Bluff(ing) our way to Canyon de Chelly

When last we were in the land of Internet connectivity, we left you in Bluff, Utah – population 320.  After driving through Monument Valley with a stop at Goulding’s Trading Company for some great Navajo tacos, we arrived in Bluff to spend the night at the historic Decker House Inn.  We were met by Sandy the innkeeper in one of the town’s more substantial homes, and shown to a wonderful double room where we could all spread out.  Needless to say, Andrew and Claire were pleased!

Bluff is located in the middle of a very harsh landscape of red sandstone and deep gorges.  The town was settled by Mormon pioneers in the middle of the 19th century, and some of the buildings from that era (such as the Decker House Inn) have survived.  Even with such a small population, Bluff had some good restaurants, probably the best quality trading post we’ve seen so far, and a historic preservation organization which had prepared walking tours and great brochures of the town’s history.  After a scrumptious breakfast served by Kaye (her son is married to Sandy’s daughter), we visited the trading post in Bluff, took a picture (at the front of this post) of the “Navajo Twins” – backdrop to the town – and hit the road for Canyon de Chelly.

Canyon de Chelly (pronounced d’SHAY) National Monument was a wonderful find for us.  Archaeological evidence has shown that people have lived in these canyons for nearly 5,000 years, and although it is a national monument, Navajos still live in the canyon during the summer months and the guides and businesses are all Navajo.  The Navajo entered the canyon about 300 years ago, where they established a farming community raising corn and peaches.

We arrived in time to join a tour of the canyon floor led by our Navajo guide David, who grew up in Canyon de Chelly and has been giving tours for 28 years.  Over the next 3 1/2 hours we drove through the dry river bed and stopped along the way to hear of the farming practices of the Navajos, admire the sheer cliff walls of the canyon, and learn of the actions of Kit Carson to rid the canyon of Navajos in the late 1800s.  We saw houses and hogans from the historic period as well as the present.  Families that were living in the canyon today were still in evidence.

Canyon de Chelly is really three canyons (we made our way into two), and the walls of the canyon (see photo at right) rise from 30′ at the opening to over 1,000 feet deep into the canyons.  David, our guide, told wonderful stories and patiently answered our questions throughout the afternoon.  Continuing the pattern we saw at the Grand Canyon, we toured with huge groups of European visitors.  (Is ANYONE left in Europe?)  When we went to dinner that evening at the Navajo-run Thunderbird Lodge, we all agreed it was a very special tour that we’d all remember.

More to come from Mesa Verde…

DJB

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