When canyons are visited they are visited in one of two ways: They are either observed or experienced.
As visitors make a trip to see the wonder of canyons they typically view them by driving around to designated outlooks and peer down into the canyon from hundreds of feet above or across the canyon to the opposite rim, never seeing our immediate surroundings because we are unable to see below us. Or, we physically go into canyons viewing them in detail, at eye level and looking up from the midst of the canyon. We may take a walking, hiking or horse tour or even camp at the bottom of a canyon to get the most of the experience.
Last fall, my husband and I had the opportunity to visit Canyon De Chelly (pronounced Canyon De Shay). We stopped at the designated outlooks and looked into the canyon from the top and was impressed. In fact, we were extremely impressed. We loved the canyon sights and wanted to see more but we viewed all we could from the outlooks and the sun was going down for the day so our visit was over. The topic of how much we enjoyed the canyon was brought up many times over the next few months. You can read the post about that visit including many beautiful pictures here.
The gift of time was given to us a few weeks ago and we chose to go back to Canyon De Chelly with the intention of seeing Spider Rock up close. We wanted to experience seeing Spider Rock from the ground, by standing at the foot of the 830-foot rock and enjoy the view from there.
As soon as we arrived to the canyon we located a place of business offering jeep tours. Quickly, the plan was set for that afternoon with a 3-hour tour inside the canyon. We were excited!
About half way into the tour it was clear that Spider Rock was not part of this tour. We realized that we simply assumed that it would be and we needed to settle for our disappointment or change our plans for the next morning.
We changed our morning plans and scheduled a 4-hour tour. We did not want to see the canyon a second time and leave feeling as if we hadn’t seen all that we are able to. We had already done that once, it wasn’t happening again.
During our “overlook” visit we looked into the canyon and used binoculars to view a few of the ruins. We could see dwellings below and had read that the canyon still has a few residences and a small amount of farming areas in place today. We could not see any wildlife on the self-guided “overlook” tour, and we could only wonder what life in the canyon was like as we viewed from a distance.
During the 3-hour tour we experienced great conversation with a resident of the canyon that provided great family stories along with sharing how the canyon has changed over the years. Including how his grandfather took him to the top of the canyon each day to attend school. Then met him again in the afternoon for his return home. We had the ability to see some of the ruins in closer detail, cattle and beautiful sights while learning about the pictographs and petroglyphs or as I call them: “writings on the walls”. Through conversation we learned bits and pieces about a different culture. We also learned of a few details their culture has of the culture I live in which provided an opportunity to set a few assumptions straight and clarify that some ideas are not everyone’s.
During our intended 4-hour tour we experienced the canyon with more great conversation while we got great views of deer and horses grazing together, wild turkeys, more beautiful sights, the window in the rock, including its reflection through the river, the location of the famous picture that was taken in the early 1900’s. We even came across a bear track on our way to our intended destination of Spider Rock.
Determined to see Spider Rock up close and personal, we were able to experience Canyon De Chelly more than we imagined and much more than simply seeing a quick overview over the course of 10 overlooks.
Guided tours will definitely be strong considerations for our future explorations of canyons and camping in the canyon may be a future option for us in Canyon De Chelly.