Canyon de Chelly
Canyon de Chelly is a long trident shaped canyon in the north west slope of the
Defiance Uplift, carved by
erosion from running streams. The incredible vertical walls of crossbedded de Chelly sandstone make access to the
canyon bottom difficult. As such, it proved a protective home for many ancient
and modern native American peoples.
The canyon begins near the crest of the uplift with one arm, Canyon del Muerto,
beginning near Tsaile, home of Navajo Community College (now Diné College), with Tsaile Lake at
the end of the northern branch. Several of the southern branches of the dendritic
system converge in the vicinity of Spider Rock where the vertical cliffs reach
heights of 800-1000 feet. At this part of the canyon, the Cutler red beds are exposed beneath the de Chelly sandstone layers. The main branches
join at Junction Overlook where several small ruins can be seen high in the walls.
This overlook is also a spectacular site from which to watch the sunset, especially
during the summer when lightning flashes over the Chuska Mountains in the east and
cool breezes drift over.
The canyon ends in the west when the de Chelly
sandstone plunges under the surface just east of Chinle.
If, like me, you are confused by the terms used to designate geologic time,
a chart, based upon one given in
Roadside Geology of Arizona by H. Chronic is available.
Some historical pictures of Canyon de Chelly are available online
from the National Archives American West Still Images page. These are:
- "Distant view of Ancient Ruins in lower part of Cañon de Chelly
[Ariz. Terr.] ... Showing their
position in the walls and elevation above bed of cañon." A member of
the Wheeler Expedition is
sketching the ruins from the foreground of the photograph. Photograph by
Timothy O'Sullivan, 1873. 77-WE-4l.
- "Pieces all saved." Man with parts of his wagon and equipment on
muddy floor of Canyon de
Chelly, Navajo Reservation, Ariz. Terr. Photograph by D. Griffiths, September
13--19, 1903. 83-FB-2033.
Approximately a dozen photographs of Canyon de Chelly can be
found in the Special
Collections and Archives Department, Cline Library, Northern Arizona University.
- Navajo Sacred Places, Klara Bonsack Kelley, Harris Francis, Indiana Univ Press.
- Native Roads : The Complete Motoring Guide to the Navajo and Hopi Nations,
- Fran Kosik, George Hardeen, Creative Solutions Pub.
- Named in Stone and Sky : An Arizona Anthology, Gregory McNamee (Editor),
- Univ of Arizona Press.
- Basin and Range, John McPhee, Noonday Press.
- Navajo Country : A Geology and Natural History of the Four Corners Region, Donald Baars, Univ. New Mexico Press.
- The Colorado Plateau : A Geologic History, Donald L. Baars, Univ of New Mexico Press.
- Roadside Geology of Arizona, Halka Chronic, Mountain Press.
© 1994 Karen M. Strom
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