Navajo of Canyon de Chelly - Southwest United States

Canon de Chelly – Navajo. Seven riders on horseback and dog trek against background of canyon cliffs, by Edward S. Curtis 1904.
Canon de Chelly – Navajo. Seven riders on horseback and dog trek against background of canyon cliffs, by Edward S. Curtis 1904. | Source

Dine', The people ~

The Navajo people have lived in Canyon de Chelly for several centuries. The canyon is in Chinle, Arizona, Apache County in the Southwest United States. It was designated a National Park Service unit in April of 1931. However, it is the Navajo who own and govern the canyon.

The Navajo call themselves Dine' (The People). Essential to their society is the clan system. Rules of behavior involve a refined culture they call "to walk in Beauty".

It is part of the Navajo culture to Live and Walk in Beauty ~

Migration and settlement ~

Archaeological study has shown that ancestors of the Navajo and Apache migrated from eastern Alaska and northwestern Canada to the Southwest United States sometime around 1400 CE - subsequently the Navajo settled in Canyon de Chelly.

They were hunters-gatherers. A relationship with Pueblo people helped the Navajo adapt to their new land. Trading practices were established and the Navajo picked up farming techniques. Their main crops were corn, squash, and beans - which are common crops for most Native American cultures. These three crops are called 'The Three Sisters', for they support each other. The corn gives stalks for the bean vines to climb and the squash provide large leaves to shade roots and help keep moisture in the soil.

Window Rock ~

Window Rock, Arizona is the capital of the Navajo Nation.
Window Rock, Arizona is the capital of the Navajo Nation. | Source

Weaving and spinning ~

When the Spanish arrived in the 15th century, the Navajo began raising sheep and goats as their main source of food and trade. This is when spinning and weaving became an important practice for making clothes and blankets.

Eventually their remarkably beautiful weaving techniques for blankets and rugs became a highly prized tourist attraction and source for collectors. An antique Navajo rug or blanket today can be worth thousands of dollars. These rugs and blankets are greatly admired worldwide.

Navajo family spinning and weaving ~

Navajo family, 1873
Navajo family, 1873 | Source

Hogan ~

The dwellings for the Navajo are called hogans. A traditional hogan was shaped by packing mud around a wood structure. Some hogans had posts inside for support.

The entrance faced east to bid the rising sun welcome which the people believed brought good fortune to the home and family. Hogans are still made in the same manner as in the ancient days . The hogan is a very energy efficient dwelling. Water will be sprinkled inside on the dirt floor and proper ventilation for natural air currents keeps the hogan cool in the summers. A pit fire in the center of the floor in winter months keeps the home warm.

The hogan is unique to the Navajo and for those who practice their traditional religion it is a sacred home. Some of the people live in more modern homes now, yet to keep in balance with their way of living they have the familiar hogan for ceremonies.

Traditional Navajo dwelling ~

A hogan is still made the same way as in ancient days.
A hogan is still made the same way as in ancient days. | Source

Coyote and First House legend ~

When the Navajo emerged from underground worlds Coyote was with them. Coyote felt a hogan should be built for First Man, First Woman, and Talking God.

Only Coyote knew what a hogan was, for he had done some traveling and checking things out with the Beaver People. So, Coyote gathered logs from Cottonwood trees to build a fork-stick frame, with the entrance facing east. He made a lot of mud to pack tightly all around the structure.

Coyote must have been curious about the shape of the hogan, so Beaver had told him to sit on the ground facing east and hold both knees up to hold in his hands. This showed Coyote and the people that the hogan was like a human sitting in that position welcoming the sun. As the hogan was being built the people sang a blessing song to make the dwelling holy.

Spider Rock ~

At the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon stands two incredible sandstone towers. The Navajo refer to the taller one as the home of Spider Grandmother, it is 750 feet high. It is a popular feature for photographers and a distinctive feature of the park.

Spider Grandmother appears in the creation stories of several Native American cultures. When Creator needed a place for people to live after the great flood he asked Spider Grandmother to weave a home for them. She wove the world then tossed the dew from her web into the sky which created the stars.

Spider Rock can be best viewed from South Rim Drive.

Spider Rock ~

Spider Rock, home of Spider Grandmother.
Spider Rock, home of Spider Grandmother. | Source

Puebloan Ancestors in the canyon ~

Archaeologists believe the Puebloan ancestors, often referred to as The Ancient Ones or Anasazi, inhabited Canyon de Chelly and several other canyons in the area from about the 15th century BC to the 12th and 13th centuries AD.

The Puebloan ancestors were highly knowledgeable about planets and stars as evidenced at Chaco Canyon where the entire community was originally constructed along astronomical alignments which most likely served for important ceremonial purposes to the culture and for signs of seasonal change.

The Anasazi are best known for their extraordinary cliff dwellings in canyons designated national monuments, including Canyon de Chelly. Ancient ruins of The White House is a fine example of the cliff dwelling communities.

White House ruins ~

Ruins of ancient Anasazi cliff dwellings.
Ruins of ancient Anasazi cliff dwellings. | Source

The canyon ~

The 83,840 acres (131 sq mi, 339.3 km) of the park is within the Navajo Nation and covers three major canyons: de chelly, del Muerto, and Monument.

Headwaters of streams from the ancient Chuska Mountains of the Colorado Plateau carved out the canyons, forming immensely high cliffs, rock spires and beautiful formations. Canyon de Chelly is one of the most visited national monuments in the United States.

Visitors to the park are restricted from the canyon floor unless they are with an authorized Navajo guide or a park ranger. When visitors come in their own cars the canyon can be viewed from above from North Rim Drive or South Rim Drive.

About 40 Navajo families live in the canyon. Some hogans can be seen from the White House Ruins Trail. In the following video you can see the breathtaking beauty of natural earth-tones, wild flowers, and amazing rock formations.

As of August 25, 1970 Canyon de Chelly is on the list of National Historic Places. Somewhere, deep in the canyon is Mummy Cave.

Mummy Cave ~

Mummy Cave.
Mummy Cave. | Source
show route and directions
A markerCanyon de Chelly -
Navajo Nation Reservation, AZ, USA
[get directions]

Canyon de Chelly

B markerChuska Mountain Range -
Navajo Nation Reservation, AZ, USA
[get directions]

Chuska Mountains

C markerChinle, Arizona -
2nd St, Chinle, AZ 86503, USA
[get directions]

Chinle, Arizona

D markerNavajo Nation -
Unnamed Road, Chinle, AZ 86503, USA
[get directions]

Navajo Nation

E markerHopi Reservation -
Hopi Reservation, Hopi, AZ, USA
[get directions]

Hopi Reservation

F markerChaco Canyon -
Bloomfield, NM, USA
[get directions]

Chaco Canyon

Note from author ~

Thank you for reading my article. Your opinions are important to me and let me know your interests. This helps me to offer more of your favorite subjects to read about. Your time and interest are very much appreciated. I hope to hear from you in the comments section below.

I write on several different subjects, all evergreen articles. You can read more about me and see more articles I wrote by clicking on my name by the small picture of me at the top right of this page.

Blessings and may you always walk in Peace and Harmony, softly upon Mother Earth.

Phyllis Doyle Burns - Lantern Carrier, Spiritual Mentor

~ ~ ~ ~

© 2016 Phyllis Doyle Burns

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Comments 14 comments

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 10 months ago from England

Hi, this was totally fascinating to me, and I loved the videos too! I think there is something magical about th 'Native Americans' I put it that way as I spoke to one a while ago and she said, we are 'indians, not darn native americans'! lol! so I will stick to indian. fascinating culture, so beautiful.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 10 months ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi, Nell. And some prefer to be referred to as indigenous, so one never knows for sure - I guess it is an individual choice. Isn't the canyon beautiful? I can see why the Navajo love their homeland. Thanks so much for reading and commenting..


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 10 months ago

Thank you for the lovely hub and photos. I hope to get the time to view your videos, too. I used to live in NM, but I didn't get to spend as much time in that beautiful area as I wished, but I feel a real connection to the area.

I learned something new from this because I thought the Navajo came before 1400. Guess I had them mixed up with the Anasazi. One thing that stands out is the East-facing entrances. I guess Feng Sui spread over the world in ancient times. I have always felt more comfortable in a home that faced East to West. Maybe that's my Native American blood calling me.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 10 months ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi MizB. I love the southwest area. I can't get over the colors of the canyons there, they are so pretty. I have two friends who live in Arizona, one in Mesa Verde and one in Tucson - they love it.

The Anasazi were there very early then Hopi people were there before the Navajo came. Glad my hub is educational for you. Thank you so much for the visit and comment.


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 10 months ago from North Carolina

The is a so well-laid out hub. It bears all the style of your usual great writes, with the text, vids and pictures. The Najavo, in this case, of the Cayon de Chelly, are really brought to life. How cool that they still keep their hogans as a link to their tradiontal past. The Anazasi are still mysterious in many ways, too. Mummy Cave is intriguing. How it got the name seems obvious, but would still like to know some more on it. On the s media for this one!


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 10 months ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Ah! haha, Alastar - I knew you would zero in on the Mummy Cave. I tried to find out more about it and nothing came up. I am sure it would be from the time of the Anasazi. Hope you find out about it. The LOC is the only place I found that had a photo of the outside of the cave. It seems to be quite secretive, and I can understand why, but I would like to know more about it - good luck on your search.

The Navajo are a very interesting people. Their silversmithing and turquoise jewelry is gorgeous. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate your visit.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 10 months ago from Queensland Australia

What an informative and interesting hub, Phyllis. There are a lot of similarities between the Navajo and Australian Aboriginals in regard to creation beliefs etc. Though the Navajo appear to have been more advanced in regard to building construction and weaving/spinning etc. The photos and videos are wonderful. I was interested to read that they are thought to have migrated down from Alaska and Canada.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 10 months ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Jodah. Thanks for stopping by. I agree, the Australian Aboriginals and have a lot of similarities with, not just the Navajo, but many Native American cultures. It is quite interesting to study the early days of people around the world and find so much in common. I love creation stories, never tire of them.

There was a time when I just thought the Navajo, Hopi and other tribes were always here. For many years my son and I have had discussions about our individual studies on Native American peoples. Some crossed the Bering Strait from lands far north of there, migrated down through Alaska, Canada, and further south into the U.S. , spreading out across the lands. The histories are interesting and what archaeologists have found is amazing. Have you ever read Randy Godwin's hubs on his collections of arrow heads and tools/implements he has found on his own property in Georgia? Fascinating information and photos.

Jodah, thanks so much for reading and commenting. Have a great day.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 10 months ago from Queensland Australia

I'll have to check out Randy's hubs about the arrow heads and other artifacts. Thanks for that.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 10 months ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

You are welcome.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 9 months ago from South Africa

Superb hub about the Navajo of Canyon de Chelly. I can't get enough of ancient history!


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 9 months ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Martie, good to hear from you. Me too, I love ancient history. Thanks for reading and commenting. Take care.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 9 months ago from Houston, Texas

What a spectacular looking place! I would love to see it in person one day. In the meantime, thanks for the wonderful introduction to this special place. Sharing and also pinning to my Arizona board.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 9 months ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Peggy. It is beautiful country there. Thanks for the visit and sharing. I appreciate it. I will have to take a look at your Arizona board - I love the Southwest.

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