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This is a modified version of ‘Planning Your Visit‘ information included in the National Park Service Guide.
The Navajo Nation has added the ‘Visiting Navajo‘ section right at the start. The first sentence of that is IMPORTANT. Canyon de Chelly, like the rest of the Navajo Nation, is on New Mexico time rather than Arizona! That can be confusing. My Garmin Fenix 5, which gets its time (when it can) from GPS, took it in its stride. But, for the first few hours I was never sure whether my Fenix 5 was right or wrong.
This guide, in photocopied black & white, is on the back of a b&w map of the Canyon — again taken from the National Park Service Guide, which, however, is in color.
They have this guide in the small Navajo Nation Office, adjacent to the ‘Thunderbird Lodge’, that you have to visit to get backcountry permits to enter the Canyon with a Navajo guide, either by jeep, horseback or on foot.
Hope this helps.
Click to ENLARGE the Pictures & Map.
In reality this is the ONLY way to see and get to know Canyon de Chelly. Going into the Canyon on horseback is fun (and we have done it twice) but you can’t cover as much ground and, from our experience, the guides that do horseback are not as ‘proficient’ as those on the ‘jeeps’. (But, there could be exceptions and we LUCKED out in that we got ‘Daniel Draper’ who has been doing jeep tours for 29-years). Yes, you can hike down to the ‘White House‘ (which we have also done twice) but you don’t get to see any of the key ‘pictographs‘ (painted) or ‘petroglyphs‘ (carved).
This was the second time I had done a ‘Thunderbird Lodge Tour‘ — albeit 19-years apart. The first time, in 1999, was in the BIGGER Korean-war era Army vehicles they used to have. But, then there was the infamous 2012 roll-over that (eventually) killed two. Everything changed after that — including the ownership of the iconic & historic ‘Thunderbird Lodge’. The 6-wheelers they use now are smaller and newer.
We lucked out — as was invariably the case during this entire 4-day trip to the Canyon (my 4th). Very few people. Most of the time, wherever we would be the only ones there. That is nice and highlights the trademark serenity of the Canyon (which is my favorite part).
We did not book a private tour. We just booked (in the morning) the 4-hour, 4pm (sunset) tour. We were told be there 20-minutes early.
Well it was just the two us, Teischan & I, and that was special. I, with extensive experience with Navajo, soon established a good rapport with Daniel — and I think he enjoyed it too, in that I was not a total novice when it came to the Canyon or the Navajo. We had such a good time that I invited Daniel and his two daughters for dinner with us (at ‘The Junction‘) and they accepted. We had a great time and the two, extremely talented daughters, regaled us with songs after the dinner.
The tour was good. We learnt a lot.
Totally recommend it. Yes, there are other tours. From what I can see they are roughly the same price, i.e., ~$70/person for 3-4 hours. But, I liked the tour we took.
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33 years ago there was really ONLY one place to eat ‘Thunderbird Lodge Cafeteria‘ — and it WAS GOOD.
19 years ago you had the option of eating at the ‘Holiday Inn’ restaurant as well — BUT, the ‘Thunderbird Lodge Cafeteria’ was still the best.
3 years ago ‘Thunderbird Lodge Cafeteria’ (then called ‘The Sacred Lodge Cafeteria’) still rocked.
Not anymore. The ‘Thunderbird Lodge Cafeteria’, under new management (as of 18-months ago), SUCKS and sucks badly. The quality of food as plummeted.
Luckily there is the NEW ‘The Junction‘ attached to the ‘Best Western’ Hotel. ‘The Junction’ is GOOD. Very good and furthermore offers everything on the menu at the ‘Thunderbird’ and more. Yes, the common items between the two menus are typically $3 more expensive at ‘The Junction’, but that is well worth it since the quality and service is so much better. Plus ‘The Junction’ is full-service.
There is also a new “Denny’s” and a “Burger King” — the latter offering the ONLY reliable Wi-Fi in town.
“Denny’s” was OK. We had breakfast their once. Service was a tad slow but the food was OK.
We ate three nights in a row at ‘The Junction’ and even took some new Navajo friends there for dinner. They told us that they go there too — rather than the ‘Thunderbird’.
So, DEFINITELY recommend ‘The Junction’.
I personally also like “Church’s Chicken” and we have eaten there twice. It is fun and good.
Also do NOT forget the outstanding ‘Bashas’ supermarket with their deli that has an extensive range of hot food — including LOTS of great mutton. Their pot roast is very good.
So, my recommendations (at least for 2018): ‘The Junction’, “Church’s Chicken”, ‘Bashas’ supermarket, “Denny’s” & “Burger King”.
Click to ENLARGE the Pictures & Map.
From 2015 When We Did A 2-Hour Ride.
Horseback riding in the Canyon is magical. It is so quiet and peaceful. We did a 2-hour ride 3-years ago (in 2015) and loved it. So, we were definitely going to do it again. And we did. Except this time we made it a 3-hour ride.
In 2015 we went with “Tso’s Horse Tours” — the first ‘compound’ you come to when you enter the Navajo area at the mouth of the Canyon. That worked out quite well for us and we went back to them. They are NOT doing horse tours this year.
Appears that in 2018 the ONLY company, permitted by the Park Service, to conduct horseback tours is Justin’s! Has to do with ‘insurance’ and the lack thereof.
All the Navajos are ‘related’ and Justin is supposedly an uncle of “Tso’s”.
We had no trouble with Justin or the guide he provided us, 29-year old, local Urwin Yazzie. We got a 2:50 minute tour for $140 and my horse ONLY try to roll over me ONCE! But, I was too quick for it. Luckily it was in DEEP sand so there was no damage and I kept kicking it away so it would not roll any further onto my body. It could have been serious, but it was not and I was cool.
The next day, Teischan and I did a 4-hour 6-wheel ‘Jeep’ tour with ’40-year’ old Daniel Draper. He knew much, much more about the Canyon. So, between the two tours we learnt a lot.
Definitely recommend horseback riding in the Canyon. All tours into the Canyon are expensive. Given a choice I would do horseback THOUGH, of course, you see (and learn) much less.
My Map & Data from my Garmin Fenix 5.
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This is a wonderfully rewarding hike. It is also the ONLY hike to the bottom of the Canyon open to the public. For all other hikes (or trips, on horseback or ‘jeep) within the Canyon you need to be accompanied by a ‘certified’ Navajo guide and have a Backcountry Pass issued by the ‘Navajo Nation‘.
This is an easy hike! The biggest challenge is the heat. Check the numbers above. We waited till it was past 5pm to start because of the heat. We could have waited longer, but as we had expected there was a fleeting ‘storm’ later in the evening. Did not want to get caught in that.
When we got to the bottom (and the ‘White House’) around 5:50pm the last of the Navajo vendors were packing their jeep for the day. So we had the whole ruin to ourselves for about 45 minutes! That was special. That was actually a feature of this trip. Very few people. Most of the time we were the ONLY folks around. That is always nice.
I as you can see from the GPS map wandered a fair amount at the bottom, around the ruins. I also followed the dry stream bed back to the bridge. A family of horses were milling around.
This is not a hard hike by any standard. The last .25 mile is flat. You do the elevation quickly. I met a man who had done it 5-times, in the day, running parts of it. Impressive. I think I could have run it once. But, he was at least 20-years younger than I.
This hike is a MUST.
This was rather special — even if it was filmed in ‘Best Western’ Hotel car park. Two rather amazing Navajo sisters; 15 & 13. They literally sang for their dinner — though, of course, they didn’t have to.
I had met their father 6-hours earlier. He took Teischan & I on a 4-hour, 6-wheeler ‘jeep’ tour of the Canyon — both the North & South sides. Though we hadn’t booked it as such, we lucked out and it proved to be a private tour — just the two of us. It was a great tour.
The tour finished around 7:50pm. We had already planned to go to “The Junction”, at the ‘Best Western’, for dinner, as we had done the last two-nights. We invited ‘Daniel’ to join us for dinner. He had told us about his two youngest daughters and how talented they were. He had even shown us a video of the oldest (15) singing. I told him to bring them along.
At 8:40pm we were having dinner. It was great. We all had a great time. We were the last to leave the restaurant.
This was when we got outside. The father asked them to sing for us. He is, understandably, very proud of their talents. They did NOT need any coaxing. They sang three songs for us. This was the last. I will post the other two soon.