Photos from the trip are up (except for panoramas which still need to be stitched).
[ 10:18 Oct 27, 2004 More travel/anasazi | permalink to this entry | comments ]
Photos from the trip are up (except for panoramas which still need to be stitched).
Nothing much yesterday except the herd of bighorn sheep grazing by the side of the road as we left Moab. (We had planned to stay in Moab for a few days, but the weather turned sour.) The drive through the San Rafael Swell is always impressive, but I've written about that already.
Today, first, a quick stop by Kolob Canyons, a small branch of Zion National Park accessed right off I-15. It's marvelous: a very short road loop with stunning views, and three hikes of varying lengths. We didn't do any hikes due to weather and health issues, but we'll be back!
After leaving St George and Utah and before entering Nevada, I-15 briefly passes through Arizona in the impressive Virgin River Gorge. Arizona doesn't bother with trivialities like nice roadside view areas like Utah and Colorado do.
But there's a BLM area flaking the north side of the gorge, with a dirt road: the Beaver Dam Mountains Wilderness Area. We went a little way up the road; we didn't find views of the gorge from there, either (perhaps farther up?) but the rocks were quite interesting, evidently a mixture of rhyolite and basalt with some bits of tuff and river cobbles (did the Virgin make it up this high before the area was uplifted, or are the cobblers from streams which used to run from higher still?) We'll be back to explore further (with a BLM map, I hope).
Returning to I-15 and crossing into Nevada, we chose a detour: instead of following the interstate through the rush-hour traffic of Las Vegas, we swung left onto a little highway that cuts down by Lake Mead, marked as "scenic" on the map?
Getting through the tiny town of Overton took longer than we expected; its "so ridiculously excessively low as to be obviously a speed trap" speed limit zone went on forever. But we finally emerged out the other side, passing the Lost City Museum (curiously, just last week we'd read an article in the LA Times about an old town near there which had been buried for most of last century by Lake Mead, but which had re-emerged in the last few weeks due to record low water levels, creating great interest among historians). The scenery began to get interesting right away. It offers very little in the way of views of the lake (unless you drive down the side roads leading to the lake itself), but the area is "painted desert" of bentonite or a similar ash, punctuated by jagged peaks of volcanic rock. Most of the land is part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Numerous parking areas are located at small oases named This-or-that Spring. Some of the springs are visible from some distance as a grove of palm trees. Are any palm trees actually native to the American southwest, or were they all introduced by settlers?
Update: Apparently the origin of these palms is a point of dispute, but there's quite a bit of evidence arguing for their being native to the area. William Spencer sent me a link to a page discussing the issue and the fight to save the palms.
This goes on for miles, and then gradually bits of brighter color begin to appear, in the shape of red sandstone. We stopped at a parking area on the left, and found a true jewel: Redstone, a little rest stop with a trail of maybe a mile which goes out around the vividly red rocks, with occasional interpretive signs which are interesting and not patronizing. The rock is Aztec Sandstone, formed from dunes which covered the area some 130 million years ago, with wonderful cross-bedding and weathered textures, and nearby mountains of black basalt to provide contrasting color.
After taking the Redstone hike, we continued on the highway, stopping at some of the pullouts, including one which included an interpretive sign describing the "bowl of fire", resulting from a layer of Aztec sandstone which swelled into a domed shape, then eroded from the top, leaving an outer ring. The fiery red ring is easy to see among the darker layers surrounding it.
Presumably the nearby Valley of Fire state park is also Aztec sandstone sculptures; it looks like it from a distance. We wished we'd taken that route, and will next time.
The scenic highway ends in Henderson, leaving us to fight our way through yet more heavy traffic (no matter which way you approach Las Vegas, or at what hour, or how hard you try to bypass the center of town, somehow you always end up in a traffic jam!) to return to I-15 and head down to our destination of Primm, musing on the long, gradual talus slopes so typical of the Mojave desert, and how superficially similar they look to a shield volcano like Mauna Koa. I wonder how the angles of repose compare? (Alas, there's no internet in Primm, so that's a question for a later time.)
The Confluence is hard to get to, though. The only viewpoint above river level is located in the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. Sounds easy enough; but the only road that goes near it is a technical jeep trail called "Elephant Hill", involving tricks like five-foot rock drop-offs. A bit beyond our skills or vehicle. So instead, we drove to the beginning of Elephant Hill, then mountain biked from there. It's about 9 miles to the confluence overlook (then a half-mile hike from there), and about 6 miles back (it's a loop trail with one-way sections).
First we had to get to Canyonlands. We took the scenic route from Monticello over the Abajo mountains, offering great views of the lacolith triangle: the Abajo, Henry, and La Sal mountain ranges are all rock which has been warped upward by subterranean magma, without actually being made of volcanic rock themselves.
On the Saturday of Utah's week-long deer hunting season, the Abajo route was crawling with trucks filled with blaze orange clad passengers, pulling trailers laden with ATVs. Every pullout, every campground, was full of hunters. Ironically, twice during the day we had to slow down (and once, stop) for large groups of does wandering near or across the road. We never saw any bucks, but I guess the number of does on the road suggests that the deer population isn't in any serious threat from the hunters. But we nevertheless were glad we were going to be doing our riding in a national park today.
Elephant Hill is as technical as we remembered it from our last visit to Needles. We tried to ride up the hill, but gave up fairly early and walked the steep sections. The trail alternates between short, impossibly steep and technical rock sections (which we walked), moderately steep and technical rock sections (which we mostly rode, and enjoyed immensely) and long near-level stretches of deep fine red sand (fun if you don't mind sliding sideways).
Dave rode more of the rocky uphills than I did, and I rode more of the rocky downhills. I biffed on one downhill, coming off a rock ledge into deep sand and landing hard on one hand. No permanent damage.
No bikes are allowed on the half-mile section of trail from the end of the road to the overlook, so we had to stash our bikes in the bushes and continue on foot.
The confluence overlook is fabulous! It's just like the pictures: you can see the boundary where the two differently colored rivers mix to form one larger river. Apparently the colors vary depending on what's been going on upstream; every picture is a little different. Today, both rivers were muddy green, but different shades, with the Colorado being darker and clearer than the Green. On the horizon, you can see the three districts of Canyonlands: Island in the Sky (between the two upper rivers), the Maze (along the west bank of the Green) and Needles (where we stood, on the east bank of the Colorado).
The ride back was surprisingly easy, though going uphill through the sandy stretches was a workout. We got back to Elephant Hill just as a couple in a rented jeep began the first descent, so we had a chance to see how it was done. The Jeep handled the tough descent easily. I bet it didn't seem as easy from the driver's seat as it looked from the outside.
We headed down highway 261, eschewing Natural Bridges National Monument. Been there, done that. We were headed for Muley Point, which turned out to be an unmarked dirt road turnoff just before the Moqui Dugway. Four miles of relatively good dirt road led us to two stunning viewpoints overlooking the sinuous San Juan river and points beyond, such as Monument Valley, Alhambra Peak, and Valley of the Gods. The wind was icy, but the view was worth it.
Returning to the highway, we headed down the Moqui Dugway (variously spelled Moki or Mokee, depending on which map you use; everyone seems to spell Dugway the same). This is a steep (11%) grade, gravel except on a few turns where pavement returns, winding 1100' down the side of Cedar Mesa to the bottom. Why it's gravel when the rest of the highway is paved isn't clear. But it's fun.
At the bottom of the Dugway, a BLM dirt road goes left into Valley of the Gods. But we decided to see the Goosenecks of the San Juan first.
At Goosenecks, the San Juan river travels over six river miles in the space of only a mile and a half. It's held up as one of the best examples anywhere of an entrenched meander, where a lazily meandering river on nearly-level terrain cuts a shallow channel, then rapid uplift of the area (in this case, the Colorado Plateau) causes the river to cut a deep canyon.
There are entrenched meanders all over the area -- such as Bowtie Bend and Dead Horse Point -- but nowhere are there so many, in such a short space. It's very impressive.
And that's all there is to Goosenecks of the San Juan State Park -- one amazing overlook. There's a trail somewhere (the Honaker Trail, namesake for the rocks comprising the upper two-thirds of the San Juan's canyon; the bottom third is the Paradox Formation, both Pennsylvanian layers of limestone and shale) but it's accessed from outside the park, and there's no information about it at the park.
We backtracked to the west end of Valley of the Gods Road and began our divine journey, following a guide we'd picked up at the visitor's center in Blanding. The first rock on the list was Balanced Rock -- I pointed it out. "No," said Dave, "that's got to be Lady in a Tub. That's exactly what it looks like." "Um, I don't see that on the list here." It turned out that this was an alternate name for the same rock, listed on the map but not in the guide. And indeed, it was a good name -- except that as we proceeded down the road, it became a Man in a Tub.
It's a while before the next Named Rock on the guide, but that's okay; there are fascinating rock formations everywhere. The light was difficult for photography, since it was still mostly overcast, but that made for dramatic light when the sun did come out.
And a few miles in, I spotted an even more interesting formation: a tarantula making its way across the road. We go tarantula spotting every year, but the season when the males go wandering aboveground in search of females is so short that we often miss it. This year we were sure we'd missed the season at home; so finding one here was serendipitous. This one appeared to have no inclination to get off the road, so we had plenty of time to shoot photos (including "tarantula walks over the camera" and "real tarantula completely ignores our rubber tarantula") while we gently tried to persuade him to walk by the side of the road and not in the middle.
We invented names for unnamed rock formations, like "Mohawk with Squirrel on Head" and the nearby "Organ Grinder's Monkey, with Drum". Rooster Butte should have been Senorita Butte -- a Spanish dancer with full flowing skirts. Occasionally the road became mildly technical, with rocks or gully crossings. "Chacoan speed bumps!" exclaimed Dave. Two painters had set up camp right in the middle of a wash, with their easels right by the road -- maybe dust is part of the art, and a flash flood just gives an artist more inspiration. Setting Hen Butte (its official name) has giant sandstone eggs all around it.
Too soon, we found ourselves at the other end of the road, and the highway. But before heading back to Blanding, we took a detour to Sand Island, near Bluff, to see what was there. What was there was petroglyphs -- a whole wall of them, comparable to the much more famous Newspaper Rock to the north near Monticello. Excellent rams and elk, snakes, and other figures. But what interested me most was all the Kokopelli-like figures. Kokopelli (the dancing flute-playing trickster) shows up in nearly every gift shop in the southwest. He's so prevalent that a mapmaker in Moab (Cheap is Real) comments on the back of each map that it is a "100% Kokopelli-free product"). Yet in the rock art I've seen, I have yet to see an actual Kokopelli -- until Sand Island. Sand Island is definitely not a Kokopelli-free zone. But it's a great set of petroglyphs.
Heading out of town, we passed the Permian Power Tong building. I guess you'd better be careful when complaining about your electricity bill in Farmington! Especially if you want to assert that it comes from the Mesozoic, or something. Not long after that, we passed Jimmy's Swabbing Service. I don't think I want to know too many details about that, nor about the Four Corners Bull Test Station we saw later.
Update 11/8/2006: Someone from the Permian Power Tong wrote to let me know that they're an oilfield service company, not an electric company.
We stopped at the Aztec Ruins, so misnamed because early white settlers apparently thought these Anasazi ruins were left by the Aztecs (?). It's a small park, with one trail, but the ruins are excellent and the guide is full of information about the architecture. The structures were originally built by Chacoans and most of the lower masonry is similar to what we saw in Chaco Canyon, but was later modified (for repairs and additions) in a style more similar to Mesa Verde. Then, much later, some of the masonry was re-done by the park service in a well meaning but misguided attempt to stabilize the fragile structures, with the result that there's a lot of modern concrete, metal drains, and other anachronisms and apparently it's sometimes hard for modern researchers to be sure what came from which era.
The Chacoan work is the most beautiful. They liked to alternate layers of large bricks with small, or red with other colors, whereas the Mesa Verdeans used fairly uniform large bricks everywhere. Someone who came along later (perhaps the Mesa Verde group, perhaps a later tribe) added rounded river rocks in places, from the nearby Animas river. The Animas may also have been used to float the hundreds or thousands of logs needed for the roofs of the structures; the wood apparently came from the mountains, near Durango, since it's wood which wasn't available locally.
Although the park service tries to be much more careful now, we saw some modern repairs on the structure while we took the self-guided tour: Navajo bricklayers pounded sandstone with a hammer, chipping flakes off to make it the right shape to fit into the spot being repaired.
Outside of the park, we explored the town of Aztec, which has a nice little suburban downtown area surrounded by miles of scrubland with residential trailers. We noticed that the downtown area had a predominance of Kerry signs, unlike Farmington and the rural areas outside Aztec where Bush signs prevailed.
We took back roads from Aztec, eventually passing through Mancos (the Mancos Motocross, Now Serving Elk Burgers -- what more could you want? -- and the Reptile Reserve of Southwest Colorado) and the poshest highway rest stop we've seen anywhere, at Sleeping Ute Mountain, which offered its own hiking and pet exercise trails.
Our plan was to stay tonight in Monticello, UT, which is close to Canyonlands' Needles district and lots of other interesting places. The first hotel we tried should have given us a clue as to what was coming: the sign proclaimed "Big Buck Display!" A big dollar bill? wondered Dave. But it turned out this is the beginning of Utah's week-long deer hunting season, and that Monticello is the deer hunting capital of southeastern Utah (for some reason). We pushed on to Blanding instead.
Blanding looked like a bigger town in the AAA guide (more hotels) but isn't really. Fortunately, the Best Western has wi-fi (the only place in town, unlike Monticello which has two hotels and a cafe). The router gives the wrong address for the DNS server, but we guessed at the right address and edited /etc/resolv.conf, and things work okay as long as you remember to do that before making any net connections (otherwise the wrong DNS info gets cached by some proxy server somewhere).
Dave went to the office to see if anyone knew about this. He was told: "They just fired up the system two weeks ago, and it has been slow," but no one knew any more detail than that.
Unfortunately, it turns out that the Sun Dagger is not open to visitation (by the public or even by most researchers). In the 1980's it was deemed too fragile for visitors, and the site was closed down. There are some other astronomically oriented petroglyphs, but no one seems to know exactly where, or to have a complete list.
Getting information on Chaco is a bit difficult. There's not much useful information on the web, the park doesn't have specialized handouts like a lot of other parks (many parks have one-page handouts available for the asking on subjects such as geology, astronomy, petroglyphs, etc) except for one giving a brief listing of the available hiking trails. The ranger at the visitor's station was somewhat reticent: he recommended a couple of hiking trails, and told us that the Sun Dagger was located high on Fajada Butte, but not much more. I noticed a picture of some petroglyphs thought to depict a supernova, and asked where they were, but he apologized "Sorry, I don't go out that trail much".
Nothing to do but go try some stuff and see what's cool. We visited all the ruins along the park road, then headed up the steep trail to Pueblo Alto and the Pueblo Bonito overlook, which begins by a scramble through switchbacks over broken rocks, followed by a steep ascent through a narrow gap in the rock wall. Fun! And daunting: but it turns out that once you squeeze through the gap, you're up on top of the mesa and mostly finished with climbing.
The mesa top is interesting rock: white, layered mudstone, full of interesting embedded objects (presumably plant fossils, though some of them actually look like bone). The Fajada Butte interpretive sign, the only mention we found of park geology, says of the butte: Cliff House Sandstone forms the upper layer with deposits of fossil shells, clams, shark teeth, and marine sand. None of these fossils seem to correspond with what we saw embedded in the rock along the Pueblo Alto trail. More research is required.
The view of Pueblo Bonito from above is marvelous and well worth the short and interesting hike. The semicircular shape of the great house, not obvious from below, is striking when viewed from above.
The hike up to Pueblo Alto was pretty, and enjoyable as a hike, but Pueblo Alto itself is much less interesting than the ruins down in the canyon. We wished we'd gone the other way on the loop trail for more birds-eye views of the canyon houses.
Another interesting aspect of Chaco: their astronomy program. They have a fixed observatory (a dome housing a truss-tube dobsonian of about 18") and something outside on a tripod (probably a big Schmidt-Cassegrain). The visitor's center was full of photos of astronomical objects, as well as some information about light pollution. It's nice to see a park so interested in astronomy, especially with the sort of skies they must get at Chaco. Alas, we weren't able to stay the night.
But Chaco's big mystery is the "roads". The park literature talks about the amazing roads the Chacoans built, stretching for hundreds of miles between Chaco and neighboring settlements in many directions, used for trade between tribes. On the Pueblo Alto hike, a short segment of one such "road" is roped off and signed: a wide rectangle of more or less bare rock, perhaps ten or fifteen feet on a side, lined generously with rocks on two sides. With a lot of imagination, you could imagine a boulevard continuing in this fashion, rocks lining the left and right sides of the "road" like a huge version of some national park trails.
Dave smelled a rat, and dug further. These "roads", apparently, were originally detected as unexplained straight lines appearing in infra-red images, using NASA's TIMS system. Archaeologists subsequently searched the ground and found some short segments which looked vaguely road-like, and drew maps connecting the segments. Here's one such map of the Chaco road system. Notice anything unusual? Like the fact that the ground map doesn't actually match the lines in the IR image? Note also how straight the "roads" are in both theories.
It gets even weirder. One of the park's roadside pullouts points to a "Chacoan stairway" high on a mesa, and comments that the stairway was part of one of the roadways. The stairway is there, and it's neat. There are other stairways elsewhere in the park -- we saw photos (though the one section we saw up close, on the Pueblo Alto hike, was a bit too subtle for either of us to find the "stairway" on the indicated rock).
Why would the Chacoans build roads like this? It makes no sense. Why would a prehistoric people with no wagons or pack animals need rock-lined ten foot wide "roads", arrow straight and made without respect to the local topography?
Let's look at this practically. You're a Chacoan heading out to trade with someone in a pueblo to the south, or a southern resident travelling to Chaco. You have a choice between following a straight road, which requires you to climb up onto an 800 foot mesa, then down a precipitous set of rock stairs which lead to a steep scramble back down to the canyon bottom; or you can walk a quarter mile west and stroll through the huge gap between two mesas, without having to climb or descend at all. You're travelling on foot, carrying your pottery or baskets or whatever it is you're bringing to trade. Perhaps you have your family and kids along. Which route would you choose?
The stairways are there; and the "road" segments are there, too. But that doesn't mean that they connected to form hundred-mile long roads between communities. The stairways are useful for locals who want access to the mesa tops -- perhaps for defense, or religious purposes, or just for sightseeing. The short "road" segments on the ground -- who knows? Perhaps parade grounds. Or maybe they were malls, where vendors lined up to spread their wares out for customers to view. There are lots of possible explanations!
Good move! It's a beautiful trail which definitely belongs on a top-ten list of park trails (along with trails such as Hummocks at Mount St. Helens). And as a bonus, it's not even particularly strenuous -- the canyon is only 600 feet deep at that point, and the trail is fairly gradual. It descends from the cross-bedded riverine rock of the Shinarump member of the Chinle formation, down into the thick de Chelly sandstone, where it winds through little tunnels and around switchbacks, past shrieking squirrels and soaring ravens, giving ever-changing views of the canyon floor.
At the bottom, the trail skirts a Navajo ranch (no photography please) then follows the stream bed, lined with cottonwoods in glorious fall foliage, to the eponymous ruin, surrounded by fences to keep out vandals and well-meaning but overly enthusiastic tourists. Nearby, an unattended horse grazed, and a local rancher followed his sheep herd as they browsed along the riverbed.
Impressive ruins. Lovely trail. Go see it.
After climbing back up to the trailhead, we went off to explore the north rim (which is technically a different canyon, del Muerto rather than de Chelly). The north rim viewpoints are sparse, but well chosen; they show more ruins, from shorter distances, than the south rim viewpoints.
After leaving the park, we debated whether to go south to Gallup, or north to Shiprock and Farmington. Shiprock won. But after turning onto highway 13 to cross the Chuska mountains, we questioned the choice. Large signs warned of upcoming highway construction, road closure, and seasonal (winter) road closures over Buffalo Pass. This not being winter yet, we proceeded with trepidation. Our fears (and the warning signs) were unfounded: although the road is narrow and twisty, the pavement is excellent and the views outstanding.
Just past the summit, we got our first view of the immensity of northwestern New Mexico spread out before us -- and immediately realized that Shiprock was not what we had seen yesterday from Spider Rock overlook. Shiprock is unmistakable and striking. It sails on an immense flat plain, tossed on waves of sage, trailing a wake of basalt behind it. It dominates the landscape for many miles in any direction.
Shiprock is a giant volcanic neck: lava which sat in the neck of a volcano, and hardened there. Later, the volcano and its surroundings eroded away, leaving only the neck. But there's more: in addition to the neck, Shiprock's lava also squeezed through a dike, a vertical seam stretching for many miles on either side of the volcano. After the surroundings eroded, what was left was an immense wall of lava, only a few feet thick but some fifty feet high and miles long.
The triple-A map showed a dirt road just east of where the highway crosses the dike, leading up alongside the rock. Sure enough, the promised road appeared just where the map said it would. Woohoo! It turned out to be an unmaintained jeep trail, a nice challenge for our little RAV4 (which had no trouble with it). The road parallels the dike up to the neck itself, giving wonderful views from any angle. Unfortunately the area right next to the neck is spoiled by grafiti, but the rest of the area is fabulous.
We pulled into Farmington later than expected, after stopping to help a Navajo family whose truck had broken down. Unfortunately we didn't have any mechanical insights they hadn't already tried, but we gave one to the nearest store to call for backup. I hope everything worked out all right.
Farmington is the Big Gorilla of the four corners area, by far the biggest town around. Happily for us, it's also fairly well wired, and nearly every motel sports wi-fi that actually works (the only catch being that they fill up surprisingly early on weeknights; we're still not sure why). It's a deceptively large town, with a small college and the usual assortment of restaurants and businesses, several rivers, and plenty of farmland on the outskirts, befitting its name.
Good move! The roads are fine (if a bit slower than an interstate highway) and the scenery is terrific. Dave reciprocated by making an impulse turn into the Little Painted Desert county park's overlook -- empty except for us, the vista across striped layers of bentonite (is that Moenkopi, or Morrison?) rivals its namesake to the southeast in everything but size.
Near Castle Butte, a striking wall of basalt curves gracefully across a plain, an obvious remnant of a vertical dike from which the surrounding, softer rock has long since worn away. This is what created Shiprock, a larger and more famous formation of the same type which I'm hoping to get a chance to see later on this trip; but the thin, curving walls near Castle Butte, with their spiky towers, are marvellous examples.
The roads through this part of the Navajo reservation (perhaps it's true everywhere) are open range. Cattle grazed near the road, and at one point I had to stop suddenly when a horse decided to trot across the road in front of us.
Canyon de Chelly sits right on the edge of Chinle, closer than we'd realized from the map. In fact, Chinle, "where the water flows out", is located right at the mouth of the canyon, where the surrounding mesas drop to the level of the river at the canyon's bottom.
De Chelly itself is really Tseyi, meaning "in the rock" in the language of the Diné (i.e the Navajo). The Spaniards had difficulty pronouncing this (sometimes spelling it "Chegui"), and when early American settlers moved in, they mis-heard it again and assumed they were hearing "cañon de chelly", Spanish for "canyon of rock", pronounced, more or less, "dee shay". But the Tseyi name is still prominent in town and in park literature, this still being Navajo land. The park literature says it's pronounced "say-yee", but a Diné woman in town pronounced it for us more like "tsay-yeh".
The park literature mentions that there may be some stray dogs wandering in the park, and warns not to feed them. The town of Chinle has a problem with too many stray dogs; feeding them "only makes the problem worse." It doesn't mention stray horses, though quite a few wander the mesas above de Chelly and occasionally cross the roads.
We followed Dave's Rule of Parks: go to the end of the road first, because that's where the really good stuff is. The end of the road for Canyon de Chelly is the end of the south rim road, or Spider Rock Overlook. Spider Rock itself is an impressive spire of sandstone (de Chelly sandstone, in fact: a thick desert dune deposit like Navajo sandstone, only much older, at 230-260 million years, and also much redder) standing in a wide, flat canyon of green and autumn gold.
On the horizon far beyond Spider Rock stood a striking dark butte. Our first view of Shiprock? (No, as it turned out.)
The other attraction of Canyon de Chelly is the Indian ruins. Anasazi cliff dwellings pepper the cracks in the canyon walls, and are visible across the canyon from many of the overlooks. Bring binoculars (and a good zoom lens, if photographing).
The star ruin of the park is called White House, and it's accessible via a trail which climbs down from the south rim and crosses the canyon. It was beginning to rain as we arrived there, as well as nearing twilight; we hope for good weather tomorrow morning. We had to drive around a tired looking black dog lying on the (presumably warmer) roadway, seeming unperturbed by the cars going by and disinclined to move. Another dog followed tourists around with a hopeful expression.
And Dave's Rule of Parks? It doesn't work as well at Canyon de Chelly as at most parks. White House is far better than any of the ruins visible from the farther overlooks; and in fact, the very first overlook (last for us, since we were visiting them in reverse order), called Tunnel Canyon, gave a lovely view down a narrow canyon to the riparian zone below. Maybe we were just lucky with the light, arriving at Tunnel as the setting sun pierced through a hole in the otherwise unbroken cloud layer. There's a trail going down from Tunnel, too, but it's only open for guided tours. (Access into Canyon de Chelly requires a guide, except for White House trail, because some 40 Navajo families still live and farm inside the canyon.) After appreciating the lovely light, we chatted with a Diné woman selling jewelry, and watched a couple of puppies trot in, search for food, and then run off toward home.
The town of Chinle is neither depressing, like Tuba City or the area around Monument Valley, nor modernized, like Kayenta. It's small and sparse, with only two hotels (plus the one inside Canyon de Chelly) and few restaurants besides the two associated with the hotels -- a few fast food eateries and a pizza parlor. Yet at night, lights (mostly low-pressure sodium, I was happy to see) twinkle from a wide area, hinting that there's quite a bit more to the town. We tried to explore, but couldn't find our way to the pockets of light we could see from the main part of town. So we reluctantly settled for a dinner at the Holiday Inn's restaurant, which was surprisingly good. Native American towns don't seem to succumb to chain-hotel-itis quite so much as other towns do.
And the dogs! Everywhere you go in Chinle, a few dogs appear out of nowhere to follow you. Dogs fade in and out of the plants along the roadside, and haunt every park overlook and restaurant parking lot. Most of them look quite young -- which may bespeak a short lifespan -- though most of them also look fairly healthy and friendly. They wag, and play, and appreciate a head scratch, and otherwise behave pretty much like pet dogs everywhere.
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