Tall walls of stone fused Navajo Indian beliefs that the Canyon de Chelly area holds the mystery of a long gone civilization.
In Four Corners county, when Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico states meet, geological extravagances are something of the ordinary; this is also the reason for the great number of parks and national monuments found in the area. Even among these, Canyon de Chelly is different because of it’s quiet and sunny atmosphere, isolation and deep effect that has over the lives and beliefs of the one that live here.
Canyon de Chelly is not a unique valley but a labyrinth of canyons dug by the soft flowing of the rivers in the red sandstone of the Defiance Plateau. The walls of Canyon de Chelly, varying in heights from 9 to 300 meters, aren’t only abrupt, but also very flat on the surface – like a confectioner covered them with red glaze in an unique expert paddle move.
The dark stripes on the walls that look like paint marks are called “desert lakes”.
They are the result of the thousand of years in when water containing a high number of minerals drained on the face of the cliffs. Even if frost erodes the lip of Canyon de Chelly, breaking off rocks that fall all the way to the base of the canyon, there are really few rocky leftovers; after a while, the rocks grind and the sand formed by grinding is carried by winds. This is the reason for the clean aspect of Canyon de Chelly, especially during spring, when silver rivers walk between sandy shores, while in the small Navajo orchards apple and peach trees are filled with flowers.
Despite cold winters, Canyon de Chelly has always been a welcoming host.
At the base of vertical rocks there are numerous deep entrances. In some of them, you shouldn’t be surprised if you see rocky ruins of buildings once constructed in Canyon de Chelly by ancient populations. Only the name of this population is known, anasazi – the one Navajo Indians gave them, settled here afterwards. The name means – those before.
The Hispanics that arrived here in 1500, are the ones that gave the Indians in Canyon the Chelly the name Navajo. They call themselves dineh, which can be simply translated to – the people. Their holy ground is the entire area neighbored by the four sacred peaks: San Francisco, Hesperres, Bianca and Mount Taylor.
The name Canyon de Chelly comes from the Navajo word that signifies rocky vally.
Here, along with the anasazi inscriptions, the Navajo Indians marked their own unique version of The Creation, the stories of the Yey – sacred creatures which lived on Earth, before the first man and women came from the abysses of the underground. All this legends are inscribed or drawn on the walls of the caves in Canyon de Chelly or on the exterior rocky walls.
Here, from inside the natural fortress Canyon de Chelly, the locals faced consecutive waves of conquerors. The first were the Spaniards which killed 115 males, women and Navajo children in 1805, in the caves of Canyon de Chelly. After them, the colonists came in 1863 with their cavalry forces under the command of colonel Kit Carson, which starved the Indians to the point they were forced to surrender. 7000 of them were taken into captivity, in New Mexico – a 320 km long journey, remembered today under the name – The Long Journey.
Four years later, the Americans changed their opinion and returned the Indians to their lands in Canyon de Chelly, in the Navajo Reservation.
Here, each stone, each natural element is connected to tribal beliefs. Among this, standing on a special place, the belief that the entire Creation is a one all and that, being in complete harmony with its environment, the man can reach his supreme goal – the unification with the greatness of the one all. In the serene atmosphere of Canyon de Chelly it is not hard to understand what gave birth to this type of beliefs.
Near Canyon de Chelly, National Petrified Forest Park is located, a desert landscape, sprinkled with tree trunks, some of them 225 million years old. The trees grew, made fruits and died during the age of the dinosaurs, when in this region of Arizona a vast swamp existed.
The fallen trunks, buried under sediments, absorbed the silica in the subterranean waters, while their organic material was replaced step by step with rough agate, variously colored. Slowly, the soft rock layer that covered the trees was eroded along with the leftovers of the fossilized ferns, fishes and reptiles – a strange kaleidoscope of the world and its past youth.