Canyon De Chelly National Monument

The Canyons
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Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Geostock_Photodisc)

The name De Chelly is a Spanish corruption of the Navajo word "Tsegi," which means roughly "rock canyon." The Spanish pronunciation "day shay-yee" has gradually changed through English usage, and the name is now pronounced "d'SHAY." The Spanish name of the chief tributary of Canyon de Chelly, Canyon del Muerto, means "Canyon of the Dead." It received its name in 1882, when a Smithsonian Institution expedition under James Stevenson found the remains of prehistoric Indian burials in this canyon.

The Rio de Chelly rises near the Chuska Mountains close to the Arizona-New Mexico line and winds a tortuous course westward emptying into the Chinle Wash just west of the monument. Except for the last few miles, the Rio de Chelly and its tributaries are enclosed by vertical-walled canyons that range in depth from about 1,000 feet to only 30 feet at the mouth of Canyon de Chelly proper.

The streams of this region flow in the rainy seasons and during the spring runoff of mountain snows; at other times they are dry. Sandstones, chiefly the De Chelly formation of Permian age, laid down more than 200 million years ago, compose the canyon walls. The reddish hue of the cliffs varies in intensity depending on the time of day.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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