Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Canyon de Chelly, Chinle Arizona

I was fortunate to be able to spend a weekend in Canyon de Chelly. We were on a Jeep trip with a Jeep Club. I was just a passenger along for the ride and the wonderful sights. We had about twenty Jeeps and five guides escorted us into the canyon. We started Friday afternoon and came back out Sunday about noon. Our party stayed in a nice camping area called Antelope House Ruin. There are some primitive facilities. We had a group cook out one night with entertainment and local history told by the guides.

In our down time we were able to scout the area near our camp site. There are some interesting ruins very close to the camp. Antelope House Ruin is fenced off but you can get some nice photos of it if you plan your shot. I had a large format camera with me in the canyon and managed a few shots with it at this site and at White House Ruin.

Most of the guides will show you the same thing. As with all tour guides it is the guide that can make your experience more enjoyable either by their presentation or their people skills.

Being a photography buff and having had the opportunity to get into the canyon I jumped at the chance. This trip was geared towards a four wheel drive club so photography was a sort of catch as catch can type of thing. It isn’t easy traveling with a camera at the ready in a four wheel vehicle going cross country. So if you are into photography just remember that you’ll need to protect your camera gear not only from the elements but the rough trails you’ll be traveling on. Take along some camera rain gear as there is water in the canyon, sometimes the water can get very deep.

I have several batteries and extra memory cards for my camera and you’ll use plenty of both in the canyon.

If you spend time in the Canyon you need to have a guide with you. This was set up by the Jeep Club so I’m not sure how to secure one. I’m sure the tourist office can point you in the right direction if you are interested in camping overnight. The guide fee was $50 per night when we were there.

It is possible to take day tours into the canyon. There is a tour that goes to White House Ruin. You ride on a converted 2 ½ ton military truck. If you ride on this I suggest you get as close to the front as possible. This truck drives up a river for a short distance and it gets wet and very bouncy. Just be advised it can get rough.

Having said that it is also possible to drive around the canyon and view several of the sights from above. There is a trail head by White House Ruin where anyone can hike into the canyon along the trail. It is a several hour hike down and back up. You have to remain on the trail.

There are many lookout parking areas with the name of the view or ruin well marked. These tend to get pretty crowded at times so just be prepared for that. It is possible to get some very nice photos of Spider Rock and the White House ruin from the rim.

The tourist office has some nice displays around the office which serves also as a gift shop.

Be aware also that Chinle is a small Indian community so hotel space and eating establishments are limited in choice. There are several camp grounds where you can camp or stay in your RV so this is another option.

If you get the opportunity to visit Canyon de Chelly I’d say take it. It is one of those places where the colors and textures are incredible. You will go away with lasting memories. I managed to capture several hundred photos in the short time I was there. I’d like again to go back and take more photos. There is a lot to see there. I liked being inside the canyon because it makes the journey more intimate. Being close up to the ruins and experiencing the sights and sounds at the same time just makes it better for me. I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to drive around the rim again if that were all I had the time to do.

Take time to visit the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest while you are in the area. You drive through both state parks for one fee. It is also worth the trip there. I’ve been there a couple times and each time it is different. Both times very enjoyable yet I think next time I will linger and watch the changing shadows and colors.

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