Archive for the ‘Canyon de Chelly’ Category

May 21, 2016: Horseback

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

After lunch, we went back to Tso’s to see if we’d have any more luck with getting a horseback tour. This time they were ready for us, but there was some dithering around and waiting for another group to join us. While we waited, I spotted a yellow bird directly overhead in a big cottonwood, which turned out to be a Western Tanager – another lifer. Finally we were assigned our mounts. As an inexperienced rider who is also a little old man, I got a horse named Perky, I think the same way Little John got his name. He showed very little interest in anything except finding a shady place with grass and following Hamner’s horse with his nose in its butt. Peggy, as the experienced rider in the group, got to ride a mare who had a little colt, who got to come along for practice.

Canyon de Chelly

The trail leads right up through Chinle Wash, which at the moment is pretty full, so we did a lot of wading. As we progressed into the canyon, the walls got higher on each side of us. We stopped at one spot to look at petroglyphs, including the first real example of Kokopelli I’d ever seen. In the Chinle region, he’s depicted lying on his back.

Petroglyphs with Kokopelli

Finally I noticed a ledge with an overhang to our left that held a group of stone structures. We pulled up on the bank to look. This was “First Ruin”, so called because it’s the first one you come to on your horseback ride.

Canyon de Chelly

We passed various corrals and hogans, and even some apparently wild horses. The canyon is beautiful, full of green grass and cottonwoods with the spring rain and snow melt. The walls were often hundreds of feet high above us. Every once in a while there would be a jarring reminder that we’re still in the modern world as a pickup truck with the bed full of kids would pass us driving in.

We stopped at one point to look at a big rock face with a dark surface and hundreds of petroglyphs carved in it – “Newspaper Rock”. Shortly thereafter, we reached the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto, and turned right into the former.

Canyon de Chelly

I was getting a bit sore on the backside, and my knees were really feeling the strain, when we finally stopped at the turnaround point. When I helped Robin off her horse, she looked awful. Turns out in the last hoalf hour or so she’d started to feel really bad. I think she was dehydrated and possibly low on blood sugar as well. One of the young women in our party was a nurse, and started attending to her with entergy gels and water, and Hamner talked to our guide about getting her a ride out. Coincidentally one of the guys in that group had hurt his back, and also needed to bail. By the time we left, Robin was feeling a bit better, and we left her resting and waiting for a pickup truck.

On the way back my horse was rejuvenated, surpassed only by the two horses that were returning riderless. At times he broke into an ass-punishing trot. The pickup passed us going in, and a while later, going out Robin smiled and waved, so it appeared she was doing better. Here you see Hamner, Peggy, the colt, and a riderless horse in memory of our fallen comrade.

Canyon de Chelly

We got back about 6PM and creakily dismounted. By the time we got back to the hotel, I was wondering if I’d be able to walk the next day. As Hamner pointed out, not being able to have a beer after that ride was cruel in the extreme. We made up for it by eating a lot and turning in very early.

Sunday, to Flagstaff.

May 21, 2016: Canyon de Chelly

Saturday, May 21st, 2016

I woke up when it got light as usual, and went outside to look for birds. Too windy to really see much around the hotel, but I did find an Orange-Crowned Warbler and a couple of female Cassin’s Finches. We all met for breakfast and then headed to Tso’s Horse Tours, where we had made a reservation to take a 4-hour horseback ride up into Canyon de Chelly. Well, all their horses and guides were out. We’re sorry. Maybe you could come back at 1 PM? Robin was ticked; I just figured it was a laid-back operation, and we’d come back.

So we went to the visitor center and got a map of the overlooks, and decided to do the North Rim. This actually looks into Canyon del Muerto, which is the other fork from Canyon de Chelly, but it’s better lit in the morning. And there are several ruins and nice views.

At our very first stop, at Antelope House overlook, I saw a black-and-white bird soar by below us in the canyon, and although it was only a glimpse, I knew it had to be a White-Throated Swift. If I was sure, it would be life bird #500. I was reluctant to call it on a glimpse, and we continued to take pictures of the views.

Antelope House ruin:

Canyon de Chelly

The view:

Canyon de Chelly

Next we moved on to Mummy Cave. (The turn-off is labeled “Mummy Cave and Massacre Cave Overlooks”. Peggy said “Those are great names for kids.”. I said “You mean like Nick Cave could name his kids Massacre and Mummy?” She actually meant that kids would like the place names.) At Mummy Cave overlook, I saw a soaring bird come right up out of the canyon and over our heads, and got it in good binocular view. White-Throated Swift for sure. I did the chicken dance for my 500th life bird. Everyone else was going “where is it?” And Robin said “Is that one there?” We looked, and a raptor came soaring up out of the canyon and right over us — Peregrine Falcon! A beautiful view, and I think only the 2nd or 3rd one I’ve ever seen.

Then people wandered off to another overlook, but I was chasing a chip note in the bushes, and out popped two Rock Wrens! #501, and I played their call to get a better look since they were close. One of them came right out and flitted from perch to perch all around me. I missed some good photo chances because he was too close to get a pic, but I did get a few decent ones.

Rock Wren

Eventually we headed back to the visitor center to eat lunch. Robin wasn’t feeling very good all morning, but she wanted to do the horseback ride anyway. That story next.