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Nestled within the vast landscapes of Arizona lies the Canyon de Chelly National Monument, a testament to the ancient Navajo routes that have been in use for centuries. Among the myriad paths that lead into the three main ravines of this monument, the White House Ruin Trail stands out as the only route open to unaccompanied hikers. This trail offers a unique journey, descending nearly 600 feet to unveil one of the most iconic ancient dwellings in the monument.
The Trail’s Significance
The White House Ruin Trail is not just a path; it’s a passage through time. As you embark on this 1.2-mile journey, you’ll experience a descent of 560 feet, transitioning from the canyon’s rim to its floor. This trail is the gateway to the White House Ruin, a two-level ancient dwelling that paints a vivid picture of the past. The lower level is situated on the valley floor, while the upper level is nestled 50 feet up in an alcove.
The Trail’s Path
Starting from the White House Overlook along the South Rim Drive, the trail heads due south, skirting the canyon’s edge. As you proceed, the path descends, taking you through a series of switchbacks that navigate a boulder-strewn slope. The trail then curves around a slickrock bowl, leading to a gentler, sandy terrain. As you move northward, you’ll pass through short tunnels, eventually reaching the flat land beside the Chinle Wash.
The Canyon’s Beauty
Upon reaching the valley floor, a majestic rock formation rises 560 feet ahead, marking a U-bend along the wash. To the south, a cultivated area stretches out, complete with fences, fields, an orchard, and a traditional hogan. As you continue north, the cliffs tower tall and sheer, guiding you to the ruins.
The White House Ruins
The White House site, with its origins around 1070, stands as a silent witness to the lives of those who once called it home. The lower ruin, which once had around 60 rooms, is complemented by the upper alcove site with 20 rooms, including four kivas. Together, these structures provided shelter to at least 50 individuals. Today, only half of the lower ruin remains visible, with parts having been washed away in the early 20th century. Excavations over the years have unveiled burial sites, tools, projectile points, and a rich collection of pottery.
Similar Trails to Explore
- Alcove House in Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico
- Lime Canyon in Cedar Mesa, Grand Gulch, and Comb Ridge, Utah
- Petroglyph Point Trail in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
- Sand Canyon in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Colorado
- Island Trail in Walnut Canyon National Monument, Arizona
How to Pronounce Canyon de Chelly
According to Wikipedia the name Canyon de Chelly comes from:
The name chelly (or Chelley) is a Spanish borrowing of the Navajo word Tséyiʼ, which means “canyon” (literally “inside the rock” < tsé“rock” + -yiʼ “inside of, within”). The Navajo pronunciation is IPA: [tséɣiʔ]. The Spanish pronunciation of de Chelly [deˈtʃeʎi] was adapted into English, apparently through modeling after a French-like spelling pronunciation, and is pronounced /dəˈʃeɪ/ (də·shā′).
There are many scenic outlooks for photography around the rim of the canyon:
One of the more popular things at Canyon de Chelly is the White House Ruins. Nestled into the edge of the lower canyon with southern exposure is a set of Indian ruins named the White House Ruins. This trail is the only one you can go without a Navajo escort. The reason they call it the White House is because of the white-colored plaster/paint used on the house. White House Ruins stands out above lower ruins in a sandstone cave in Canyon De Chelly National Monument. The Anasazi people built these ruins. Anasazi is Navajo for “the ancient ones.”
Here is a video of the Anasazi White House Ruins from the outlook above:
What makes Canyon de Chelly unique compared to other canyons in the United States?
Canyon de Chelly is unique because it is one of the longest continuously inhabited landscapes in North America. The canyon is not only a natural wonder but also a living Native American community, primarily of the Navajo Nation. The blend of natural beauty and rich cultural history sets it apart from other canyons.
How do I get to Canyon de Chelly, and what are the best travel options?
The nearest major airport to Canyon de Chelly is Flagstaff Pulliam Airport in Flagstaff, Arizona. From there, you can rent a car and drive to the canyon, which is about a 3-hour drive. Public transportation options are limited, so driving is the most convenient way to get there.
What are the must-see spots in Canyon de Chelly, including the White House Ruins Trail?
Some must-see spots include Spider Rock, Antelope House, and, of course, the White House Ruins. The White House Ruins Trail is a 2.5-mile round-trip hike that takes you down into the canyon and offers a close-up view of the ancient ruins.
Is the White House Ruins Trail suitable for hikers of all levels, or is it more challenging?
The White House Ruins Trail is considered moderate in difficulty. It’s suitable for hikers with some experience but may not be ideal for beginners or those with mobility issues. The trail involves some steep sections and switchbacks.
What is the historical significance of the White House Ruins in Canyon de Chelly?
The White House Ruins are ancestral Puebloan ruins dating back to around AD 1060. They are named for the long wall in the upper dwelling that is covered with white plaster. The ruins offer a glimpse into the lives of the ancient people who once inhabited the region.
Are guided tours available for exploring Canyon de Chelly and the White House Ruins Trail?
Yes, guided tours are available and are highly recommended for a deeper understanding of the canyon’s history and significance. These tours are often led by Navajo guides who can provide unique cultural and historical insights.
What is the best time of year to visit Canyon de Chelly for optimal weather and experience?
The best time to visit is during the spring (April to June) and fall (September to November) when the weather is mild. Summers can be extremely hot, and winters can be quite cold.
Are there any cultural or tribal ceremonies that travelers can witness in Canyon de Chelly?
While the canyon is a living Native American community, cultural and tribal ceremonies are generally private. However, some events, like the annual Canyon de Chelly Looming Experience, are open to the public.
What kind of wildlife can travelers expect to see while exploring Canyon de Chelly and the White House Ruins Trail?
You can expect to see a variety of birds, including eagles and hawks, as well as mammals like deer and coyotes. The canyon is also home to various reptiles and insects.
What are the lodging options near Canyon de Chelly for travelers looking for both budget and luxury stays?
There are a range of lodging options near Canyon de Chelly, from campgrounds to motels and higher-end hotels. The Thunderbird Lodge is one of the more popular options, offering both convenience and cultural experience.
Canyon de Chelly Tours
Based on rules established by the Navajo Nation, all guides must be Navajo and most probably reside in the canyon area. We did a jeep tour that was offered by Beauty Way Jeep Tours. Leandro was our tour guide and grew up in the canyon and has been giving tours since the age of 14. We did a 3-hour jeep tour and learned a lot about the canyon and the Anasazi people.
Beauty Way was also the on-location tour guide for the cast and crew of the 2013 Lone Ranger movie starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp. Doing a tour is the only way to see most of the canyon due to the restrictions in place by the Navajo Nation.
Getting to Canyon de Chelly and Chinle, AZ from Phoenix
From Phoenix, drive northnortheast and expect the drive to take just under 5 hours with no stops. Canyon de Chelly is definitely worth the trip. You can also plan side trips to Monument Valley and the Petrified Forest.
How to Contact & Find Canyon de Chelly
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
P.O. Box 588
3 miles E of HWY 191 on Rt 7
Chinle, AZ 86503