Antelope House Tours
Canyon de Chelly (“de-shay”) in Chinle, Arizona is a National Monument unlike other National Parks and Monuments in the U.S., since it is on Navajo tribal land and includes a residential community. Visitors are free to drive around the rim, and there is one hiking trail that permits partial access to the canyon, but the only satisfying way to experience this place is to be part of a guided tour, led by a Navajo. Your choices are essentially two: Drive around the rim and see what you can, or enter the canyon itself where you will get as close as possible to Anasazi ruins and rock art that goes back hundreds of years in time, and employ the expertise of a Native American who knows every square inch of the place, telling informative stories along the way.
There are about seven listed tour companies, but Antelope House Tours stands out for several reasons. Adam Teller’s family has deep roots in this very canyon and members still live here. He and his guides—a family-run business—will take you through the canyon and carefully point out everything of significance for you to see. With his thirty years experience as a guide in this canyon, you will be gifted with the presence of someone who knows far more than any guide book could possibly show you. For all intents and purposes, there simply is no other satisfactory way to see the canyon than to hire a tour guide with a reliable 4×4, and Antelope House Tours is going to provide the very best service available.
Adam set up our tour and wanted to meet us at 10 in the morning. Unfortunately, because of changes in our schedule, we asked him to re-schedule us for an afternoon tour. Adam was booked, but he sent D.J., a Navajo guide with over 16 years experience and related to the Teller family. D.J. picked us up at our hotel in the Antelope House Suburban and we were off on an adventure of a lifetime.
As we crisscrossed the stream, slogging our way through water, fine sand, and brush, D.J. began telling us which trees were native to the land and which trees had been imported. Some species were invasive, like a particular olive tree, and needed removal. D.J. pulled up to a spot on a canyon wall where petroglyphs (scratched into the rock) and pictographs (painted on) were visible. Squiggles, Natives on horseback, diamond shapes, handprints, horses, antelope, dancers, flute players (Kokopelli) and other figures and shapes appeared on rock surfaces here and there, time and again, as we drove for short distances and stopped for photos. Sometimes these images were just a few feet away. Many were visible up high on the canyon wall near caves where Anasazi built their granaries, dwellings, and cisterns.
Occasionally, as I looked up toward the rim, I could see an automobile pass by, far above us. There was no possible way someone in a car, several hundred feet above me, could have the angle of view I was enjoying down here. Since all the Anasazi dwelling places are situated on the north side, facing south (to obtain maximum warmth in winter) and under ledges, set back deeply within caves, a rim view of things was a dim view of things, indeed.
D.J. handled every question with a ready answer. He spoke of the Anasazi, the Hopi and his own tribe, the Navajo. He led us into the Canyon del Muerto (Spanish for “canyon of the dead”), named from a massacre by Spaniards of over 100 Navajos that took place in 1804-5.
Our 3-hour tour took us to Antelope House, a lush, verdant section of the canyon where the Teller family’s dwellings were located. D.J. explained that he was one of eleven children born in the canyon. He tended sheep as a youth and roamed the caves, in spite of pleas from his mother not to do so. After a couple hours of touring the canyon, D.J. brought us to the family outpost where there were refreshments and Native American art for sale. We bought some Indian Fry Bread and looked at the elegant silver jewelry on display. Several small, delicately painted ceramic pots were also on display and we couldn’t resist the opportunity to purchase one to take home. Of course, each item had its own story (there was a “wedding” clay pot, indicating that the “two shall become one”). We saw Native American structures and even a camp site where some outsiders were occasionally allowed to stay on the canyon floor.
D.J. explained customs of his Native culture, pointing out that weddings were conducted here on occasion as well as other social events, and occasionally provided information about some of his own interests, all while conducting a very professional tour. We got to know D.J. as a person, met his family, saw how he lived as a youngster, and learned about how peoples of different tribes lived in this rugged environment for hundreds of years. I couldn’t help comparing the “hands on,” truly authentic experience we were provided with our guide against an almost sterile, impersonal drive around the rim, seated in a bubble.
When you enter the region of Monument Valley in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah, make sure you include a visit to Canyon de Chelly National Monument. And make sure you allow yourself a few hours to enjoy a tour that will turn out to be one of the highlights of your entire vacation. Meet the Teller family of Antelope House Tours. Check out their credentials and pictures on their website: www.canyondechelly.net Give Alex a call or send him an email to tell him when you’re coming. Make your reservations early, because spaces are being taken, and you don’t want to miss out on the very best.
Antelope House Tours
PO Box 459
Chinle, AZ 86503