Spectacular canyons here shelter prehistoric cliff dwellings and traditional Navajo life. Sheer sandstone walls rise as high as 1,000 feet, giving the canyons a fortress-like appearance. The 26-mile-long Canyon de Chelly (pronounced d'SHAY) and adjoining 35-mile-long Canyon del Muerto join a few miles upstream from the visitor center. Rim elevations range from 5,500 feet at the visitor center to 7,000 feet at the end of the scenic drives. Allow at least a full day to see some of the monument's 83,840 acres. April to October is the best time to visit. Winter brings cold weather and a chance of snow. Afternoon thunderstorms arrive almost daily in late summer, creating thousands of waterfalls that cascade over the rims, stopping when the skies clear.
The small, spread-out town of Chinle, just west of Canyon de Chelly National Monument, takes its name from a Navajo word meaning "where the water flows out," as the Rio de Chelly emerges from its canyon here.
The First Peoples
Nomadic tribes roamed these canyons more than 2,000 years ago, collecting wild foods and hunting game. Little remains of these early visitors, who must have found welcome shelter from the elements in the natural rock overhangs of the canyons. The ancestral Puebloan people (Anasazi in the Navajo language) made their first appearance about A.D. 1, living in alcoves during the winter and brush shelters in summer. By A.D. 500 they had begun cultivating permanent fields of corn, squash, and beans and fashioning pottery. Villagers lived at that time in year-round pithouses, partly underground structures roofed with sticks and mud.
Around A.D. 700 the population began to build above-ground cliff houses of stone. These pueblos (Spanish for "villages") also contained underground ceremonial rooms, known as kivas, used for social and religious purposes. Most of the cliff houses now visible in Canyon de Chelly date from A.D. 1100–1300, when an estimated 1,000 people occupied the many small villages. At the end of this period the ancestral Puebloan people migrated from these canyons and from other large population centers. Archaeologists speculate that possible causes include floods, drought, overpopulation, and soil erosion.
It's likely that some of these people moved to the Hopi mesas, as Hopi religion, traditions, and farming practices have many similarities with those of the Canyon de Chelly cliff dwellers. During the next 400 years, Hopi farmers sometimes used the canyons during the growing season, but they returned to the mesas after each harvest.
The Navajo Arrive
First entering Canyon de Chelly about A.D. 1700, the Navajo found it ideal for farming and as a refuge for raiding nearby Native American and Spanish settlements. In 1805, however, even the steep canyon walls proved inadequate when the Spanish launched a punitive expedition; soldiers reported killing 115 Navajo, including 90 warriors at what's now known as Massacre Cave. The Navajo identified the dead as mostly women, children, and old men. During the Mexican era, raids took place in both directions; the Navajo sought food and livestock, while Mexicans kidnapped women and children to serve as slaves.
Contact with Americans also went badly—settlers encroached on Navajo land and soldiers proved deceitful. Conflict came to an end in the winter of 1863–64, when Colonel Kit Carson led detachments of the U.S. Cavalry into the canyons. The army destroyed the tribe's livestock, fruit trees, and food stores and captured as many Navajo as possible. The starving survivors had no choice but to surrender and to be herded onto a desolate reservation in eastern New Mexico. After this infamous "Long Walk," and four miserable years there, they were permitted to return to their beloved canyons in 1868.
Today, Navajo continue farming and grazing sheep on the canyon floors. You can see their distinctive round hogans next to the fields. More than 50 families live in the canyons, but most spend winters on the canyon rims, returning to their fields after the spring floods have subsided.
Exhibits reveal Native American history from the Archaic period (before A.D. 1) to the present, with many fine artifacts. Video programs provide additional insights into the peoples who have lived here, as do regional books available for purchase. A silversmith is often at work creating jewelry. Just outside, the Plant Walk identifies local flora and describes how the Navajo used them; borrow or purchase the leaflet from the visitor center. You can also step into a Navajo hogan nearby. A bulletin board lists scheduled talks, campfire programs, and hikes. The visitor center (P.O. Box 588, Chinle, AZ 86503, 928/674-5500, www.nps.gov/cach) is open 8 a.m.–6 p.m. daily in summer, then 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily the rest of the year.
Canyons de Chelly and del Muerto
A paved scenic rim drive with viewpoints along each canyon lets you gaze into the depths; binoculars come in handy to see the ruins and other features. Each rim drive takes about two hours. For additional perspectives, you can travel inside the canyons by 4WD vehicle, horseback, or foot.
Except on the self-guided White House Ruin Trail, you may enter the canyons only with an authorized Navajo guide or monument ranger. This rule is strictly enforced to protect the ruins and the privacy of families living in the canyons. All land belongs to the Navajo people; the National Park Service administers policies only within monument boundaries.
Vehicles are occasionally broken into at overlooks. Thieves look for cash, cameras, camcorders, computers, and other valuables, which you'll want to store out of sight. Also be sure that windows are fully up and doors locked.
South Rim Drive of Canyon de Chelly
All pullouts and turns are on the left. Distances include mileage between turnoffs and overlooks. Allow at least two hours for the drive. Parked vehicles should be locked and valuables removed.
Mile 0: Visitor Center. The nearby canyon walls stand only about 30 feet high where the Rio de Chelly enters Chinle Wash.
Mile 2.0: Tunnel Canyon Overlook. The canyon is about 275 feet deep here. Guides sometimes lead short hikes down the trail in this side canyon. Don't go hiking without a ranger or Navajo guide.
Mile 2.3: Tsegi Overlook. You'll see a Navajo hogan and farm below. Tsegi is the Navajo word for "rock canyon," which the Spanish pronounced "de chegui." American usage changed it to "de chelly" (d'SHAY).
Mile 3.7: Junction Overlook. Canyon del Muerto, across the canyon floor, joins Canyon de Chelly here. The sheer walls stand 400 feet high. Look for two cliff dwellings of ancestral Puebloan people. First Ruin is located in the cliff at the far side of the canyon to the left. The pueblo has 10 rooms and two kivas, and dates from the late 11th to late 13th centuries. Junction Ruin, with 15 rooms and one kiva, lies across and to the right, near where the two canyons join. These dwellings, like most others in the monument, face south to catch the sun's warmth in winter.
Mile 5.9: White House Overlook. Canyon walls rise about 550 feet at this point. White House Ruin, on the far side, is one of the largest in the monument. The name comes from the original white plaster on the walls in the upper section, which you can see from the overlook. Parts of 60 rooms and four kivas remain in the upper and lower sections, though there may have been 80 rooms before floodwaters carried away some of the lower section. As many as 12 ancestral Puebloan families may have lived in this village about 1060–1275.
White House Ruin Trail continues down from the overlook and crosses the canyon floor to give you a close look at the site. Allow two hours for the 2.5-mile roundtrip; bring water but no pets. This is the only hike in the canyon permitted without a guide, but you must stay on the trail. You can buy a pamphlet describing it at the visitor center. Many trails connect the rim with the canyon bottom, but few are as easy as this one. The Navajo often used it to move sheep.
Mile 12.0: Sliding House Overlook. These ruins, perched on a narrow ledge across the canyon, are well named. The people who constructed the village on this sloping ledge tried to brace rooms with retaining walls. Natural depressions at the overlook collect water and are still sometimes used by the Navajo.
Mile 19.6: Face Rock Overlook. Small cliff dwellings sit high on the rock face opposite the viewpoint. Though the rooms look impossible to reach, the ancestral Puebloan people chipped handholds and toeholds into the rock.
Mile 20.6: Spider Rock Overlook. The South Rim Drive ends where rock walls plummet 1,000 feet from the rim to the canyon floor. Follow the 200-yard paved trail for the view of Spider Rock, the highest of the twin spires. It rises 800 sheer feet from the bottom of Canyon de Chelly. One story relates how newly arrived Navajo found an old woman in the canyon who taught them how to weave. She's now known as Spider Woman, a Navajo deity who makes her home atop Spider Rock.
You can see tiny cliff dwellings in the canyon walls if you look hard enough. Monument Canyon comes in around to the right. Black Rock Butte (7,622 ft.), on the horizon, is the weathered heart of an extinct volcano.
North Rim Drive of Canyon del Muerto
All turnoffs are on the right. Distances include mileage between turnoffs and overlooks. Allow at least two hours for the drive. Parked vehicles should be locked and valuables removed.
Mile 0: Visitor Center. Cross the nearby Rio de Chelly bridge and continue northeast on Indian Route 64.
Mile 10.0: Antelope House Overlook. Keep right at the fork on the quarter-mile walk to the viewpoint. Antelope House Ruin had 91 rooms and a four-story building. The village layout is clear—from the overlook you gaze almost straight down on it. The round outlines are kivas. The square rooms were for living or storage. Floods have damaged some of the rooms, perhaps while the ancestral Puebloan people still lived there. Residents abandoned the site about 1260. Its name comes from paintings of pronghorn antelope, some believed to be the work of a Navajo artist in the 1830s.
The Tomb of the Weaver sits across from Antelope House in a small alcove 50 feet above the canyon floor. Here, in the 1920s, archaeologists found the burial site of an old man. The well-preserved body had been wrapped in a blanket made from what appeared to be golden eagle feathers. A cotton blanket and cotton yarn topped with a spindle whorl were enclosed.
From a viewpoint a short walk east from Antelope House Overlook, you can spot Navajo Fortress, the sandstone butte across the canyon. When danger threatened, the Navajo climbed up the east side using log poles as ladders. They pulled in the uppermost logs and pelted attackers with a hail of rocks. Navajo used this natural fortress from the time of the Spanish until the Kit Carson campaign.
Mile 18.7: Mummy Cave Overlook. Archaeologists in the late 1800s named this large cliff dwelling for two mummies found in the talus slope below. Canyon del Muerto (Spanish for Canyon of the Dead) reportedly also took its name from this find. Mummy Cave Ruin sits within two separate overhangs several hundred feet above the canyon floor. The largest section is on the east (to the left), with 50 rooms and three kivas; the west cave contains 20 rooms. Between these sections is a ledge with seven rooms, including a three-story tower of unknown purpose. The finely crafted tower dates from about A.D. 1284; archaeologists think it was built by people from Mesa Verde in Colorado.
Mile 20.6: Massacre Cave Overlook. The North Rim Drive ends here. In 1805, Antonio de Narbona led an expedition of Spanish soldiers and allied Native Americans to these canyons. A group of fleeing Navajo managed to scale the nearly 1,000 feet to this overhang. Narbona's troops, however, ascended to the rim overlooking the cave and fired down. Narbona's account listed 115 Navajo killed and 33 taken captive.
From Yucca Cave Overlook nearby, you can see a cave with at least four rooms and a kiva. A small cave to the left was used for food storage; a toe-and-handhold trail connected the two alcoves.
If you have a guide, you can hike almost anywhere. Navajos will usually be waiting near the visitor center to accompany you on canyon trips; they can suggest routes depending on your interests and time available. Rangers at the visitor center can help make arrangements and issue the necessary permit. Comfortable walking shoes, water, insect repellent, and a hat will come in handy. Expect to do some wading. In fact, under the hot summer sun with red rocks all around, you may insist on it—the cool water and the shade of the trees are irresistible. Autumn can bring especially good hiking weather, with comfortable temperatures and the spectacle of cottonwoods turning to gold. Guides charge $15 per hour for up to 15 people with a three-hour minimum. Overnight trips are possible with additional charges by the guide and landowner of a negotiable $60–100.
Rangers occasionally lead half-day hikes in the lower canyon from late May to the end of September. These are free, but check departure time the day before—hikes leave promptly.
Canyon Driving Tours
The visitor center provides a list of tour operators. You'll enjoy unobstructed views from the back of an open truck that stops frequently for photography and viewing of ruins. Half-day trips typically head up Canyon del Muerto to Antelope House Ruin and up Canyon de Chelly to White House Ruin. Full-day excursions can go much farther up each canyon—as far as Mummy Cave in Canyon del Muerto and Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly.
For private and group trips, Canyon de Chelly Jeep Tours (928/674-5433, www.canyondechellytours.com) and Tseyi Jeep Tours (928/674-3262, www.tseyijeeptour.com).
You can also take your own 4WD vehicle into the canyons with a guide and permit arranged at the visitor center. The guide fee for up to five vehicles is $15 per hour with a three-hour minimum.
Justin's Horse Rentals (P.O. Box 881, Chinle, AZ 86503, 928/675-5575) will put you in the saddle for rides of two hours to several days; cost is $10 per hour for each rider and $15 per hour for the guide (one per group). The stables are down the dirt road opposite the Sacred Canyon Lodge/Cottonwood Campground turnoff.
You can ride your own horse by arranging board and feed at one of the stables near the park and by hiring an authorized Navajo guide.
Accommodations and Camping
$100-150: Sacred Canyon Lodge (former Thunderbird Lodge, 928/674-5841 or 800/679-2473, www.sacredcanyonlodge.com/, $97 s, $101 d April-Oct.) has an attractive setting amidst lawns and shade trees a half mile south of the visitor center. The cafeteria and large gift shop here are a big hit with many visitors. The lodge began as a trading post for the Navajo in 1902, then expanded to accommodate tourists. Holiday Inn (928/674-5000 or 800/465-4329, $129 d March-Oct.) is just west of the visitor center; guests enjoy a restaurant, outdoor pool, gift shop, and tours. Best Western Canyon de Chelly Inn (928/674-5875 or 800/327-0354, $99 d May-Oct.) lies 2.5 miles west of the visitor center in the town of Chinle with a restaurant, indoor pool, wireless Internet, and a gift shop.
Cottonwood Campground, between the visitor center and Sacred Canyon Lodge, offers pleasant sites among large cottonwood trees. It's open all year, with water available only from April to October; no showers or hookups are available, though there is a dump station; RVs up to 40 feet can use the campground. Navajo Parks & Recreation Department manages the campground and charges a $14 fee per site, up to 7 people; group sites take 14-30 and cost $50. Rangers present campfire programs some nights from late May to the end of September. The campground usually has space; reservations are accepted only for group tent sites. Cottonwood trees also shade a picnic area near the campground entrance; water is available except in winter.
You can escape the crowds at Spider Rock Campground (928/674-8261 or 877/910-2267, www.spiderrockcampground.com). It's set in a pinyon-juniper woodland 10 miles from the visitor center and half a mile before the Spider Rock turnoff on the South Rim Drive. Tents and small rigs cost $10; RV spaces run $15 but include water fill and dump. You can also rent a hogan for $29 and up. Water and solar showers cost extra. The owner offers day and overnight hikes to Spider Rock and other destinations.
Sacred Canyon Lodge's cafeteria (daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, $10-19) is a good choice for informal dining; at dinner you can order steaks, chicken, pork chops, shrimp, or lighter fare such as a Navajo taco; Navajo rugs decorate the walls. At the Holiday Inn, Garcia's Restaurant (daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, $8-19) has a very attractive Southwestern decor and a dinner menu of steaks, trout, and Southwestern dishes. In high season, there's a breakfast buffet and a salad bar; in winter only breakfast and dinner are served. Canyon de Chelly Inn's Junction Restaurant (daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, $6-17) serves American, Chinese, and Navajo dishes plus pizza; breakfast is available all day.
Tseyi Shopping Center (US 191 just north of the junction with Indian Route 7) has a Pizza Edge (928/674-3366, Mon.-Sat. for lunch and dinner, $4-16) and a Bashas' supermarket and deli. Several fast-food places are nearby.
Shopping and Services
Navajo Arts & Crafts Enterprise (928/674-5338) sits opposite the Canyon de Chelly turnoff from US 191 in Chinle. Gift shops in the three lodges also display Native American work. The post office and a laundry are in Tseyi Shopping Center. Campers can get showers on weekdays at the Chinle Chapter House, 1.4 miles toward town from the visitor center.
Dine College (Tsaile Campus)
In 1957, recognizing the need for college education, the Navajo established a scholarship fund. Students had to leave the reservation to pursue their education, however, and the cultural gap between the Navajo and the outside world proved so great that many students dropped out. So in 1969 the tribe created Navajo Community College, later renamed Dine College. Students used temporary facilities at Many Farms, Arizona, until 1973, when campuses opened at Tsaile and at Shiprock, New Mexico. Students can choose from courses in many Navajo and Native American subjects—crafts, language, politics, music, dance, herbology, and holistic healing. The colleges offer vocational training and adult education too. The Tsaile campus (928/724-6630, www.dinecollege.edu) lies 23 miles east of the Canyon de Chelly Visitor Center and 54 miles north of Window Rock.
The unusual campus layout resulted from Navajo elders and healers working together with architects. Because important Navajo activities take place within a circle, the campus grounds and many of the buildings took on that shape. If you know your way around a hogan, you'll find it easy getting around campus: the library is tucked in where the medicine bundle is kept during a ceremony, the cooking area (dining hall) lies in the center, sleeping (dormitories) is centered in the west, the teaching area (classrooms) occupies the south, and the recreation area (student union and gym) is in the north. The central campus entrance, marked by the glass-walled Ned A. Hatathli Center, faces east to the rising sun.
The Hatathli Museum (8 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 928/724-6654, donation requested) claims to be the "first true Native American museum." Managed entirely by tribespeople, the collection occupies the third and fourth floors of the hogan-shaped Hatathli Center. Exhibits display art and interpret the cultures of prehistoric peoples as well as Navajo and other modern tribes. Ned Hatathli was the first Navajo manager of the tribal Arts and Crafts guild and a Tribal Council member.
You're welcome to stroll the campus. From the first floor of the Hatathli Center, walk west out the back and the college library will be ahead on the left and the cafeteria ahead on the right. Both the library and the bookstore (just north of the cafeteria) have many Navajo-related titles.
These colorful mountains in Arizona's northeast corner may remind you of Sedona with the sculpted red rocks below and white rocks above. A very scenic drive crosses the range, providing a shortcut to New Mexico. It's paved, but isn't maintained in winter. From the highway junction at Tsaile, head north seven miles on Indian Route N12, then turn right on Indian Route N13; the junction may not be signed, but it's beside a gas station between Mileposts 83 and 84. Over the next five miles you'll pass through the spread-out town of Lukachukai, then begin a steep ascent, entering forests of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. Atop a ridge, after four miles of climbing, you'll pass some aspen groves and views into New Mexico. On the descent, the spires of Shiprock and its radiating volcanic dikes come into view. The highway ends at US 491 in New Mexico, where you can turn north to the town of Shiprock, or south past its volcanic namesake toward Gallup.
This mountain lake lies surrounded by a ponderosa forest at an elevation of 7,300 feet, between Mileposts 64 and 65 on Indian Route N12, 10 miles south of Tsaile and 44 miles north of Window Rock. The rugged Chuska Mountains rise to the east. Trout swim in the waters. There's a badly trashed campground across the highway; bring your own water. Camping, fishing, and boating require Navajo permits. In fine weather, you'll enjoy views of colorful cliffs and forested mountains on a scenic drive through this area. Although paved, Indian Route N12 isn't recommended in winter.
Navajo, New Mexico
Trees from the extensive woodlands that surround the town of Navajo supply the town's large sawmill. A supermarket sells groceries and tribal fishing permits. Nearby Red Lake, named for the color of its aquatic vegetation, has catfish. Navajo is 17 miles north of Window Rock on Route 12, on the way to Wheatfields Lake, Tsaile, and Canyon de Chelly. Asaayi Lake, 11 miles northeast in New Mexico, offers trout fishing, non-motorized boating, and camping, $10 day use or $15 overnight; it's not suitable for RVs and closes in winter. Whiskey Lake is farther east, also on dirt roads, and has trout.
In the early 1930s, Tseghahodzani, "The Rock With a Hole in It," so impressed Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier that he chose the site for a Navajo administration center. An octagonal Navajo Council House, representing a great ceremonial hogan, went up, and Window Rock became the capital of the Navajo Nation. Tribal Council delegates meet here to decide on reservation policies and regulations.
Window Rock is a small but growing town (area pop. about 8,000) at an elevation of 6,750 feet. Besides the Council Chambers and offices, the town contains a very good museum, small zoo, two parks, motel, and a shopping center. Window Rock's commercial center is at the junction of AZ 264 and Indian Route N12.
Massive wood pillars of this impressive building soar to the central skylight high above. The entrance opens to the east, like the traditional log hogan in front. It's on the north side of AZ 264 in Tse Bonito Tribal Park, a half mile east of Window Rock Shopping Center. The park also offers some shaded picnic tables. The Navajo camped on this site in 1864 on The Long Walk to eastern New Mexico.
Spacious museum galleries (tel 928/871-7941, www.navajonationmuseum.org museum, www.discovernavajo.com tourist info, closed Sun.) present excellent historical and art exhibits from the permanent collection and visiting shows. The library (928/871-6376 or 871-6526) offers a Native American Collection, a Special Collections room, general reading, and Internet computers. A gift shop sells Native American arts and crafts along with books and souvenirs. Staff at the information desk (P.O. Box 663, Window Rock, AZ 86515, 928/871-6436, www.explorenavajo.com) in the lobby answer questions and provide Navajo and Arizona travel literature. The museum, library, gift shop, and information desk all stay open 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon., 8 a.m.–8 p.m. Tues.–Fri., and 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday. There's also an indoor theater and large outdoor amphitheater.
Navajo Nation Zoological and Botanical Park
Set beneath towering sandstone pinnacles known as The Haystacks, the collection (928/871-6574, www.navajozoo.org, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.-Sat.) offers a close look at wildlife and domestic animals of the Navajo lands. Rattlesnakes and other small creatures inhabit the orientation building near the entrance. Wild creatures include golden eagle, red-tailed hawk, elk, coyote, black bear, cougar, and bobcat. Domestic breeds include the Navajo churro sheep, which has a double fleece and often four horns. Prairie dogs, free of restricting cages, run almost everywhere. The park lies just northeast of the museum.
Window Rock Monument & Navajo Veterans' Memorial Park
This beautiful spot shaded by juniper trees lies at the foot of Window Rock. The "window" is a great hole, averaging 47 feet across, in a sandstone ridge. Loose stones just below the hole mark the site of a prehistoric pueblo. You're not allowed to climb up to the hole, though a trail around to the left passes through wonderfully sculptured hills. The park has picnic tables, water, and restrooms for day-use only. The Navajo Veterans Memorial Park honors warriors from all eras of war and peace. Head north 0.5 mile on Indian Route N12 from AZ 264, turn right at the light and head 0.5 mile in, passing the Council Chambers on your left just before the park.
Navajo Nation Council Chambers
The Council meets at least four times a year within the circular walls here; you can watch the bilingual proceedings from the visitor seating. At other times twelve standing committees of the Council carry out legislative work. You can step inside 8 a.m.–noon and 1–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri. to see colorful murals that depict Navajo history. For more information, call the Council Chambers (928/871-6417) or Council Delegates (928/871-6380) or see the website www.navajo.org. Drive north 0.5 mile on Indian Route N12 from AZ 264, turn right at the light, then take the left fork 0.4 mile in.
St. Michael Mission
In 1898, Franciscan friars established this mission to serve the Navajo. You can visit the original mission building, now a historical museum (928/871-4171, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily Memorial Day to Labor Day; groups can visit at other times by appointment, free). St. Michael Mission is 2.9 miles west of Window Rock Shopping Center on AZ 264, then 0.2 mile south on Mission Road at the sign. Exhibits in the stone building recreate the early mission days with a chapel and missionary room, then interpret Native American culture and the work of the early missionaries. A gift shop sells regional books, cards, and posters. The mission's large stone church dates from 1937, when it replaced an earlier adobe structure; it's usually open during the day. A circular chapel behind the parking area has an earthen floor and a 16-foot woodcarving, The Redemption of Humanity or American Pieta by a German artist. The carving shows a dead Native American being lowered from a teepee tarp to a woman in mourning with two attendants.
Permanent springs in a nearby canyon attracted the Navajo, who named the area Tsehotsoi, "Meadow between the Rocks." Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner had another name in mind in September 1851, when, in defiance of the Navajo, he established a fort on an overlooking hillside. Though the Navajo nearly overran Fort Defiance in 1860, the army successfully repelled a series of attacks before abandoning it during the Civil War. In 1863–64, Colonel Kit Carson headquartered at the fort while rounding up and moving the Navajo. After the Navajo returned, destitute, in 1868, Navajo Agency offices issued them sheep and supplies here. The first school on the reservation opened in 1869, and the first regular medical service arrived in 1880. The old fort is gone now, but the town remains an administrative center with a hospital, schools, and Bureau of Indian Affairs offices.
Accommodations and Camping
$50-100: Quality Inn Navajo Nation Capital (48 W. Hwy. 264, 928/871-4108 or 800/662-6189, http://www.choicehotels.com, $63 s, $68 d) features Navajo-style rooms, a restaurant, and a business center just east of the shopping center. Navajoland Days Inn & Suites (3.4 miles west in St. Michaels at 392 W. Hwy. 264, 928/871-5690 or 800/329-7466, $70-80 d, $90 d mini-suite) offers an indoor pool, hot tub, sauna, and an exercise room.
Window Rock doesn't have any place to camp, but you can drive 7 miles north on Indian Route N12 to JWJ RV Park and Campground (Fort Defiance, 928/729-5917, $20 RV w/hookups, $10 tent) with a clubhouse and showers; it's on the east side of the highway. Assayi Lake in New Mexico (17 miles north to Navajo, then 11 miles northeast) is another option.
The Quality Inn Navajo Nation Capital's Dine Restaurant (928/871-4108, daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, $6-13) serves a varied menu of American, Navajo, and Mexican food, but closes at 6 p.m. on weekends. China West Buffet (Window Rock Shopping Center, 928/871-5622, Mon.-Fri. for lunch and dinner, $5.41) has buffets only. Denny's (3.4 miles west in St. Michaels next to the Days Inn, 928/871-2067, daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, $7-14) serves American favorites. None of these restaurants have much to offer for vegetarians. There's a supermarket in the shopping center, and Bashas' supermarket and deli lies just to the west on AZ 264.
The Fourth of July Celebration brings a PRCA rodeo to town along with Navajo music, dancing, arts, and crafts. Navajo Nation Fair (P.O. Box 2370, Window Rock, AZ 86515, 928/871-6647, www.navajonationfair.com) runs on the Wed.-Sun. after Labor Day in September. Said to be the largest Native American fair, this five-day festival offers a mixture of traditional and modern attractions, including song and dance, a parade, agricultural shows, food, crafts, concerts, rodeo, and the crowning of Miss Navajo.
Shopping and Services
Navajo Arts & Crafts Enterprise (near the junction of AZ 264 and Indian Route 12, 928/871-4090) sells Navajo paintings, rugs, jewelry, jewelry-making supplies, and crafts. Cool Runnings (north side of AZ 264 in St. Michaels, 0.1 mile east of Mission Rd., 928/871-5600, www.coolrunningsmusic.com) offers a large selection of music, plus crafts, craft and religious supplies, and t-shirts; it caters mainly to Navajo and has a very different atmosphere from the usual souvenir shop; you can listen to samples on the website. Post offices are on a hill behind the Quality Inn and at the St. Michael Mission turnoff.
The helpful Navajo Nation Tourism Department and the public library are in the Navajo Museum, Library & Visitor Center; see the description above. For hiking and camping information and permits on Navajo lands, contact the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department (P.O. Box 2520, Window Rock, AZ 86515, 928/871-6647, www.navajonationparks.org, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri.), just north of the museum. Fishing and hunting on the Navajo Nation require tribal permits from Navajo Fish and Wildlife (P.O. Box 1480, Window Rock, AZ 86515, 928/871-6451 or 871-6452, www.navajofishandwildlife.org, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri.) on the right shortly before Window Rock Monument. Arizona Game and Fish has no jurisdiction over the reservation—you need only tribal permits.
Navajo Transit System (928/729-4002, www.navajotransitsystem.com) connects Window Rock with many communities on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations.
The Spanish called this place Pueblo Colorado ("Colored House") after a nearby ruin left by ancestral Puebloan people. The name later changed to Ganado to honor one of the great Navajo chiefs, Ganado Mucho, or Big Water Clansman, a signer of the treaty of June 1868 that returned the Navajo lands. A Presbyterian mission founded here in 1901 provided the Navajo with a school and hospital. The school grew into the two-year College of Ganado, whose buildings are now used as a hospital. Hubbell Trading Post, Arizona's most famous, comes straight of the Old West. Ganado is on AZ 264, 30 miles west of Window Rock, 44 miles east of Keams Canyon, and 36 miles south of Chinle. The town lacks accommodations and reliable restaurants, but there's a grocery store open daily.
John Lorenzo Hubbell began trading in 1876, a difficult time for the Navajo, who were still recovering from their traumatic internment at Fort Sumner. Born in New Mexico, Hubbell had already learned some Navajo culture and language by the time he set up shop. Money rarely exchanged hands during transactions; Navajo brought in blankets or jewelry and received credit. They would then select desired items, such as coffee, flour, sugar, cloth, and harnesses. If the Navajo had credit left after buying supplies, they generally preferred silver or turquoise to money. Those bringing wool or sheep to the trading post usually received cash, however.
Hubbell distinguished himself by his honesty and appreciation of the Navajo. His insistence on excellence in weaving and silverwork led to better prices for Navajo craftspeople. The trading post helped bridge the Anglo and Native American cultures, as Navajo often called on Hubbell to explain government programs and to write letters to officials explaining their concerns.
Visitor Center, Hubbell's House, and Trading Post
Hubbell Trading Post (south side of AZ 264, one mile west of Ganado, 928/755-3475, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. daily June–Sept., 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily the rest of the year, www.nps.gov/hutr) is the real thing. Weavers (usually women) often demonstrate their skills in the visitor center, which also has an excellent bookstore with many titles about Native American history, art, and culture. You can try your hand at weaving a rug on the visitor loom with the instructions provided, and see if it's as easy as it looks!
Guides offer free scheduled tours of Hubbell's house and you can take a self-guided tour of the grounds and barn. The house contains superb rugs, paintings, baskets, and other crafts collected by Hubbell before his death in 1930 and by the Hubbell family thereafter.
The trading post still operates much as it always has, offering high-quality crafts or most anything else. Canned and yard goods pack the shelves, glass cases display pocket knives and other small items, horse collars and harnesses hang from the ceiling, and Navajo still drop in with items for trade. Check out the Native American baskets and other old artifacts on the ceilings and walls of the jewelry and rug rooms. A tree-shaded picnic area lies next to the visitor center. Major auctions of works by Navajo and Hopi artists take place in May and August.
On to Hopi Country