comment on the reservation or those who live there.

    I’ve spent a fair amount of time on and around that reservation. I know the culture and the conditions. I also know there are many good people there who are working hard to make the best of difficult circumstances.

    In addition to northern Arizona, I’ve lived in N.Y.C., L.A., Phoenix, Ft. Laurderale, and traveled to a number of other large cities on both coasts. We need to be careful not to use too broad a brush stroke when describing any of those places.

  12. DC

    The Indian Nation’s problems are not their own. They are the result of government meddling and micro managing due to a guilt complex of what they have done to the tribes. The government took their lands to begin with and then never taught them to “fish”. So now they are dependent in much of their existence. Again, not so much of their own fault as of the government’s.

    As for the NPS, it is a shame the government can give, give, give to nations that hate the USA (to no avail), but underfund and under-staff the park service. Priorities are very messed up in the federal government.

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