Native Lands - Page 2
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Cliff Dwelling Ruins
Rooms with a View: Cliff dwellings at sunset  (PhotoDisc/Kent Knudson)

Day Three: Mesa Verde to Chaco Culture National Historic Park (150 Miles)
It's about 150 miles to Chaco Canyon and Chaco Culture National Historic Park (505.786.7014; in northwest New Mexico, a remote park preserving a significant and astonishing ancient urban center that flourished as early as 900 BC by Archaic hunter-gathers, followed by basket makers from around 100 BC to AD 700, and then early Pueblo people, who started building masonry structures around 900. Chaco isn't just buildings, it's also roads, ramps, dams, and mounds that required enormous skill to design and construct. The Chacoan people used geometry, engineering, and astronomical alignments in their architectural designs, and it's impossible to be here and not be awed. A nine-mile paved loop from the Visitor Center accesses five major sites, including Pueblo Bonito, the largest of the 13 major Great Houses. The loop can be driven or biked. The park also has a Junior Ranger program. The best time for families to visit is May to October when tours, hikes, and evening ranger programs—including astronomy programs—are offered. Stake out a spot in one of the park's 48-site campground, but come prepared ( Chaco is remote with few services; there's no food, gas, or ice in the park, and you need to bring your own wood or charcoal for cooking. The campground is open year-round.

Day Four: Chaco Canyon to Canyon de Chelle National Monument (190 Miles)
Representing 2500 BC to the present, Arizona's Canyon de Chelle (928.674.5500;, approximately 190 miles from Chaco, is one of the longest continuously inhabited landscapes in North America. The 131-square-mile monument encompasses the floors and rims of three major canyons: 26-mile-long de Chelle, 25-mil-long del Muerto, and Monument Canyon, collectively swallowing nearly 84,000 acres of Navajo Tribal Trust Land. With the exception of walking the 2.5-mile White House Ruin Trail, all exploration in the canyon must be with an authorized Navajo guide. Activities include auto tours, hiking, viewing rock art, and interpretive programs. If you have your own four-wheel vehicle you can pick up a guide at the visitor center; if not, Thunderbird Lodge (928.674.5841 ext.5842), runs full- and half-day tours in six-wheel-drive vehicles for lodge guests and non-guests. That evening, chose from one of the 104-site Cottonwood Campground camp sites in the monument (928.674.5500), or bed down at Thuderbird Lodge.

Day Five: Canyon de Chelle to Navajo National Monument (130)
Heading north and west across Arizona on U.S. 191 and 160, it's about 130 miles to Navajo National Monument (928.672.2700; where three remarkable cliff dwellings from the 1200s are among the best preserved in the state. The ruins are only reached by hiking. Three- to four-hour five-mile guided hikes, considered fairly strenuous, go out to the Betatakin cliff dwelling (group size is limited so arrive early; 928.672.2700). It's a spectacular 17-mile hike to Keet Seel, though the park warns that the route traverses difficult terrain, with steep switchbacks, sand hills, quicksand, and other backcountry hazards, slowing travel. Free ranger guides are on hand, and the hike is recommended only for experienced and fit hikers. The Visitor Center has exhibits, artifacts, and Junior Ranger materials, and local Navajo craftsmen often demonstrate their arts here. Sunset View Campground (928.672.2700;, close to the Visitor Center, is open year round and has restrooms and running water. Overnight in one of the monument's 47 campsites.

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