If you heard about Canyon de Chelly, I’m sure you would like to see it.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Even if it is not really close to any national parks of the concentrated Four Corners, it can be added to the itinerary on the way from Monument Valley, maybe on the way to Colorado’s Mesa Verde. It is well worth it. The whole area, next to town of Chinle, is on Navajo Nation land and therefore, federal government can act in advisory function only. Forty families of Navajo live in the confines of the park. The Canyon de Chelly National Monument was authorized by president Herbert Hoover in 1931, in order to preserve archaeological resources witnessing the long history of human occupation. Today it is the only National Park site completely located within Navajo Nation.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Basically the park consists of floors and rims of three canyons, de Chelly, del Muerto (Canyon of Dead) and Monument canyons and spreads over 340 km2. The elevation of the bottom of the canyon is around 1800 m and the rim about 2300 m. The canyons had been cut by streams flowing from Chuska mountains at the eastern part of the canyons.
Most of these streams are seasonal and exist as dry washes during heat of the summer weather. Word Chelly comes from Navajo word ‘tseyi’ which means canyon; Spanish transcribed it as chelly, English took over the name and pronounced it French-way as ‘shey’. For the view of the canyons you can use rim viewpoints along the North Rim Drive following Canyon del Muerto or South Rim Drive along Canyon de Chelly. At a certain point you can hike into the canyons to have first hand experience. For visiting the Monument Canyon you have to hike in, unless you can arrange for a guided tour to the bottom of the canyons.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
History of this area goes far in the past, maybe 3000 years. The documented finds date Anasazi (the ancient ones) from about year 350 to about 1300 when they disappeared from here, possibly moved. The vacuum was filled in 1700s with present Navajo Nation, who call themselves Dine. Ancient ruins a geological features are well visible from the rim of the canyons. Two most important and largest Anasazi ruins are the White House and Mummy Cave. The geological formation come mostly in colours of Navajo sandstone, in this case called de Chelly sandstone, originating in Permian (200 million years old), in shades of red and yellow.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
The most conspicuous of all is the Spider Rock, a twin sandstone spire, over 200 m tall, which is located at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon. According to a Navajo legend, the taller spire is the home of Spider Grandmother.
While eroded rock walls are picturesque enough, de Chelly sandstone cleaves to produce immense arches and bays and all manner of rippled and shell-like structures. Imposed on these shapes, giving emphasis by contrast, oxidation has added to to the yellow, and orange stone, a blue and purple cast; and lichens and minute vegetation in the cracks of the rocks are adding a texture of tapestry. Surrounding landscape is typical desert-like Colorado Plateau with elevation around the canyons of about 2300 m.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Characteristic vegetation of the plateau is Two-needle Pinyon (Pinus edulis), Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma), Gambel’s Oak (Quercus gambelii), Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) and low scrub-grassland. Close to water you find Fremont Poplar (Populus fremontii) and Rio Grande Poplar (Populus deltoides var. wislizeni) and a variety of willows (Salix spp.). Unfortunatelly in Canyon de Chelly the native trees have to compete with 2 aggressively invasive pests, Tamarisks (Tamarix parviflora, T. chinensis and their hybrids) and Russian Olive (Eleagnus angustifolia), which inundate the banks of streams in profusion, creating thickets of their own and suppressing native plants.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
On the rim two species of yucca can be seen, Narrow-leaf Yucca (Yucca angustissima) and Banana Yucca (Yucca baccata) along with 13 species of cacti, namely three colourful Echinocereus, E. coccineus, E. triglochidiatus and E. fendleri, 5 species of Opuntia and 2 of Cholla (Cylindropuntia), and a rarer Sclerocactus wipplei.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Within the canyon with available seasonal moisture herbaceus plants can be found in high numbers. It is documented the number exceeds 750 species. Many are endangered or threatened and many are endemic to the region. As examples we can quote Carex specuicola, Zigadenus vaginatus, and as endemic, Astragalus chuskanus, Cirsium chellyense, Lupinus caudatus subsp. cutleri and white-flowered form of Mertensia oblongifolia.
Among more common we can mention over 20 species of sedges (Carex and Scirpus spp.), 2 beautiful lilies, Sego Lily (Calochortus aureus) and Mariposa Lily (Calochortus gunnisonii), not that common Ephedras (Ephedra cutleri, E. torreyana, E. viridis), Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris), 10 species of Fleabane (Erigeron spp.), 10 species of Cryptantha, Phacelia alba, 7 species of Globemallow (Sphaeralcea spp.), 4 Four O’clocks (Mirabilis spp.), 10 species of Evening Primrose (Oenothera spp.), 8 species of Beardtongue (Penstemon spp.), and on and on. 771 species altogether.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument supports a variety of both resident and migratory birds. Hasty and Fletcher (1981) listed 143 species of birds occurring in the monument and surrounding area, of which 54 species were identified as permanent residents, 57 species were summer residents, 12 were winter residents, and 20 were migrants. Based on recent amphibian and reptile surveys, tiger salamander, red-spotted and Woodhouse toads, canyon treefrog, and at least one species of spadefoot toad occur in the monument. Most of these species occur in the canyon bottoms, wet side canyons, and wetlands.
Nine lizard species are known to occur in the monument, of which eastern fence, sagebrush, and plateau striped lizards are most common. Five snake species have been recorded, including the prairie rattlesnake which is rarely seen. 41 mammal species are occurring in the Canyon de Chelly region, of which 26 species were actually documented in the monument.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Sampler of plants to be seen in Canyon de Chelly:

Adiantum capillus-veneris
Acer negundo
Agoseris glauca
Allium geyeri

Alnus incana subsp. tenuifolia
Alyssum minus
Amaranthus powellii
Ambrosia artemisiifolia
Amelanchier utahensis
Apocynum cannabinum
Aquilegia elegantula
Artemisia bigelovii
Artemisia ludoviciana
Artemisia tridentata
Asclepias engelmannii
Asplenium resiliens
Astragalus brandegeei
Astragalus chuskanus
Astragalus lonchocarpus
Atriplex argentea
Beckmannia syzigachne
Bouteloua gracilis
Calochortus aureus
Calochortus gunnisonii
Carex aurea
Carex filifolia
Carex geophila
Carex specuicola
Castilleja linariifolia
Cercocarpus montanus
Cheilanthes feei
Chrysothamnus greenei
Cicuta douglasii
Cirsium chellyense
Cleome serrulata
Comandra umbellata
Cryptantha crassisepala
Cryptantha gracilis
Cucurbita foetidissima
Cystopteris fragilis
Cystopteris tenuis
Datura wrightii
Delphinium nuttallianum
Descurainia incana
Dieteria canescens
Dimorphocarpa wislizeni
Echinocereus coccineus
Ephedra cutleri
Ephedra torreyana
Ephedra viridis
Epipactis gigantea
Ericameria nauseosa
Erigeron concinnus
Erigeron flagellaris
Eriogonum alatum
Eriogonum corymbosum
Euphorbia brachycera
Frasera paniculata
Frasera speciosa
Galium triflorum
Gaura coccinea
Geranium richardsonii
Glycyrrhiza lepidota

Grindelia squarrosa var. serrulata
Gutierrezia sarothrae
Hedysarum boreale
Helianthus petiolaris
Heterotheca villosa
Hordeum jubatum
Ipomopsis longiflora
Iris missouriensis
Juncus ensifolius
Juncus mexicanus
Juniperus monospermum
Juniperus scopulorum
Lemna minor
Lepidium densiflorum
Linum lewisii
Lithospermum incisum
Lupinus brevicaulis
Lygodesmia grandiflora
Mahonia repens
Mertensia oblongifolia
Mimulus guttatus
Mirabilis linearis
Mirabilis multiflora
Nicotiana attenuata

Oenothera caespitosa subsp. navajoensis
Opuntia fragilis
Opuntia polyacantha
Orobanche fasciculata
Oxytropis lambertii
Packera multilobata
Penstemon lentus
Phacelia alba
Phlox hoodii
Picea engelmannii
Picea pungens
Pinus ponderosa
Populus fremontii
Populus tremuloides
Potamogeton foliosus
Prosartes trachycarpa
Pseudotsuga menziesii
Purshia tridentata
Quercus gambelii
Ranunculus macounii
Ratibida columnifera
Rubus parviflorus
Rudbeckia laciniata
Sclerocactus wipplei
Solanum jamesii
Sphaeralcea coccinea
Sphaeralcea leptophylla
Streptanthus cordatus
Symphoricarpos oreophilus
Symphyotrichum ascendens
Symphyotrichum laeve
Talinum brevifolium
Townsendia exscapa
Townsendia incana
Townsendia strigosa
Toxicodendron rydbergii
Valeriana acutiloba
Veronica americana
Woodsia neomexicana
Yucca angustissima
Yucca baccata
Zigadenus paniculatus
Zigadenus vaginatus

Canyon de Chelly National Monument
These images were taken in summer 1995.