Top Ten Alternative National and State Parks

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona (Instead of Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona)
Cliff dwellings at Canyon de Chelly National Monument
A cliff dwelling in Canyon de Chelly (Robin Hood/courtesy, Arizona Office of Tourism)

2. Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona
(Instead of Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona)
Canyon de Chelly is a vast gash in the earth, dug deep between pinons and juniper into the Defiance Plateau of northeastern Arizona. Its main likeness to its famous westerly neighbor, the Grand Canyon, is the remarkable red-rock walls that twist and turn along the course of the cottonwood-lined tributary that carved it. The national monument is actually four canyons—de Chelly (pronounced d'Shay), del Muerto, and the smaller Monument and Black Rock canyons, all of which lie within the Navajo Reservation between Beautiful Valley and the Chuska Mountains. They vary from 30 to roughly 1,000 feet deep and include sheer sandstone cliffs stained black in spots with "desert varnish" and sandstone pinnacles like the jaw-dropping Spider Rock (at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon), which rises 800 feet from the canyon floor.

Aside from having just one-fifth the number of visitors of the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly has a rich human history dating back possibly thousands of years when indigenous people lived and worked here. Elaborate and abundant rock drawings and the ruins of cliff dwellings perched in sandstone alcoves can still be seen. One of the best ways to see some of the most impressive spots in the monument is with a licensed Navajo guide (some of whom still live here), who share legends that give the canyons even greater depth.

Explore more in GORP's Guide to Canyon de Chelly National Monument.


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