Canyon de Chelly

This hidden gem of a canyon in eastern Arizona was unkown to me until a family member suggested that we check it out on our way from Ship Rock to Petrified Forest. I didn’t know if we’d have enough time to properly explore it (we didn’t) but it worked with our itinerary and we thought it’d be fun to see, if only briefly.

Incidentally, it’s pronounced like Shea… Canyon de Chelly (Shea).

Although things started off a little sketch (we passed a couple of guys on the side of the highway that looked as though they’d just discovered the wonders of methamphetamine), we made it to the campground after dark and settled in. Howling dogs and coyotes mixed with police sirens made it difficult for us to sleep in the main campground, so I suggest that future visitors look further into the canyon area for accommodations.

The canyon itself did not disappoint! An easy drive along the rim of the canyon offers up some amazing views. The most fascinating thing about this particular canyon is that folks live at the bottom of it, cultivating crops and raising animals.

Next time we go, we’ll be sure to look into a jeep tour of the area, and we’ll also catch the various landmarks that we didn’t have time to see. But if you’re in the area, I highly recommend at least a brief stop to one of the more unknown sights in Arizona’s Navajo Nation.

Ship Rock, New Mexico

On Saturday, July 15, 2023, we departed Albuquerque for Ship Rock, New Mexico, to take in the sights at a place that few outside of New Mexico have ever heard of — much less traveled to.

Ship Rock, the land feature, is an incredible isolated ridge of rock that protrudes from the desert floor and stands over 1,500 feet tall. Formed by volcanic rock below the surface of the earth and then exposed over time by erosion, the volcanic rock appears sharp and out of place in this landscape.

The rock is said to play a significant role in Navajo religion, myth, and tradition, but talking to local Native Americans, including our friend Eugene at the local grocery store, it’s not such a mythical spot anymore. Tourists are usually allowed to drive right up to the rock and climb around, according to these locals.

However, on the day that we approached, the entire highway and access road to Ship Rock was closed off thanks to a television commercial crew that was filming that day. We weren’t able to approach it or stay around until sunset. Some local yokel deputies (with attitudes) made us feel unwelcome and ultimately the film crew ran us off. Bad luck for us.

This would be an epic monument to photograph with a good sunset. Perhaps next time!

Ship Rock, the community, is small and sparsely populated, with a small but well-appointed park along the San Juan River. A great place to grab a burger, despite its modest appearance, is the Chat and Chew.

Southwest Tour 2023

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting detailed recaps of the specific stops along our tour of the southwest parks and attractions. I planned this trip as a solo, but soon had two travel buddies expressing interest in coming along. Because it was initially just going to be me, since I didn’t think anyone I knew could take two weeks vacation with almost zero notice, the trip was centered around photography locations and beautiful places that I personally had not seen.

The only downside to traveling at the time we did was the heat. We set off in mid-July — the peak of summer — during one of the hottest summers on record in recent years. Since Kerrville (my hometown) had already been experiencing 100+ temps for weeks, along with heat index values over 115°F, I figured, what the hell? But boy, some days almost got us. That heat is no joke when you’re standing in the desert without shade and with a sun reflecting back up at you off of the desert rock.

The stops along this trip included:

  • Ship Rock, New Mexico
  • Canyon de Chelly, Arizona (Navajo Nation)
  • Petrified Forest National Park
  • Grand Canyon
  • Page, Arizona (including Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon)
  • Zion National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Arches National Park

Along the way, we realized we didn’t have time to do all of the parks or the hikes or the sights that we wanted to. A whirlwind trip like this always leaves out important stops. We made notes of places we’d like to return to, and places nearby that we weren’t able to explore this time around.

What a fantastic exploration of the southwest, though! We drove over 3,200 miles round-trip over 11 days.

The following posts will explore each of these stops in greater detail and will give my opinions on what to do, what to see, what to photograph, and where to stay.