When I first saw Canyon de Chelly, it took my breath away.
I wanted to leap out and fly over the canyon to explore every inch of it. You can feel it. It's a sacred place—filled with deep echoes of history and charged with emotional energy from the people who lived and died there.
The unexpected surprise of the canyon is part of the allure. The landscape is gentle undulating hills thick with juniper and piñons. Along the road to the overlooks, the terrain is the same, with no indication of any change. But then, between the trees, you get a flashing glimpse of the canyon and before you can gasp, it’s gone.
The path from the parking to the overlook meanders through thick vegetation. As you round the last curve, it unfolds: a deep canyon, winding off to the west like an enormous snake. At second look, you see it has many forked branches, more like an ancient gnarled tree than a serpent. My heart swelled. I felt exhilarated and sad at the same time knowing the history of the area.
We were near a place known as "Where Two Fell Off". Long ago, Spanish soldiers attacked the Navaho people living there. Unfortunately, the men of the tribe were away, and the women, children, and elderly bore the brunt of the attack. One woman, running from a soldier, stopped suddenly, turned to the solder, and threw her arms around him—the momentum of their collision taking them over the edge to their death.
I would rather choose my death than suffer at your hand.
This scene is vivid in my head. Could I do that? Would I choose that end?
As we drive away, the canyon is swallowed up once again by thick vegetation. It's as though it was never there. How did they find this magical place? Did they stumble onto it from above? Or were they coming up out of the desert? Aiming towards the red-gold cliffs, finding this maze of deep, sheltered canyons with broad bottoms lined with thick grass and a happy creek—and plenty of crevices and crannies where they could hide from enemies. This is a good place. We will be safe and happy here. We can grow food and fat children.
I want to go back and walk on the green bottomland and smell the sage. I want to watch the hawks fly overhead and step into the deep shadows made by the hulking rock cliffs.