Jeep Jamboree USA Goes Native
Canyon de Chelly (pronounced "d'shay") National Monument is a maze of rock-walled canyons located in northeastern Arizona. The name is a Spanish corruption of the Navajo word "tsegi," which means "canyon." The area is made up of over 130 square miles of land owned by the Navajo Nation. Each visitor to the park becomes a guest of the Navajo people who have called this place home for many centuries.
For the past 15 years, Jeep Jamboree USA has been holding this event, bringing together families from all over the country for a great weekend of wheeling and a little native history as well. This was our first trip to Chinle, Arizona, but will definitely not be our last.
With our coolers packed and camera batteries charged, we headed out to meet up with the rest of the group at the trailhead located at the mouth of the canyon. There were over 150 vehicles in attendance for this year's event, which may be small compared to some of the other Jeep Jamboree USA events, but it kept the canyon's traffic relatively light all day. There are a number of laws that any guest or group must obey in order to travel through the canyon: no alcohol is permitted on Navajo land at any time, do not remove any rocks or vegetation from the native land, and you must travel with a Navajo guide at all times. Canyon de Chelly is not only home to many of the Navajo in the area, but it is packed with the history of their people, and the only way to preserve that is by making sure guests show respect.
As we traveled into the canyon over a sandy wash, we knew that today would surely tell tales of what once was. The canyon walls are de Chelly sandstone, formed about 230 million years ago. The first people to live in the canyon were the Anasazi (Navajo for "the ancient ones"). They left no written language, only ruins, pottery, baskets, tools, weapons, jewelry, and paintings and pictographs on the canyon walls.
Our guide, Sylvia Watchman, has lived in Canyon de Chelly for her entire life, and her family has lived there for much longer. She explained to us the significance of everything we would pass throughout our journey with a sense of pride punctuating every story. The Navajo are proud of their heritage, proud of their land, and most of all, proud of their people and beliefs.
If you booked a ticket to this event in the past, then you know this trip is all about an adventure through history, not hard-core wheeling. If you are looking for axle-snapping fun, check out other Jeep Jamboree USA events, which happen all over the country.