Saturday, November 15, 2014
Riding in Canyon De Chelly
November 9 2014
There’s only one thing endurance riders want to do in the brief off-season - they want to RIDE!
Without a specific ride date on the ride calendar, and with the necessity of organizing guides to escort us, it was a little harder to orchestrate for a group; but in the end, there were six of us endurance riders who ventured down to Chinle, Arizona, to ride for a weekend in Canyon De Chelly National Monument, the heart of the Navajo Nation.
Christoph and Dian, Howard and Kathy, and Sue and I hauled down from Utah for this unique adventure some of us had been talking about for a long time. Sue graciously loaned me her 2012 Haggin Cup winner, LZP Julioslastchance, to ride on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
Canyon De Chelly, on the Colorado plateau in eastern Arizona, has been occupied on and off for 5000 years. Archaic peoples from 2500 BC were followed by Ancestral Puebloans (the Anasazi), then the Navajo. The Navajo were driven out in the mid-1800’s during the nation-wide Indian purge, but four years later, they were allowed to return home.
Canyon De Chelly became a National Monument within the Navajo Nation lands in 1931, to protect the ancient history of the canyons. The Navajo still live and farm in Canyon De Chelly. The Park Service manages the archaeological ruins (the Navajo don’t want anything to do with the Anasazi ruins and spirits); the Navajo manage the natural resources.
We’d arranged to park our rigs at Justin’s Horse Rental. Our guides Justin Tso, and his granddaughter Kristy, escorted us on our 2 days in the canyon. The first day we rode up the northeast branch of Canyon Del Muerto in two different groups; on the second day we ventured far up the southeast branch of Canyon De Chelly, 18 miles to Spider Rock and back. Spider Woman, who taught the Navajo people how to weave, is said to live on top of Spider Rock, and watch over and protect her people.
The 800 foot spire of Spider Rock stands at another canyon junction of Canyon De Chelly and Monument Canyon, where thousand-foot sandstone walls line the way to more Navajo farms, then merge into the Defiance Plateau at 8000 feet, and eventually meet the Chuska Mountains.
After a lunch beneath the mythic spire, we turned around and rode back out Canyon De Chelly. It was just like an endurance ride - miles and miles through spectacular scenic country, fast and fun, with old friends and new, on the backs of our willing steeds.