Located roughly in the center of the Navajo Reservation, Canyon de Chelly extends from the montane highlands of the Defiance Plateau and Chuska Mountains in the east to the arid expanse of the Chinle Valley far to the west. Known for its spectacular canyon vistas, prehistoric ruins, and green ribbon of Navajo agricultural fields, the canyon includes an abundance of physical landforms and ecological communities that provide a diverse mosaic for human settlement.
Within this setting, the canyon's prehistoric inhabitants experimented with a variety of subsistence techniques, architectural forms, and community design, the result being a long tradition of settlement continuity tempered by periodic change.
Decidedly different from their prehistoric antecedents, the later Navajo occupants blended strategies of a hunting/gathering society with those of agriculture and pastoralism to create an alternative landscape reflecting unique ecological and organizational relationships. This landscape has continued to evolve throughout the last century and, despite being established as a national monument in 1931, remains a viable, living community composed of numerous Navajo families. In short, Canyon de Chelly represents a material record of one of the most enduring and complex cultural landscapes of the American Southwest, a record which changes with each passing day.
Over the past four years, a portion of the above landscape, Canyon del Muerto, has been intensively examined by the Canyon de Chelly Archeological Preservation Project. Guided by concepts of landscape archeology, and designed to document both character and preservational condition of archeological remains, this project has expanded upon earlier investigations of prehistoric and historic settlement by clarifying the relationships between architectural form, settlement type, and community design, in effect, not only identifying the building blocks of the cultural landscape, but also examining how they are put together.
This summer the project will continue to investigate the more remote portions of Canyon del Muerto and begin the process of piecing together a comprehensive preservation plan that will help to guide park resource management for years to come.
Reprinted from the "Canyon Overlook Guide, 1995 - A visitor's guide to Canyon de Chelly National Monument"