Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

History in Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on August 14, 2009

History in Canyon de Chelly National Monumentt

Canyon de Chelly National Monument
04/01/09 – 04/02/09

Within these canyon walls is the longest continuously inhabited landscape in North America. Beginning with the ancient Basket Makers dating back to over 1,500 years ago to the modern Navajo who still farm and herd sheep in the canyon bottoms in the summer months, Canyon de Chelly has housed generations upon generations upon generations. These walls have seen birth, death, love, family, murder, brutality, spirituality and tradition. They have been the building materials for homes and villages. They have been the canvas for works of art. They have been the arenas for hunting, gathering, herding and farming. A full history within sandstone chasms.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument consists entirely of Navajo Tribal Trust Land that works in partnership with the National Park Service. The majority of the 84,000 acres within the park boundary is off limits to non-resident Navajo without the company of a designated Navajo guide.

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  ©Arizona Republic 2009            

In April of 2009 I was on a travel assignment for the Arizona Republic covering the national parks, monuments and historical sites on the Navajo reservation. While at Canyon de Chelly National Monument I hired hiking guide Ben Henry Jr. to not only see more of the park, but to hear first hand of this history. Ben grew up in the canyon and still farms the bottom. Ben took me down an informal trail across shelves and down sandstone walls as he told me about being a child growing up in the canyon. In the steeper sections we used hand holds and footholds carved out by earlier generations of Navajo. We walked along the canyon bottom as Ben talked about a mixture of the ancient past and his own personal experiences. We stopped to look at ancient Anasazi ruins, Navajo petrolglyphs from hundreds of years ago and a piece of land where Ben’s family still farms. Before we parted ways Ben invited me to meet his family during the farming season.

As I said goodbye to Ben and left Canyon de Chelly National Monument I felt a deep sense of peace. To hear the stories first hand, to walk on that earth and to share the company with someone from this history was a rejuvenating experience.