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Exploring Canyon de Chelly on a four-wheel-drive adventure

For an introduction to off-roading, Canyon de Chelly National Monument near Chinlé, Arizona, offers baby boomers easy to moderate driving challenges in a scenic setting. History whispers from ancient cliff dwellings as you bounce along the canyon floor next to the streaked, pink walls of sandstone cliffs. But, life still goes on here as sheep graze beside hogans in this canyon that the Navajo call their summer home.

Central room of the Mummy's Cave at Canyon de Chelly

Central room of the Mummy’s Cave at Canyon de Chelly

A two-day discovery of Canyon de Chelly and her sister, Canyon del Muerto, initiated me to the ranks of four-wheel-drive enthusiasts. Accompanied by Navajo guide, Delbert Wilson, our group of 4 jeeps learned about the canyon’s spiritual and cultural significance as the vehicles swayed up the muddy bank of yet another creek crossing. At sites like White House Ruins, Spider Rock and Mummy’s Cave, we stopped to explore while Delbert told us stories about his ancestors. Part of a Jeep Jamboree USA tour, the experience reminded me of a cruise on land as we shared the canyon with 50 Jeeps.

Don’t have a Jeep? Buy a ticket for one of the large open vehicles that Alan and I fondly call “shake and bakes” or book a private four-wheel-drive excursion operated by one of the Navajo licensed guide companies. Outfitters also offer hiking, camping and horseback riding adventures in the canyon.

Horses in the Canyon de Chelly

Horses in the Canyon de Chelly

Drives on the north and south rim of Canyon de Chelly do not require a guide or permit. A trail also leads from a parking area on the south rim down the canyon wall to White House Ruins. But, don’t miss all the fun. You need to travel into the canyon to truly experience it.

As we left Canyon de Chelly, I spotted horses running free in Chinlé Wash. The splash from their hooves hovered in the air like crystal jewels lit by a late afternoon sun. Post a comment to tell me about your favorite memory of visiting Canyon de Chelly.

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