National Park Road Trip 2011: Canyon de Chelly National Monument and Thunderbird Lodge

Views down onto Whitehouse Ruins can be had from scenic drives at Canyon de Chelly, though guided tours offer upclose views of the ruins. The Thunderbird Lodge offers the only accommodations in the national monument. Top photo by NPS, bottom two photos by David and Kay Scott.

Editor's note: After leaving Mesa Verde National Park, David and Kay Scott, on the road to update their guidebook, The Complete Guide To the National Park Lodges, made a stop at Canyon de Chelly National Monument for a stay at the Thunderbird Lodge.

We managed to squeeze in a one-night stay in the Thunderbird Lodge at Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “d’ SHAY”) National Monument. This has always been one of our favorite stops during trips through the Southwest.

The monument is generally uncrowded, the scenery is beautiful, and the lodge is quiet and comfortable. Plus, how could you not want to stay at a place where the Navajo taco is the signature meal?

The 160-mile trip from Cortez, Colorado, to Chinle, Arizona, near which Canyon de Chelly is located, is one of America’s great scenic drives. The deep red landscape dotted with huge monoliths make one think of scenes from John Ford Westerns. Perhaps he and John Wayne did film here.

The national monument is a somewhat unusual National Park Service site in that Park Service personnel maintain and police the monument that is on Navajo land.

The monument offers two scenic drives, one along the North Rim of Canyon del Muerto and the other along the South Rim of Canyon de Chelly. Canyon access without authorized guides is restricted except for White House Ruin. Half-day guided tours into the canyon are offered year-round and full-day tours are offered during high season. Tickets are sold at the lodge.

While drives along either or both of the canyons provide excellent views, the guided tours offer much better views from the bottom of the canyon and include insights from an interpreter. Half-day tours are $51.50 while full-day tours include lunch and cost $82.95.

Thunderbird Lodge is on the site of an old trading post built in the early 1900s on Navajo land. In fact, the lodge cafeteria is in the old trading post building and the adjacent gift shop is in the home of the trading post owner.

Nearly all rooms are in two classifications: De Chelly and Adobe. A few stone Lodge rooms are available, but these are small and only offered on-site. In addition, Thunderbird Lodge has one suite.

While the Adobe rooms are newer, the two types of rooms are quite similar in size, layout, and price, about $125 from March through October. Rates are considerably lower the remainder of the year.

We spent an evening talking with Mary Jones, who has held the lodging concession here since 1984. Mary is an interesting woman who taught kindergarten and operated a jewelry business before taking charge of the lodge. She has been operating on one-year extensions since 2004.

Unlike many lodges, Mary owns nearly all of the buildings that are part of the facility. In fact, she built the Adobe units soon after acquiring the concession.

The lodge is just inside the park entrance and within walking distance of the small visitor center. It is also near the park campground through which we generally take an evening stroll. It is a nice campground filled with cottonwood trees and we have camped here several times. An added bonus is that currently there is no camping fee.

Canyon de Chelly is an interesting stop if you are planning a trip to the Southwest, especially if you will be visiting both Mesa Verde and the Grand Canyon national parks. The drive from Mesa Verde is three to four hours and drive from Grand Canyon is four to five hours.

Our next dispatch will be from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where we will be three nights. Three nights in the same place! Amazing!

Comments

amazing, wonder i have opportunity to take a travel to go to there too.

The hike down to the White House is easy and fun. I've taken a tour into the canyon from Thunderbird Lodge, but I have to say I preferred the hike. You get a much better appreciation of the canyon with this up-close experience.

We visited Canyon de Chelly last yearin '09 and stayed at the Thunderbird Lodge with our granddaughter. We took the full day tour and it was wroth every cent! Highlight of our trip. We'll be stopping back by there this fall during our southern Utah swing. Can't wait.