Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona Exudes Tribal History

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Canyon de Chelly National Monument is located in northeastern Arizona on land that belongs to the Navajo Nation. This is the only National Park that consists entirely of American Indian trust land and a Navajo community still exists within the boundaries of the national monument.

Established in 1931, Canyon de Chelly National Monument stretches over 131 miles (about 84,000 acres) and consists of three canyons: de Chelly, Monument, and del Muerto. These canyons were formed when headwaters cut through the adjacent Chuska Mountains.

The monument was created in order to protect and preserve early Native American structures and artifacts indicative of life in this portion of the country. Both the Navajo and the Anasazi (ancient Pueblo) tribes once inhabited this land which, in addition to ruins, features many spectacular geologic formations. The National Park Service and the Navajo Nation work together to maintain the park and help lessen the impact of tourism on the area.

Most individuals choose to explore the park via a self-driven auto tour. These tours remain on the rims of the canyons. They are safe and provide a picturesque view of the area and many of the ruins and interesting natural formations. The South Rim is a 36-mile round trip drive that takes about 2 hours to accomplish and provides 7 overlook areas. From this rim, visitors can catch a glimpse of Spider Rock, the park's main attraction, an 800-foot-high sandstone formation that rises from the canyon floor at the junction of de Chelly and Monument Canyons. Easy to recognize, Spider Rock has been used in many television commercials, TV shows, and movies. The North Rim, which is just a little shorter, also takes about 2 hours to traverse and provides 4 overlooks that explore Canyon del Muerto.

The canyon floors can only be explored via a 4-wheel-drive vehicle that's operated by a park ranger or an authorized Navajo guide. The tours can be booked at the Visitor Center. Reservations are strongly suggested and tours are limited to a certain number each day to lessen the impact on the land.

Two National Park Service-authorized stables offer equestrian tours of the Canyon de Chelly National Monument area. Tours can be booked by the hour with extended or overnight rides available. Reservations are advisable.

Again, because of the fragility of the ruins, hiking is not permitted in the area unless accompanied by a ranger or authorized Navajo guide, except for the 2.5-mile White House Ruins Trail. This two-hour round trip descends from the South Rim to the canyon floor 600 feet below. All other hiking tours can be booked at the Visitor Center and usually consist of groups of about 15 individuals.

A year-round campground is located near the Visitor Center and is booked on a first come, first serve basis. Group tent camping is also available. No backcountry camping is permitted unless an authorized guide is present.

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