Wednesday, May 11
Early in the morning the crew and I pull out of the Wheatfields Lake camp. Route 12 takes us northwest to Tsaile.
The map below is a photo of a page out of my Arizona Benchmark atlas.
The purple area is Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Route 12 is on the righthand side. Tsaile is at the top, right of center.
This route takes us along the north rim of the canyon. We drive out to Massacre Cave Overlook. The road is two-lane paved, ending in a large parking lot.
Good! No tourists.
A Navajo woman and a boy are setting up a display of jewelry at the back of their pick-up truck.
I leave the crew in the Perfect Tow Vehicle and follow the paved walkway (wheelchair accessible) to the lookout point.
In order to gain a sense of how far down the canyon floor is from the lookout point, imagine there are black cows grazing by the trees below. There ARE black cows grazing, barely visible while standing at the lookout and not visible in this photo.
A sign informs me that the Navajo call this Adah Aho’ doo’ or “The place where two fell off.” To read about the origin of this name, as well as the massacre, follow this link.
Here’s a closer look. See the tiny structure in the upper right?
I stand at the overlook for a long time, long enough to let the grim account of Massacre Cave recede from my consciousness. I listen to the birds and feel the slight breeze. I gaze at the light and shadow on the rocks and at the stream threading its way through the trees below. I imagine walking there or riding a horse.
It would be foolish for me to attempt to describe the aura of Canyon de Chelly.
A short drive and we come to another parking lot, this one for the overlook for Mummy Cave. Again, a pick-up truck. A Navajo man is setting out his wares. No one else around.
“You’re being such good puppies!” I praise the crew. “I’ll be back in a little while.”
It is estimated that people have lived in Canyon de Chelly for 5,000 years.
Look closely at the photo below to see the dwellings in the sandstone cliff. They’re about 300 feet above the green area.
I encourage you to read this article (or any others you may find by searching) about the ancient peoples who lived here: “Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Chinle, Arizona”
The town is a-buzz as I stop for gas and a walk-about with the crew. The contrast between the serene stillness of the canyon and the frenetic pace and raucous noise of cars and people is jarring.
To say the least!
I understand that the southern rim of the canyon — places like Spider Rock — is absolutely astounding. Even so, we don’t go there. No, not this trip.
Have you ever been guilty of this? You look at something that deserves your time, reflection and respect. Instead you go, “Okay, seen it. Next! Okay, seen that. Next! Okay, got it. Next! What time is it? Okay, one more. Seen it. Let’s go!”
When you’re done, you feel glutted. You have a meaningless collection of photos and you’re dull-witted.
“Been there, done that” is not the way I want to remember magnificent, soul-stirring Canyon de Chelly.
“Settle in for a long ride, crew. We’ve got some miles to go today!”
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