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Chinle -

Stories from the Navajo Reservation

The Climb


When I was ten we moved to Chinle, Arizona on the Navajo reservation. Within walking distance from my home was the mouth of Canyon De Chelly (Canyon De Chelly has numerous famous ruins of Indian cliff dwellings).

For photos go to:

We, my family and I, had many outings and picnics along the upper rim of the canyon. I found it more and more frightening to get close to the canyon rim and look down. There was no radio or TV so instant news was very rare, and most news was by phone or word of mouth. So when news spread it had a frightening impact. On day the news spread, like a wild fire through the community of two hundred, that a woman had fallen from the canyon rim and was killed. It was eventually shown that she had committed suicide but my young imagination had already gone wild and I had an even greater fear of falling from the canyon.

If you drive along the sandy canyon floor for several miles you will come to a rock several hundred feet in diameter that rises like a skyscraper straight up some eight or nine hundred feet (for a photo go to ) This rock formation is called spider rock. This name comes from a Navajo legend that spider woman lived on top of this rock. If you look down onto spider rock from the canyon rim you can see many white rocks or something white that is said to be the bones of bad little children. Children were told that if they misbehaved spider woman would come and get them and take them up on spider rock to eat.

One day my father and I were in the canyon around spider rock. When we found a place that was used by the Navajo to climb up to the top of the canyon rim, Dad wanted to try it, but I was not too "keen" on the idea. I didn’t want to look like a chicken in front of my dad so I agreed to go along. At first it was mostly just a lot of work and mostly a matter of climbing over large boulders, but as we got higher and higher, one hundred, then two hundred, and three hundred feet I began to get sick to my stomach with growing fear.

Then we reached a place where the only way up was to pull yourself up to a ledge with a rope that was permanently there for that purpose. My muscles were already screaming for me to stop this nonsense. To try and go back down was impossible and you could see the rim just about one hundred or two hundred feet above you. So with a lot of perseverance and helping from my dad I pulled myself up to the ledge. Once there, my brain really screamed foul. It became apparent that we had no choice but to go along a narrow ledge which was only about a foot and a half wide and about fifteen feet long, with a seven hundred foot drop straight down.

After a long time looking, and hoping for a better way out, my dad said he would go first if I would follow right behind him. So with my stomach churning like a washing machine and tears forming in my eyes I agreed. Then with every ounce of courage I could muster and facing the rock wall so I would not look down we slid our way to the other side and collapsed on the landing thanking God we had made it.

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copyright 2005 O.Frank