Canyon de Chelly, the horseback trek!
COTTONWOOD CAMP, CHINLE, AZ After a good night’s rest at the Thunderbird Lodge near the entrance to Canyon de Chelly, we headed to our Native American outfitter to check in for the adventure ahead of us. Thoughts of our week-long trek through the vast landscapes of Northern Arizona and New Mexico exploring ancient ruins and speculating on origins of North America’s first civilizations formed a backdrop to the sights, sounds and smells under the shade of the ancient Cottonwoods along the edge of the Chinle Wash.
The day-long ride through Canyon de Chelly with our Navajo guide would be 19 miles or so, and take 7-8 hours. That’s a long day in the saddle. Getting to the start took a while. The ride outfitter was experienced, and very busy, taking care of several different rides and a lot of riders out of a large barn and stable complex next to the Chinle Wash under the shade of huge Cottonwood trees. Ours is the longest day ride they offer, and so we waited for the early riders to leave with their guides on shorter destinations, enjoying the flow of visitors and commotion.
Our mounts were eventually chosen for us and saddled up and we jumped into a super-cab truck with the horses in a trailer behind. Off we went along the same rim road we had taken the day before, this time with our own Navajo guide for the trail ride and a driver, who would drop us off and take the truck and trailer back to the stables. When the pavement turned into an unmaintained gravel and dirt road, we kept going for another five miles. Passing stands of pinon pine and scrub oak amongst the grey sage ground cover, some Ponderosa pines visible on the edges of the canyon to our left, the drive was beautifully scenic as we arrived at the trailhead near the top of Bat Canyon. There, we unloaded the horses, checked the cinches, downed some water and saddled up for a private guided ride through the Homeland of the Navajo Apache.
The most famous pueblo ruin in the canyon is called White House, seen earlier from the Tseyi Overlook, but now looming large in front of us as we wind along the trail next to the stream in the canyon bottom. Our guide invites us to dismount for a rest and a short lecture as we take in the awesome location the Ancient Ones chose for this protected retreat built into a cliff face!
The muscles in our legs, thighs, butts and backs were cramping and screaming loudly after our eight-hour marathon trail ride through the Canyon. A hot shower and some good pain killers washed down with some cold beer successfully muted most of the complaints about the expedition, and left us in an exhilarated mindset for the full lunar eclipse later that night, a Blood Moon:
Gazing at the orange globe hanging in that black Southwestern sky, it was hard not to imagine predecessors of ours in this place, descendants of the Athabaskan peoples of Northern Canada and Alaska who later were known as the Ancient Ones-the Anasazi, also gazing in wonder at the moon and stars and trying to place themselves in the scheme of such cosmic things….