The natives that guide you through Canyon De Chelly are very passionate about their historical heritage: the battles that their people have survived, the ceremonies they live by, and the dwellings that they carved out of the massive cliff sides. The Navajo people had to hide in the mountains, and for extended times they weren't even able to come down for food or water. The Human Chain is the story of how they created a chain by climbing down each other in the night to bring up baskets of water while their enemy slept. Many survived because of that daring task.
The diverse scenery changes dramatically about every hundred miles or so. New Mexico boasts varied desert fauna, Colorado teems with lush greenery, Utah is home to red rocks and Arizona, well Arizona has Canyon de Chelly - one of God's master creations.
Located in the northeastern corner of the state, Canyon de Chelly covers 83,840 acres that were carved out by streams and land uplifts many millions of years ago. Today, the canyon is inhabited by about 40 Navajo families who work the lush land and raise livestock.
You can easily drive along the rim and view the canyon below. But, even more interesting is to hike the White Rim Trail down to the basin below and witness life on the ground firsthand.
Canyon de Chelly, on the other hand, has a soul. The name comes from the Navajo "Tséyiʼ" meaning 'inside the rock' and that's exactly where you can go.
At the Grand Canyon, you can stand with hundreds of others at the safety fence and look into the big hole. At Chelly, you can walk down one of the traditional paths on bare rock down the canyon wall, and that's exactly what I did.
It isn't easy, the path is sometimes as narrow as 8" swerving back and forth down the canyon wall. Mountain goats sneer while you carefully pick your way over a rare icy spot.
At the bottom there are restrictions. You can't get close to the ancient sites, they're off limits, but the rest is wild and open.
A tiny native woman sells jewelry at the canyon floor. Beautiful jewelry in silver and turquoise. Feeling macho after the canyon wall descent, I bought some for the 'little woman' back home.
Of course all that macho faded immediately on the way back up the canyon wall. I was huffing and puffing when a Supermom jogged past me on the dangerous trail, carrying one child and pushing another in what looked like an all terrain pram made by Hummer. (Seriously, lady, you're making me look bad!)
If you go, the canyon is run by the the Navajo Nation and you must be accompanied by a ranger or official guide outside the White House ruin area.