Canyon de Chelly

(pronounced "De Shay")

Canyon de Chelly was established in 1931 as a National Monument encompassing three major canyons. The steep stained walls preserve ancient ruins of the once thriving Anasazi Indians. There are over 700 ruin sites, petroglyphs and cliff dwellings from the prehistoric Anasazi and historic Navajo periods.

Navajo people still live within the monument and farm the fertile valleys the way their ancestors did centuries ago.

House Under the Rock

This site was inhabited for about a thousand years beginning in 300 AD. At about 1296 AD the Anasazi from Mesa Verde may have moved here and constructed the main tower as determined from the architecture. The cliff walls are about 700 feet at this site. Discovery of two well preserved mummies led members of an 1880 archeological expedition to call this site Mummy Cave Ruins. The traditional Navajo name for this impressive ruin translates to "House Under the Rock".

Two Fell Off

It was from this vantage point that the Spanish soldiers may have fired upon the Navajos during the infamous "massacre of 1803". Spanish accounts describe a battle against Indians "... entrenched in an almost inaccessible point ..." and the killing of 90 warriors and 25 women and children. The Navajo, however say many men were away hunting at the time. Thus the dead were mostly women, children, and old men who had sought refuge from the invaders.

The Navajo call the alcove Adah Aho' doo' nili - Two Fell Off - referring to a brave Navajo woman who grappled with a soldier and tumbled to her death, dragging the enemy with her.

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An impressive view of the canyon. The canyon walls range from 600 to 700 feet in this area. There are still Navajo families living on the bottom of the canyon and on the rim.

 

People of the Great Planted Fields

When bands of Navajo first arrived in the Southwest, the Anasazi pueblos in Canyon de Chelly were deserted ruins. By 1600 the Navajo had become seminomadic farmers. A century later they were known for their sheep, blankets of finely woven wool and fields of corn.

The name Navajo is a Indian word meaning "Great Planted Fields". Dine'é - The People - is what the Navajo call themselves.

Canyon de Chelly provided the Dine'é with two important necessities: a suitable location to raise crops and herd sheep, and protection from their enemies.

Running Antelope

Prehistoric Anasazi people lived in this spectacular site for almost 600 years. The earliest pit-houses date about AD 700. By AD 1050 stone dwellings were being constructed. Some of the walls you now see were built as late as AD 1250.

Throughout this time, the life style of the Anasazi changed in many ways. They improved their skills in making pottery. The ancient throwing spear was replaced by bows and arrows. Gradually, they increased their reliance on crops cultivated in nearby fields, and flocks of turkeys kept in the village. They also raised cotton and made finely woven cotton cloth.

Navajo Fortress

By 1750 the Navajo was farmer and herdsman. Yet he remained a warrior, fighting his Indian enemies as well as the encroaching Spanish settlements. Raids and counter-raids dragged on for more than 100 years. "Stairways" of movable, notched poles were positioned to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.

Sliding House Ruins

The Navajo know this prehistoric Anasazi village site as Kináázhoozhi, which means Sliding House. It is an apt description. The dwellings were constructed upon a steeply sloping ledge, and even the ingenius Anasazi builders were unable to keep many of the walls from slipping.

Despite the precarious footing, evidence suggests that at one time this was a large village of from 30 to 50 rooms. Occupation of the site probably began around AD 900 and continued for about 300 years.

 

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E-mail: ron@neartime.com