Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Part 1: White House Ruins Trail
My visit to Canyon de Chelly was the first stop on a short solo road trip in mid-December. I arrived at the canyon in mid-afternoon to find a fresh dusting of snow along the rim and in the shadows of the canyon floor, and also the clouds that were trailing the system still lingering overhead. With about 2 hours of daylight I opted to start with a hike into the canyon on the White House Ruins Trail in order to stretch my legs after a day of driving rather than get information at the visitor’s center. Plus, this was the section of the monument I was most excited about since unless you are on a private tour, this trail is the only access to the canyon floor; views of the rest of the canyon are restricted to the rim.
The Ruins Trail is a 2.5 mile roundtrip hike down and back up the 600 foot deep canyon via a route ingeniously carved into the nearly-sheer cliffs. Despite the gray skies, the timing of my visit was overall fortunate: the less than optimal weather had deterred almost all other visitors and the recent precipitation in combination with the cloud cover brought out the saturated color of the canyon walls. Only my vista shots really suffered, and I basically had the place to myself. After the fantastically-beautiful descent onto the farmlands of the canyon floor, I followed the trail another half mile to the ruins, most of which are tucked into an alcove on the north canyon wall. Though there was a fence preventing closer inspection, I was able to get quite a good look at the well-preserved structures that total approximately 60 rooms. Occupied between 1060 and 1275 AD, the White House – named for the remnant of white plaster on the back walls of the alcove – was one of many Ancestral Puebloan villages in the canyon.
I have broken up my visit into two blog posts based on number of photos and so will describe more of the monument as a whole, but a few words must be said of the canyon, beginning with the fact that it’s truly beautiful. The slickrock canyon walls, swirled sandstone outcroppings, meandering river lined with curving cottonwoods, and the farm fields checkering the canyon floor are all stunning. It is impossible to not appreciate and be awed by the gorgeous features and spectacular setting. Should you ever find yourself near the Four Corners area, Canyon de Chelly is well-worth a visit.