guest post by Vera Marie Badertscher
photography by Leigh Spigelman

You can see it from deep within, or drive along the edge. From the approach through Beautiful Valley to the edge of the Canyon of Death (Canyon del Muerte), a drive along the north and south rims of Canyon de Chelly (prounounced de-shay) stores up images to last a lifetime. In my humble opinion, it is the most beautiful drive in Arizona, along the edge of the most beautiful canyon in Arizona.

Unlike grander canyons, de Chelly has an endearing human scale. Drive across the flat, sandy level space of the plateau called Defiance and look down into green pastures and a cottonwood-lined stream and you feel like an intergalactic traveler who has just discovered life in a hostile universe.

Chase the sunset along the edge of the canyon and watch tall spires sketched in shadows separate from the canyon walls and fade into a solid black mass. Stop along the way to see the ancient vertical trail that people living in the canyon still use-nimble as the goats they lead. Look across at White House Ruins (top photo), testimony to ancient occupation. If you are truly blessed, as you gaze down at the rural scene of life in the canyon, you’ll see horses running free, splashing through the stream, whirling like spirits blessing the day.

Most people who visit Canyon de Chelly ride trucks through the bottom of the canyon,splashing through the stream, craning their necks up at the curved red walls. Because the canyon is on the Navajo Reservation and people live in the canyon, you cannot just wander in on your own. You can climb aboard the old troop trucks at the historic Thunderbird Lodge near the campgrounds in the Canyon itself. Or you can go to the Park visitor center and hire a Navajo driver to take your own vehicle into the canyon. The Navajo guides will tell you tales–some true–like the one about the mesa where people starved rather than give in to Kit Carson who had been sent to relocate them. They will tell bad jokes, like the one about the tall formation leaning into the chasm. “Martini rock” the guide will say, “One drop will kill you.”

This ride into the canyon ranks as a trip of a lifetime, but while you’re there, don’t forget the rim drive. Unfortunately, many people miss that alternative view. From the information center along the north rim in the early morning, and along the south rim to Spider Woman Rock at sunset, a canyon rim tour turns the canyon inside out.

Vera Marie Badertscher writes travel articles and blogs about books, movies and travel at A Traveler’s Library. A long-time Arizona resident, she actually prefers the human-scale of Canyon de Chelly over that other famous Arizona attraction, The Grand Canyon.

Leigh Spigelman is a photographer experienced in travel, nature, wildlife photography and architecture imaging. He is based in the Southwest United States and travels extensively in his digital pursuits. See his photography website at and check out Leigh’s blog.



17 Responses to Canyon de Chelly (Arizona, USA)

  • Vera Marie Badertscher says:

    Mark: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my favorite place with your readers. And I am thrilled with the photos that Leigh provided. It looks as though he took them just for my article, even though we worked entirely separately.

  • BarbaraW says:

    Beautifully written and photographed. Although I lived in Arizona for 11 years, I never made it to Canyon de Chelly – I often wonder how I missed it.

  • Heather on her travels says:

    It's nice to hear ablout one of the lesser known canyons (at least to me). I've only know the Grand Canyon & Antelope, but there's something special about these arid landscapes. I'd have liked to hear some of those old Navaho stories too.

  • Melanie Haiken says:

    I know it's silly, but ever since I read Tony Hillerman I've been dying to see Canyon de Chelly. I hope to visit this January. Thank you so much for getting me even more excited about the trip!

  • Shannon OD says:

    I can't believe I didn't do this drive when I was out that way! I've done a cross-country drive across the south twice now – if I do it again, this will surely be on the list of places I'll stop. Really beautiful shots :-)

  • Monica Surfaro Spigelman says:

    Great writing and photography on a beautiful place to visit. The ruins are amazing and the splendor of the canyons are even more so. There is beauty and history in each nook and cranny of Canyon de Chelly. We visited late October and were treated to a glorious display of fall colors on the Canyon trees.

  • Footsteps says:

    I've always wanted to fit this into an AZ trip. Hopefully, next time!

  • Anonymous says:

    Really great post – and I love the pics!

  • Mark H says:

    @vera: My pleasure to have such a fine article on Travel Wonders.

    @BarbaraW: I had never heard of the place. Its beauty is stunning.

    @heather: I like the idea of highlighting lesser known places. The world is full of such magical locations that await discovery by the slightly more adventurous traveller.

    @melanie: I hope that you get to see it in January. Being winter, I'm sure that it will present a very different face to that in Leigh's photos.

  • Mark H says:

    @shannon: You now have ana excuse to undertake that drive again.

    @monica: The fact that people lived there for so long makes these places that much more interesting than simply their stunning natural beauty.

    @footsteps: Articles like this one written by Vera will make more people put Canyon de Chelly on their itinerary.

  • darngooddigs says:

    We definitely want to visit the Canyon de Chelly next time we're in northern Arizona. You provide some good advice – because I've heard it's not the easiest place to navigate.

  • Mark H says:

    @darngooddigs: Vera's superb article has encouraged a few to visit this great piece of Arizona.

  • Donna Hull says:

    This is one of my all-time favorite Arizona destinations. I visited on a jeep jamboree. Chinle Wash was filled with fast running snow melt as our jeep put-put-putted through the water. I'll never forget the sweet smell of a shrub (don't know the name) in bloom or the thrill of viewing ancient ruins crumbling on the ledges of sandstone walls. Beautifully written and photographed piece.

  • Garry riky says:

    Really wonderful blog and Travel Pictures. These ruins spot really very tremendous and eye soothing.Thanks a lot for posting such beautiful photos

  • Mark H says:

    @garry: Thank you for your kind remarks. These ruinous locations are very special and worth preserving.

  • Mendy says:

    The only word for this blog can be “Wow”.
    It contains lots of beautiful travel pictures.
    It’s really worth to explore these great tourist destinations of the planet.
    I have also same opinion that it is the most beautiful drive in Arizona.

  • Mark H says:

    @mendy: Thank you for your kind words

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Welcome to Travel Wonders
My name is Mark and I’m a keen traveller. In fact, over the last 25 years, I’ve travelled to every continent and over 80 countries. This blog is about the most memorable destinations – the places I regard as the travel wonders of the world. I’m also a keen photographer, and have taken nearly all the photos you’ll see. During my travels, I’ve met some incredible people, seen inspiring places, viewed extraordinary wildlife and scenery and had some amazing experiences, and I’m writing these stories not only to entertain but primarily to inspire others to discover their own travel wonders.
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