Canyon de Chelly (“Shay”) is a national park within the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona. (Spider Rock is in Canyon de Chelly.) Parts of Canyon de Chelly are nearly as spectacular as the Grand Canyon. Unlike other regions in northern Arizona, Canyon de Chelly has abundant water. It has been one of the longest continuously inhabited lands occupied by the indigenous peoples of the Southwest, including the ancient Anasazi pueblo peoples who lived in the area as early as over 1,000 years BCE.
Today Canyon de Chelly is unique within the US national park system as it is completely located within Navajo tribal lands. The park is a partnership of the park service and the Navajo Nation.
In the 1930′s, the park service commissioned American photographer Ansel Adams to document the American national parks in photography. In connection with this project, Adams visited Canyon de Chelly. A 1995 book includes the Canyon de Chelly images and others, Ansel Adams: The National Park Service Photographs.
On my recent trip through Arizona and New Mexico, I visited Canyon de Chelly and there met a Navajo silver artist, Gary Henry (whose silver jewelry was spectacular) and whose family still resides within the Canyon. One of Adams’ best-known works from the national park series, “Navajo Woman and Child,” featured his mother and brother.
I find Canyon de Chelly almost more important and meaningful than the Grand Canyon because it is a living culture and more than just a monument. I’ll be planning a summer jeep trip into the Canyon for more photography.