IPA Magazine-Luxury Travel Reviews

Thunderbird Lodge

Thunderbird Lodge CafeThunderbird Lodge is the only inn that operates within the confines of the Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “de-SHAY”) National Monument.  It was originally a trading post operated by Charles and Samuel Day beginning in 1896.  Charles Day was also appointed as the first custodian of the park.  Today the dining facility is located in the original building.  The location and historical significance of this Lodge make it the only logical place to book your room for a stay in this charming place.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument was established in 1931, embracing a past of 5,000 years of human history.  The ancient Puebloans built their homes into the alcoves of the canyon walls.  Today the National Park Service administers this area of towering stone monoliths comprising nearly 84,000 acres within the Navajo Reservation.

To get to Thunderbird Lodge, drive to Chinle, Arizona which is located on Highway 191.  Turn east on Indian Road 7 and continue for about three miles until you get to the Visitors Center.  As you pass the Visitors Center, you will see a sign for Thunderbird Lodge, where you will turn right.  The road will take you directly to the Lodge.  The office and gift shop are located in the same historic building, constructed of logs and stone.  The friendly staff will assist you with checking in and providing tips on what to do.

Thunderbird Lodge offers 73 renovated rooms, featuring exquisite Navajo décor amidst rustic furnishings.  Rooms come with full baths, tiled floors, solid beam ceilings, ceiling fans, air conditioning, and cable TV.  The Lodge also features free Wi-Fi, enabling you to connect with the internet, a definite “plus” in this remote area.  Feel free to bring your laptop and keep up with your email account and browse the internet to get help with maps and making plans for the rest of your journey.  Also, be sure to visit the Thunderbird Lodge website at www.tbirdlodge.com

The Lodge’s exterior construction is reminiscent of some of the older pink adobe structures of ancient pueblos.  In the 1930s members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) planted cottonwood trees on the grounds, the shade of which now offers guests a cool place to lounge in the warmer months.  We noticed an occasional rabbit hopping across the lawn, darting into a nearby shrub.  The landscaping provides a lush, tranquil environment in an otherwise rugged terrain.

The lodge offers close proximity to Canyon de Chelly itself, and the Visitor Center is also nearby.  The Visitor Center is open every day except December 25 and provides information, exhibits and a bookstore.  Guests may dine in the Thunderbird Lodge Dining Room cafeteria throughout the day, seven days a week, and find familiar choices of menu items, along with Navajo-style food choices.  These include such favorites as Navajo Fry Bread and Navajo tacos.  The meals are prepared by an all-Navajo staff.  In the center of the cafeteria there is a vault-like room that used to serve as a jail!

We stopped in to the cafeteria shortly after arrival and grabbed a salad, also inquiring about the Navajo Fry Bread and Navajo Tacos.  After purchasing the salad, you can go over to a condiment area and help yourself to various salad dressings and salad toppings.  In the morning we ordered Huevos Rancheros, English muffin and coffee.  All were quite good.  There are a few restaurants in the town of Chinle, but the cafeteria in Thunderbird Lodge is as good a choice as any.

You may inquire at the desk about guided tours of the canyon.  In order to fully enjoy the canyon experience, you must consider taking a guided tour of the canyon floor.  Tours of Canyon de Chelly are conducted by authorized Navajo guides who charge a fee for their service.  They will help you obtain a free backcountry permit at the Visitors Center before you embark on your 4×4 adventure, crossing the stream again and again, and getting close-up views of ancient rock art and the Navajo culture.  You may also include a self-guided tour along the North and South Rim Drives that offer several overlooks.  We took a drive on the South Rim one morning after having breakfast at the Thunderbird Lodge.  Without stopping at the overlooks, you can drive to the end of the paved road in about 20 minutes.  When visiting the six overlooks, it can take a total of one-and-a-half hours.  At White House Overlook there is a trail that is open to the public year round. This 2.5 mile round-trip trail descends 500 feet to the canyon floor and is the only place where you may enter the canyon without a permit or an authorized Native guide. There is also the North Rim Drive which features four overlooks.

The Gift Shop in the Thunderbird Lodge features Native American jewelry and a rug room, with beautiful Navajo rugs for sale. Here you’ll find many other items, including souvenirs of all sorts, items for children, books, maps, CDs, and a 46-minute DVD entitled, “Canyon de Chelly, American History, Heritage and Tradition.”  We picked up some postcards of Navajo dancers and children dressed in their traditional costumes.

If you are considering a visit to the Four Corners, Monument Valley, or if you are on your way traveling between Arizona and New Mexico, driving on Interstate 40, take time to see the Canyon de Chelly National Monument and, by all means, stay at the historic Thunderbird Lodge.  There may be other choices of lodging in the area, but there is only one inn authorized by the National Park service to serve the public.  Here you’ll find the finest vacation facility in scenic Navajoland.

Thunderbird Lodge

PO Box 548

Chinle, AZ  86503

Phone: 1-800-674-5844


Email: tbirdlodge@frontiernet.net

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