Sunday, May 31, 2009

Canyon De Chelly

My brother Dan and I planned to ride along the rim of magnificent Canyon de Chelly on Sunday morning. We spent Saturday afternoon and early evening driving and photographing a century route I've planned for July. After our explorations, we spent that night at the picturesque and comfortable Thunderbird Lodge, adjacent to the Monument. We carbo-loaded on Navajo tacos and Navajo stew.

When Sunday morning dawned, mostly clear, the temperature was 38 degrees. We knew we had to ride early, because there was a prediction for thundershowers later in the day. Indeed, the forecast for the day before was the same, and the skies had opened up - good thing we were in the car at the time, headed to our accommodations.

This morning, as we slowly stirred our ancient bones, the outside air began to warm. Suited up, we consumed some energy bars and trail mix. By the time we set off, the temperature seemed to have soared - we left arm and leg warmers and jackets in our room.

It felt good to challenge ourselves. At first, we gasped for breath as we climbed up from about 5,500 feet above sea level along the rim of the canyon, not surprising as we hadn't much of a warm-up, and we'd come from sea level two day earlier.

Although the sun was warm, the still-cold air we sucked in made our lungs hurt. Yet soon enough we warmed to our task, riding without discomfort.

Our 15 mile jaunt took us up gradual grades about 1,500 feet. We stopped at some of the impressive overlooks to view the massive, red sandstone cliffs, as well as the ruins of several cliff dwellings, lived in by the Anasazi Indians, who predated the Navajo. The views into the canyon were stunning.

We rode past Navajo residences, with their hogans, which are traditional and round-shaped ceremonial structures. We saw jack rabbits that looked about as large as a medium size dog. A small herd of horses, the stallion, not happy with our presence, crossed the road in front of us. When we stopped to make photos, the stallian snorted and whinnied his orders to the rest of the herd to move away from us - and they did.

Then we stopped to visit Harold Smith, a Navajo who owns and operates the Spider Rock Campground, about ten miles up the rim of the canyon from Thunderbird Lodge. I plan to camp at the campground on my next visit.

We pedaled on, another four miles, to the Spider Rock overlook. Here we found Philip, from Pegosa Springs, Colorado, who had somehow dragged an enormous canvas from his motor home two hundred yards to the overlook - as he had apparently done several times the past few days. He was working on his creation in the warm morning sun. He beautifully captured a sense of the canyon, including the amazing Spider Rock, jutting hundreds of feet up out of the canyon floor.

When we'd finished making some photographs of ourselves perched on the edge of the canyon, we let gravity pull us down to the Thunderbird Lodge. It was time to begin our trip back to Los Angeles, stopping at some beautiful locations along the way.

We would have additional non-cycling related adventures along the route home, but the telling can wait for another time and place.

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