By 1770, Canyon de Chelly (de shay), was appearing on Anglo maps. The first scientific exploration took place in 1882 by James Stevenson of the Smithsonian Institution. But there were people in this wide canyon deep inside the Navajo Nation at least 3500 years before that, maybe longer.
One of the most famous structures in the canyon, White House Ruin, was build by the people we call the Anazai. Between 1060 and 1275, they built a cliff house, with 21 rooms and a pueblo below it with 60, which they lived in until the end of the 13th century.
Moisture from washes running through the canyons allowed them to grow cotton, corn, squash and beans. Artifacts uncovered by Earl H. Morris in 1920 included cotton cloth, yucca sandals, feather blankets and a boxcar of these amazing artifacts was sent to the American Museum of Natural History. It was said that all were in ‘an amazing state of preservation.’
It was 150 years ago that Kit Carson and his troops came to the canyon to destroy the Navajo who had been waging war against the Utes and the Anglos in an ongoing battle for their land. Carson burned hogans, killed livestock in the middle of winter, starving the inhabitants. When the Navajos learned he didn’t want to kill to them, they surrendered and went on the long march to Fort Summer or Bosque Redondo, New Mexico.
There, the government attempted to turn 9000 Navajos into settled village-dwelling people. When the government realized they had failed and allowed the Navajos to return to their sacred land they had begun to see themselves as a single, united people.
You can hike to White House Ruin; the 1.25 mile trail descends 550 feet, cutting through a sampling of the vegetation that grows on the Reservation, from the pinyon-juniper woodland to the prickly pear and cottonwood stands.
P.S. Some of this information comes from “Canyon de Chelly,” published by the Western National Parks Association, Scott Thybony, copyright 1997.