"Sacred Tseyi" Canyon de Chelly National Monument by goodfish

2012: time to update these pages with higher-res photos and new links...

Canyon de Chelly has been home to 5 periods of Native American culture for nearly 5000 years: the longest uninterrupted period of occupation anywhere on the Colorado Plateau. First settled by hunter/gatherers (Archaic) from 2500 - 200 BC, it was home to (successively) Basketmaker, Ancestoral Puebloan, Hopi and Diné (Navajo for "The People") communities over the next several millenia with the Diné still living there today.

This place is called Tseyi (pronounced "say-yee") by the Navajo and means "In the rock." Several misspellings and mispronunciations by, first, Spanish and then American settlers resulted in the name most of us know it by: Canyon de Chelly (da-shay).

Unlike some of the other archeological sites in the southwest, Canyon de Chelly is still very much a living community and to the Diné and Hopi people, an ancient and holy part of their culture so specific guidelines apply for respectful exploration. It is good to remember that aside from the fragility of historic ruins, this is a sacred religious site and resting place for both cultures and their ancestors.

It is also the site of several horrific massacres of their people. In 1805 a raid by Spanish troops ended in the deaths of 115 Diné - including women, children and elderly - who had fled for cover in a cave on the North Rim. In 1864, Colonial Kit Carson's forces killed or captured Navajo living in the canyon, destroyed their homes, fields and livestock, and marched the survivors 300 miles to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. Many perished during that journey and many more during four years of captivity before being allowed to return home. It is difficult to believe that such a beautiful, peaceful place could have witnessed such sadness.

The picture above is of Spider Rock. Navajo legend has it that this is the home of Spider Woman, who first wove the map of the night sky and the Universe and who passed the art of weaving to The People.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Beautiful, under-appreciated canyon with a long, fascinating history
  • Cons:None
  • In a nutshell:Highly recommended
  • Last visit to Canyon de Chelly National Monument: Sep 2004
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (7)

Comments (11)

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo
    May 17, 2013 at 11:29 AM

    We only had time for the South Rim Drive here and I've always regretted we didn't get to see more. A magical place!

    • goodfish's Profile Photo
      May 17, 2013 at 12:12 PM

      I'm happy you saw at least some of it as it's a terrific park that's so often overlooked. I guess that's not altogether a bad thing where mobs of tourists and nasty tour-bus fumes go? :O)

  • blueskyjohn's Profile Photo
    Mar 28, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    Nice job on this page Kate! Another place you've peaked my interest.....adding to my list :-)

    • goodfish's Profile Photo
      Mar 28, 2013 at 11:35 AM

      It's a beautiful canyon. You can't explore the bottom without a guide so aside from the one hike down we were allowed to do alone, we spent all day crawling the rim. There is a very famous Curtis photograph of this one that I just love: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:C...

  • Redang's Profile Photo
    Mar 12, 2012 at 4:17 AM

    Very beautiful place

  • TheWanderingCamel's Profile Photo
    Jul 22, 2011 at 9:05 AM

    Great tips and pics of a magnificent corner of the world. Both my visits have been in deep winter, the limited access balanced by beautiful contrasts of snow, rock and sky. Hope I get back some time. L

  • ranger49's Profile Photo
    Aug 12, 2010 at 10:37 AM

    We did not get to see this in April but your vivid description brings it alive. Such an informative page , great pictures and Tips - and another example "Man's inhumanity etc".

  • mindcrime's Profile Photo
    May 17, 2010 at 9:20 AM

    amazing place! thanx for sharing the tips/pics with us!

  • Dester's Profile Photo
    Jul 28, 2009 at 7:55 AM

    Great photos Kathy. I've only driven the North Rim once, a tractor trailer to Cedar City in the seventies. (next time I'll take a burro)

  • KiKitC's Profile Photo
    Nov 18, 2008 at 9:02 AM

    Amazing pictures. After the trip to Moab, I am in love with the whole southwest...thankx for the birthday wishes!

  • goingsolo's Profile Photo
    Sep 21, 2008 at 2:23 PM

    Great tips Kathy! I've wanted to visit this place for quite some time. Thank you for all the great info. :)

  • madamx's Profile Photo
    Nov 9, 2005 at 6:49 AM

    Hi Kathy, thanks for stopping by! Beautiful pictures of Canyon de Chelly; we never made it over there, but it's on our list for next time ~ Helen


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