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Worth Considering: A Trip To Canyon de Chelly National Monument


A rugged landscape sprawls across Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Thunderbird Lodge photo.

If you're searching for a unique spot in the National Park System to visit, you might want to seriously consider Canyon de Chelly National Monument.

Located in eastern Arizona, this monument provides a portal into the past when ancient civilizations lived in cliff dwellings and coaxed life out of a demanding landscape. The Navajo community that still resides here provides a modern-day context, and provides interpretation of their ancestors.

If you're wondering where to stay, there's one lodge located inside the monument, the 74-room Thunderbird Lodge, and this summer it's offering a pretty good deal on rooms and tours. From March 1 through November 15 rates for an “Adobe” room with two queen beds are $110 per night for single occupancy and just $6.50 for each additional person.

Rates for a “de Chelly” room featuring two double beds are $105 for a single and $6.50 for each additional person. A suite with a king bed and queen sofa sleeper is available for $155 for a single or double occupancy, $160 for triple occupancy and $165 for quad occupancy.

The lodge sits on the site of a trading post built in 1896, and its cafeteria-style restaurant is located in the trading post’s original building. The Thunderbird Lodge gift shop and rug room offer some of the region’s finest examples of Native American jewelry, rugs, artwork and crafts.

Canyon de Chelly is considered sacred land and one of the historically and culturally significant places in the Navajo Nation. With the exception of one short hiking trail, the canyon can only be explored in the company of a Navajo guide.

At Thunderbird Lodge they can arrange authorized group half- and full-day tours in six-wheel drive touring vehicles operated by experienced and knowledgeable Navajo guides. Visitors see prime examples of Anasazi ruins, pictographs, petroglyphs and the sites of confrontations between the Navajo and the Spanish, Mexican, and American governments.

Rates for full-day tours with lunch are $74 per person. Half-day tours are priced at $46 for adults and $34.50 for children 12 and under.

Thunderbird lodge also offers two packages this summer. The “Back-to-the-Basics” family package is offered throughout July 2009 and features one night of accommodations in a “de Chelly” room as well as half-day canyon tours and T-shirts for the family. Rates for two adults and one child are $280 and $365 for two adults and two children. The rates for these packages represent a savings of 15 percent compared to the items purchased separately. Extra nights and a full-day tour upgrade are also available.

The lodge offers a two-night package through Oct. 31, 2009 called the “Magical History Tour.” The package features two nights in the lodge, continental breakfast for two each morning, a 10 percent discount in the gift shop, a canyon tour for two people and a copy of a DVD called “Canyon de Chelly: American History, Heritage and Tradition.” The two-night package with a half-day tour is priced at $363, and the package price for two nights with a full-day tour is $415. The rates are for two people based on double occupancy.

For reservations, call 1-800-679-2473.

Now, the monument can take a while to reach. It's a four-hour drive from Albuquerque, New Mexico, five-and-a-half hours from Phoenix, seven hours from Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas and approximately nine hours from Denver.

But there are quite a few other park units in the region, places like the Navajo National Monument, the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, Wupatki National Monument, and Petrified Forest National Park that would justify spending a week or more in the area.


You forgot to mention Cottonwood Campground. Although the sites have no hookups it provides water and a dump station and many beautifully shaded spots. And - it's free. Also, the entire canyon rim is accessible by car and the views are amazing. The tribe keeps the overlooks clean and regulates the vendors so that you are getting authentic Navajo crafts from sellers who sit and wait for business but do not solicit you. We bought native american flutes from a man who played them over the rim of the canyon - amazing!

This is an absolutely beautiful place. It is on the Navajo reservation which is an interesting place in itself if you've never been on the rez. Also be sure to go by Hubbell Trading Post. I remember reading about that place when I was a kid and it looked exactly the same as those old pictures. Prices are very reasonable at the Post and they offer authentic goods. Arizona is a wonderful place - every square inch of it.

"With the exception of one short hiking trail..."

Yeah, but what a trail. It's an exhilarating hike to the bottom of the Canyon to see the White House dwelling. I was sorry that I didn't have enough time to go into the canyon with a guide. Next time.

Do you know whether there's snow in the Canyon in early April? When is the earliest in the year that we can be pretty assured of not hiking in the snow?

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