Navajo Nation and White House Ruins in Canyon De Chelly 4

I haven’t checked in with you all for what feels like quite some time.  It hasn’t been due to a lack of inspiration- I have had several great trips, visited several mountains and have been doing quite a bit of traveling lately.

Writing all the posts on my Kilimanjaro adventure was really emotional- so much was said- so much had been experienced.  In all honesty- it was kind of hard to think of what to write about after that.  I mean really- how could I top the last 3 posts I wrote?  That was some big adventure to live up to.

I finally found my muse.  I had the privilege of doing a really special trail last week and it brought me back to the basics.  It made me remember why I started exploring.  I thought of what it was like before my adventures became ‘epic’.  It all goes back to the most quintessential activity- the road trip.

I started my exploration of the great American Southwest many years ago due to my travel schedule within my career.  I found myself constantly on the road, weary, tired, lonely, overworked and enraged with asphalt.  About 6 years ago it occurred to me rather than seeing the inside of another chain hotel’s ‘gym’ and eating the same food no matter where I was I should start actually SEEING and TASTING some of these places I travel to and LEARNING about the local culture and it’s people.

I stopped staying at chain hotels and started finding local gems instead.  I don’t get ‘points’ for staying at the same hotel over and over – who cares!  I get an experience instead and that is priceless.  I stop at local farmers markets along the way to find locally grown or locally made fare to take with me rather than hitting up a drive through.  I pick a hotel close to a trailhead so I could explore that rather than staring at the hotel wall from a treadmill in the morning.  Rather than racing home to sit in traffic I stop along the way and get some trail time in so I am more alert and less anxious on the road home oh… and I get to see some really amazing natural and historic wonders!

My travels last week took me through over 700 miles of Northern and North Eastern Arizona Reservation Land.  I was visiting the Hospitals at several communities throughout Hopi and Navajo Nations with a colleague of mine who over the years has become like a sister to me.  We set out with all the road trip staples like canned salmon, avocado, nuts, kale chips, dried and fresh fruits and of course a little bit of cacao…

The scenery along these Reservations is breathtaking.  Most of the lands looked like Monument Valley and that is the area I was in for part of the trip.  The volcanic activity that occurred in this part of the world reminds me of Mother Nature’s version of what a Salvador Dali painting would look like.  It is bazaar, majestic, surreal.  The whole trip was full of eye candy.  It really keeps your mind off the long arduous days of working on the road.



take it easy!!

On day one the first pitstop after leaving Phoenix was in Winslow Arizona.  Winslow is famous for it’s ‘corner’ where there is indeed a statue of Glenn Frey ‘standing on the corner’.  Of course I have a photo of myself there!

Another not so well known claim to fame of Winslow is a National Treasure…  a local hotel called La Posada.  This was built in the 1930’s during the railroad boom and was the nicest hotel in Arizona and the along the railroad stops.  The original owner Fred Harvey was said to ‘civilize the west’ by introducing table linens, silverware, fine china, and other levels of service never before seen in this setting.  It shut down in the 50’s and an effort to restore and protect it began in 1994.  It is a must see if you are ever in Winslow.

My favorite part of La Posada is the restaurant on site called The Turquoise Room.  It is a farm to table made from scratch type of total taste bud heaven.  A good meal was had there before heading into Navajo Nation for the night.  The food choices from there were pretty sketchy so I savored every bite of my delectable crab salad.




Several hundred miles later and some really bad phone reception later there was a National Historic Site along the way.  Hubbell Trading Post, the oldest operating trading post on the Navajo Nation.  It was just in time for a leg stretch and to catch up on missed calls from driving through the middle of nowhere.  They had all of the Navajo traditional items like wool woven rugs, hand woven baskets, turquoise jewelery, and some other unique items that I picked up.  Something told me to pick up the Natural Pinon Cream.  Little did I know how important that decision would be later!

From there this ole wheel kept on trucking to Fort Defiance right on the New Mexico border then back up and over to the town of Chinle in Apache County.  Chinle was the slumber spot, and also the location of a very majestic and sacred spot called Canyon De Chelly. There is an incredible hike down into the canyon that reveals to some Anasazi Cliff Dwellings called the White House Ruins.  Another National Treasure!

In Chinle there isn’t much in the way of hotels.  They have a Holiday Inn, and locally owned and operated Sacred Canyon Lodge.  The lodge was the winner, plus it was less than a 10 minute drive to the trailhead from here.  It was pretty rustic- but what else can you expect on an adventure- nothing adventurous happens in the Holiday Inn!

12 hour day of working and traveling was completed and exhaustion started setting in.  Rather than giving into it it was decided a 40 minute walk around the lodge would help get out the road aches and stiffness.  There was a little hill that went up high enough to catch the sunset.  After a first attempt to leave the room it was immediately apparent that the recent rains that Arizona has desperately needed had their darkside… mosquito’s.  Luckily I had the homemade potion I use for this exact scenario.

Attempt two was starting a bit better.  About 35 minutes later I was sprinting back to the lodge, no photos were taken, no sunset was enjoyed, no tranquility was had- instead it looked like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s film “Birds” as the most aggressive mosquito’s I have ever been eaten alive by had done their damage.  I was a giant welt.  I had a minimum of 40 giant welts all over my face, arms, legs, even under my socks!  They were insane, they were biting THROUGH clothes!!!  Mosquito Warriors!  It was pretty awful.  My colleague was quite concerned that I would experience anaphylactic shock.  I tried to play it off like it wasn’t THAT bad but the look on her face was pure terror!  We decided it was probably a good idea to stay inside for the night so we ate our provisions we brought along for dinner.  I read up on the local Navajo culture and why the canyon was so sacred.

I remembered the Pinon cream I purchased earlier at the trading post.  BINGO!  I spread that stuff from head to toe and hit the sack- we were planning to head down the trail at 6am.  I had nightmares all night about being stung, bugged, crawled on, and attacked by swarms of bees.

We woke up to find all the welts had magically dissipated.  Had the local Pinon cream done the trick?  I assume so- and it was now time to go witness some magic- the sunrise in Canyon De Chelly.



White House Ruin Trail

The drive to the White House Ruin trail from the Lodge was easy, quick and very well marked.  It was also breathtaking.  I immediately forgot about the previous nights attack. We arrived just as the sun was rising.  I don’t think we could have picked a better time.




White House Ruin Trail

The trail itself is easy to moderate.  It is 2.5 miles roundtrip to the ruins and back with a 1000 foot climb out of the canyon on an easy to follow trail.  It took us 1.5 hours total with some time spent in the canyon.  This link has the detailed directions and logistics.  This is the only trail you can visit without a Navajo guide.





It was a magnificent display of sandstone cliffs and captivating views on the way down.






Before you know it you are down in the majesty of the canyon.  There are people living here and they ask for respect to not photograph them or their dwellings without permission.  I am so thankful they are willing to share any part of this beauty with us.






After being blown away by the beauty of the canyon suddenly you see it- the White House Ruin.  It is so incredible- it almost seems like it is a mirage at first.  Then you get closer and realize what you are looking at.  The closer you get the more history you witness.  There are petroglyphs on the walls along with this extremely well preserved ruin.






I took several shots as it was very difficult to mimic what it is like when you are standing there.  I couldn’t believe just 30 minutes ago we were up above in a car driving to hike down to this incredible sight.  We were amazed and totally engrossed in this historic beauty.





wild horses CDC

The canyon wasn’t done wishing us a good morning.  As we traveled back to the start of the climb out of the canyon a family of wild horses joined us for a morning walk.  There were 3 adults and 2 filly’s with them that were no more than 2-3 weeks old.






They walked with us while the filly’s frolicked around and played.  Mama got after them a few times.  They saw us off when we started our upward climb out of the canyon.  I couldn’t believe after all she had already let us see- this was her farewell.





love CDC

The experience was far was beyond what I expected- and I was feeling the love.  I took a shot of this tree stump thinking how lucky I was to see this after witnessing the sunrise in this canyon and taking a walk with it’s wild inhabitants.  We climbed out of the canyon so full of gratitude, peace and love for the experience and hospitality it showed us.

That morning was so vivid, so surreal, so balancing that the remainder of the 10 hour day and 300 miles covered didn’t phase me.  I thought of what these people went through and sacrificed to protect something that was so important to them.  I had so much gratitude that they were willing to share it with those who initially took it away.

It made me even more connected with the work I was doing on the reservation and understanding of the people that it encompassed.  Not only did I get to experience their lands first hand, but I also can offer a way to help them better their health as a community.  I can’t think of a better business trip and a better reason to continue to explore these lands along with exploring how I can help them keep the sacred things that made them who they are.

Like many of us they have been affected by modern world unhealthy habits.  It is so encouraging to see many of them still connecting with their incredible ways of old.  I connected with them and this is what makes me so passionate about my work.

I am really so grateful and so fortunate for how this life has rewarded me for the hard work I have given to it.  Finding some joy and connection with what you do makes you feel like you never have to work a day in your life.  Starting a day out like this no matter what the remainder of the day holds is a complete blessing.

I could have stayed at the Holiday Inn, collected my points, had a standard hotel meal, took a run on a treadmill while watching four wall and the morning news, stay in my own comfort zone, and never would have known that 2 miles away was another world full of rich history, culture, majesty and beauty.

Regardless of what you do for  a living there is always a way to find beauty and connection with your work.  If you can’t find it, you’re not looking hard enough.

I didn’t need to travel to Africa, stay on a mountain for 7 days and experience another world away of adventure and people to have an epic experience.  I found one no matter where I was.  This lesson was an old one that I am so happy to have relearned.






4 thoughts on “Navajo Nation and White House Ruins in Canyon De Chelly

  1. Jes Sep 9,2013 7:50 AM

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and stories fellas!!

    Joshua I know Teton mentioned doing something in October- maybe Bryce Canyon. I could possibly swing something! Keep me posted!

    Lee I have been wanting more of the stories myself – I will have to pick up a few of the books you are talking about. I was very touched by the history – really cool that we share this interest. I appreciate you- trekking poles and all! 😉

    Ryan I think that is so awesome you followed the same itinerary as I did- few people have and it is so special. I CAN’T imagine driving those roads with a sketchy tire!! That is more adventure than you bargained for but it sounds like someone was looking out for you. You are so right about it being as wild as any place in the lower 48- I loved seeing the animals in their natural habitats. I was blown away with how close the horse family got to us. Those things just don’t happen everyday.

  2. Ryan Sep 8,2013 7:39 PM

    Great write up, Jes. Took me back to when I did the same trip, even with the same picture Standin’ on the Corner. The Navajo Nation is about as remote and wild a place as any in the lower 48, stunning stuff. My time on the Navajo Nation was a little unnerving because of a wobbly tire on the verge of a flat… Had to drive from Chinle to Page just hoping it would hold up!

  3. Lee (@onewhohikes) Sep 8,2013 6:38 PM

    Really enjoyed this one, Jes. I’ve never been there, but over the past few years I’ve developed a fondness for Tony Hillerman crime novels, all set on or near the Navajo reservation, with tribal policemen as the main characters. Through these books I’ve learned some of the customs, culture and geography of the area. Reading your narrative, I felt I was in a familiar place.

    You are right: we in the west do not have to travel far to have epic adventures. We live in an incredible corner of this planet, from both a historical and geographic perspective. And to top it all off, it’s so unbelievably gorgeous, too.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Joshua Righins Sep 8,2013 6:36 PM

    Great write up. Enjoyed reading it. And beautiful pictures. You guys should join us in Buckskin Gulch in October. It’s amazing (google it)

Leave a Reply