After breakfast, we headed out to do the one hike that is allowed in Canyon de Chelly without a Navajo guide; the 2.5 mile round trip White House Trail. We were to walk to the bottom of the canyon ( a 600′ drop in elevation) so we prepared accordingly. Lots of water, snacks, hats and sunscreen.
This trail was actually an old Anasazi trail, which the park service improved upon for today’s visitors. The trail itself consists of plentiful switchbacks over surfaces of both dirt and rock, and sometimes stairs. There were definitely parts of the trail that got a little narrow (including two rock tunnels) and there were some steep drop-offs so we kept the kids close. We made several stops along the way to enjoy the changing perspectives of the canyon as we descended to the bottom.
Once at the bottom, we crossed a wood footbridge over a dirt wash to get to the ruins. As we walked we could hear the silence of the place. An occasional cow grazing would moo and a few insects were buzzing but otherwise blissfully peaceful. The White House ruins are actually two separate dwellings, one over the other. They really are beautiful and surprisingly intact considering these structures were built and occupied about 1,000 years ago. Unfortunately, there is a chain link fence surrounding the ruins now as tourists of the past were opting to take souvenirs. No matter, you can still take some nice photos and certainly well worth the hike to come see these ancient structure and imagine how life would have been so many years ago.
On our way back, we ran into a group of Navajo folks selling their jewelry and Native art. One woman stood out. Her name was Winnie and she caught all of our attention by her bright smile. We walked over to view her assortment of jewelry and we got to talking about the canyon. She was raised there as were her ancestors. When asked how it was growing up in such a beautiful place, she said, “With beauty also comes hardship.” When she was a girl, water ran freely through the canyon. Now it is dry most of the year and she has to move out of the canyon when the water dries up. I ended up buying two necklaces from her as they were the most reasonable of all the vendors and lovely!
So, now the hard part. Getting us all back up to the canyon rim! Let me just say, this part of the hike was not for the faint of heart. We took our time, with frequent water breaks. It had started to get quite warm and it is only then that you realize how little shade is available. When we reached the stone tunnel towards the top, we all sat down inside and enjoyed the cool breeze that was blowing through. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to get to the top! What a sense of accomplishment!
When we got back to camp, we were famished so we enjoyed a quick lunch and had a family discussion. Did we want to stay another night as planned or head out to our next destination? We all agreed that we were not interested in seeing the North Rim overlooks and that although it sounded intriguing, we decided not to take a Navajo guided tour of the canyon floor. The kids were not sure if they would like it and with the expensive price for all four of us to go, we agreed to save the money fora more family friendly activity. (Note: I had done the research on guide companies and would have gone with Beauty Way Tours). Camp was picked up and we were back on the road heading north on Highway 191.
After a two hour drive, we arrived at the Four Corners Monument which is situated on the Navajo Nation in Northern Arizona. Four Corners Monument is the only place in the United States where four states intersect at one point: Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. Today the monument is run by the Navajo Nation and there is a charge of $5 per person for everyone over 6. My husband, who had been here before, said he wasn’t going to go in. He made a u-turn at the entrance booth and parked along the side of the entrance road. The kids and I just walked in without being charged.
As you walk into the monument, you see that there are many vendors around the perimeter selling jewelry, art and other trinkets. In the center of the square is the marker indicating the place where the four states come together. Drake and Mia patiently waited for their turn to stand in the middle and put their hands and feet in each state. They loved it! (Note: The wait can be a little long as some people can get a little crazy with the number of photos they were taking).
On our way out I decided to buy a local treat. In the parking lot there was a Fry Bread stand that was part trailer, part shed. It smelled so good in there! We decided on purchasing two fry breads ($4 each) so all of us could have plenty. The woman who ran the stand told us that she makes the Fry Bread when ordered so we got to hang out for a while. The wait was so worth it! Large golden puffy breads piping hot drizzled with plentiful honey, so big it was overlapping the plate. I wanted to eat it right then, but we had to walk back to the truck to share with the husband. It was a little breezy so it took some ingenuity to get across the parking lot without losing a treat. By the time we reached the truck they were cooled enough to eat and within a few minutes, only crumbs remained! It was a hit.
As soon as we turned left leaving Four Corners, we were at the Colorado border. Here, the scenery changed rapidly from the now familiar red sandstone to hills curiously colored in hues of yellow and white. It was only 45 minutes to our final destination, Cortez, CO.
Cortez is a cute town, known as the Gateway to Mesa Verde National Park. It is also trying to grow its popularity as a mountain bike destination. We traveled the length of the town to the east side to get to the Cortez/Mesa Verde KOA. They were very accommodating as we had arrived a day early and knew we would also leave a day early without an extra charge. We had site 25 which was a pull-thru, however, we didn’t have much shade. If you stay here, ask for one of the sites on the perimeter of the campground as these had shade trees on both sides of the sites.
After unhooking the truck and setting up, we headed back into town in time to make a stop at the Colorado Visitors Center. The folks here are very helpful and not only gave us advice on what tours we should take at Mesa Verde, but also made our reservations and gave us our tickets. This in itself is well worth the stop as you are ensured to get the times you want as tours usually sell out. Additionally, there is a room filled with brochures for almost any type of activity you can imagine. After filling our hands with brochures, it was back to camp for dinner and a good rest. We would be leaving for Mesa Verde National Park early in the morning!
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