The Breakfast Club
An Affiliate of the Arizona Pilots Assn.


The Knife & Fork


Breakfast Club Visits Chinle, Tours Canyon de Chelly

13 Sept 2008
by Warren McIlvoy

Our September
Breakfast Club event was one of those "over night" fly-ins that do not normally get a lot of participants but are some of the most enjoyable of the entire year. In this case, we were going to Chinle with a tour of Canyon de Chelly. The itinerary was to have breakfast at the Junction Restaurant that is adjacent to the Best Western De Chelly Inn and then take a 3.5 hour jeep tour of  Canyon de Chelly. Following the tour, those who choose not to stay the night, would be able to depart and arrive back in the valley long before dark. For the rest of the group, we would enjoy dinner together and stay the night with a Sunday morning departure after breakfast.

My wife and I would be accompanied by  Austin Erwin (BC-86) for our early morning departure out of Deer Valley Airport with a planned heading directly to Chinle. We initially leveled-off at 7500' until we neared the Mogollon Rim as we began our climb to our final cruising altitude of 9500'. As we cleared the face of this escarpment, we noticed what appeared to be a patch of snow off in the distance but logic would dictate that it was too warm for such a sight at this time of the year. When we got closer, it was now clear that it was a fog layer over one of the rim lakes.

By this time, many of the Breakfast Club folks had made contact via our "group flight following" frequency. The lush green carpet of the dense Mogollon Rim forests soon gave way to high plateau vegetation with its countless washes and small ridges and valleys. As we proceed farther into the reservation land, we spoted numerous small outposts or settlements, some with names but most did not. On our last visit to Chinle in the mid 90's we landed on a small gravel airstrip that was for all intents and purposes, in the heart of town. Shortly after that visit, the tribe secured funding for a real, honest to goodness, paved airport that is located southwest of the town.

Following my usual smooth landing, we taxied to the last "official" tie-down as the early arrivers quickly claimed the choice spots. There were three KingAirs parked there that belonged to the medical services that provided air transport to the northeastern part of the state. Pilots and "crew" were busy unloading their aircraft as we waited for the van from the Best Western De Chelly Inn. When the van arrived, it could only take about 7-9 people at a time for the 15- minute ride into town. They were supposed to have at least one more but that did not happen until they were joined by some of the folks from the tour company. Eventually we were all shuttled to the motel where we were able to stow our gear until our rooms were available. With that chore done, we headed to the Junction Restaurant that is right across the parking lot of the motel office. Due to the protracted shuttle service from the airport to the motel, some of us arrived too late for breakfast and had to settle for an early lunch. It seems that the Navajo Reservation observes daylight-savings time and instead of it being just after 10, it was now after 11:00.

Here is a snippet of history of the town known as "Chinle".

Chinle (Ch'ínílí - Water Outlet) refers to the mouth of the Canyon de Chelly. Chinle was originally established as a government settlement along the south bank of the de Chelly fork of the Chinle Wash and 1 mile west of the mouth of the Canyon de Chelly. Chinle was the site of a Chinle Indian Boarding school established in 1910, and is the headquarters for the Custodian of the Canyon de Chelly National Monument. It originally was an agricultural area with 771 areas of chili, corn, squash, peach and apple trees, and melons irrigated by homemade canals and dams. This district runs from Chinle down the valley to the vicinity of the Chinle Valley Store, 10 miles north.

The Chinle locality is closely associated with the Canyon de Chelly and has been known to Spaniards and Mexicans since before 1790. Spaniards and New Mexican expeditions of war and trade came here until the beginning of the American occupation. The first visit to the locality by American military forces occurred in the fall of 1849 under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Washington, accompanied by Territorial Governor, James S. Calhoun, Captain Henry Lafayette Dodge, Lieutenant James H. Simpson, Artist Edward Kern, and other members of Washington's command.

In the winter of 1864, Colonel Christopher Carson, Captain Francis McCabe, and Captain Albert Pfeiffer, accepted the surrender of the de Chelly Navajos. This band of 50 Navajos under Hastiin Cholginih (the Humpback), and the Navajo woman Chief (Khiniba'ih), surrendered at the spot where Colonel Washington held council with the Navajo Chief Mariano Martinez and Headmen in 1849. They and 8,000 to 12,000 other Navajos made the arduous 350 mile "Long Walk" to Ft. Sumner at Bosque Redondo, New Mexico, to be held as captives of the U.S. Government for four years until the signing of the Navajo Treaty of 1868. Their "Long Walk" experience was harsher than the World War II "Bataan Death March" where the captured American soldiers walked 63 miles and taken by train from Bataan to Camp O'Donnell. General Homma Masaharu who was overall Japanese in charge, was convicted and hanged for his crimes, yet Colonel Christopher Carson (Kit Carson) was made an American Hero, and his gravesite in Taos, New Mexico was marked with a special commendation by the Eagle Scouts of America.


After our breakfast/lunch, we were met by the folks from De Chelly Tours. They had a variety of four wheel drive vehicles that could accommodate 3-4 people each. Once the jeeps were loaded, we headed out towards our activity of the day, a 3-hour tour of Canyon de Chelly. All of the jeeps had to stop at the visitors' center to get the daily permits that are required to enter the National Monument. Our first exposure to the Canyon was a drive through a tree shaded dirt road that eventually turned into soft sand and rising canyon walls.

Here is some history on the Canyon

Canyon de Chelly National Monument was established April 1, 1931, as a unit of the National Park Service and is located in northeastern Arizona within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation. The monument covers 131 square miles (339 km2) and encompasses the floors and rims of the three major canyons: de Chelly, del Muerto, and Monument. These canyons were cut by streams with headwaters in the Chuska mountains just to the east of the monument.

Its 83,840 acres (339 km²), all Navajo Tribal Trust Land, preserves artifacts of the early indigenous tribes that lived in the area, including the Ancient Pueblo Peoples (also called Anasazi) and Navajo.

Canyon de Chelly is unique among National Park service units, as it consists entirely of Navajo Tribal Trust Land that remains home to the canyon community. Access to the canyon floor is restricted, and visitors are allowed to travel in the canyons only when accompanied by a park ranger or an authorized Navajo guide. The only exception to this rule is the White House Ruin Trail. Most park visitors arrive by automobile and view Canyon de Chelly from the rim, following both North Rim Drive and South Rim Drive. Ancient ruins and geologic structures are visible, but in the distance, from turnoffs on each of these routes. Tours of the canyon floor can be booked at the visitor center. There is no fee to see the canyon.

The National Monument was included in the National Register of Historic Places on August 25, 1970.

A spectacular geologic feature is Spider Rock, a sandstone spire that rises 800 feet (240 m) from the canyon floor at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon. Spider Rock can be seen from South Rim Drive. It has served as the scene of a number of television commercials. According to traditional Navajo beliefs the taller of the two spires is the home of spider women.

The name Chelly (or Chelley) is a Spanish borrowing of the Navajo word Tséyi', which meaning "canyon" (literally "inside the rock" < tsé "rock" + -yi' "inside of, within"). The Navajo pronunciation is IPA: [tsé?i?]. The Spanish pronunciation of de Chelly was adapted into English, apparently through modeling after a French-like spelling pronunciation, and is now pronounced "d?sha'".


Canyon de Chelly, like many of the other ancient settlements of the high Arizona plateau country of the north and northeast, we inhabited by the Anasazi which, in reality, is a name given to all of the various early tribes of people that lived in these areas. And like all of the others, the canyon was abandoned some time in the 13th Century. But all of these early people left a legacy of rock carvings and paintings that tell stories of how they lived. Some of the carvings and paintings can be interpreted by the folks who live there today. But for some others, they are so old that the current inhabitants can only speculate on what they mean.

The Canyon's walls are dotted with cliff dwellings in various states of ruin but the most famous of them all is White House Ruin. This site has been displayed on countless post cards and pictures and is the only site that the day hiker can hike to without an official Navajo guide. White House Ruin is essentially a two level ruin. There is a part of it that is located at the base of the canyon wall and a part that is located about 75' above it in a large recess in the same rock face. The canyon wall  continues upward for about another 200' and is stained with large, almost black, stains that are known as "desert varnish".

There are vast areas of the canyon floor that are very well suited for agricultural purposes and supports a wide variety of vegetation but the predominant soil is sand. The sand is so fine that the locals call it "desert sugar". The jeep trails are very will defined in this soft sand but I am quite sure that  during the wet season, the trails disappear under the flowing waters. Once the waters subside, it is the discretion of the first of the tour vehicles to make their own trail, sort of like the first skier on newly fallen snow.

At another site called Antelope Ruin, we stopped to get some water from one of the vendors and to make a "pit stop" to relieve a high water pressure warning light. As we were viewing the ruin and getting some photos, we could hear the echos of a flute be played about a hundred yards away. The sounds echoed off the canyon walls giving them an almost eerie resinating sound. The Navajo gentleman playing the flute was explaining the differences between the single and double chambered flutes. He makes all of his flutes by hand and were highly polished and decorated. At $75.00 it was a bit more than I would be willing to shell-out but they were about half the price  if you were to purchase them elsewhere.

We had one more very special place to visit and it was the birthplace of our driver guide Ben. A short drive off of the main trail had us approaching some folks in front of a traditional Navajo Hogan that was next to a moderate sized wood frame structure that was covered with black plastic. I could not see all that well into this structure but it did have what could best be described as a kitchen and dining area. Ben said that they had a small gas generator that they used for the refrigerator. Ben's sister lived here on weekends as this was their "get-a-way" home. She worked at a gas station/convenience store in Chinle and lived in town during the week. There were two children, maybe 6-8-years old playing in the dirt outside the wooden structure. During her time at their "get-a-way" home, Ben's sister weaves Indian rugs from raw materials. They raise their own goats and sheep and on the ground was a heap of freshly shorn wool. Ben's sister displayed the method of carding the wool, twisting it into a strand and then spinning it into yarn. She does all of her own dying of the wool from berries found in the canyon. She was currently working on a small rug and demonstrated the use of the loom. Off in the distance, maybe 200 yards or so, was another canyon wall with a cliff dwelling about 75' above the ground. On a small rock ledge near the bottom of the canyon wall there a number of the sheep and goats that call this place home. Although Ben was born and raised here, he now lives in a small settlement above the northern canyon walls.  Ben stated that, although all of the land belongs to the Navajo Tribe, a family can "purchase" a parcel of land for a mere $1.00 per year.

Since this was the last stop on the tour, it was a non-stop trip back to town. The jeep bounced and weaved along the sandy trail. By the time that we reached the endof the trail, my kidneys were three inches lower and I felt like I had been through a full body work-out conducted by a sadistic trainer. Upon reaching the motel and settling-up our tab with De Chelly Tours, it was time to take care of getting checked-in to our motel rooms.

In a part of the building that housed the Junction Restaurant, there was an indoor swimming pool with a separate hot tub. Since we had some time before meeting for dinner, I decided that this might be a great opportunity to ease the pains of the jeep tour by taking a dip in the pool and a soak in the hot tub. For some unknown reason, I was the only one to take advantage of this amenity.

We met for dinner around 6:30 and, although we were all in the same area, we were seated at six different tables. Before we got too far along with our meal, I walked around the room getting some photos of our group that I was not able to at the morning meal. After dinner, the majority of us gathered on the patio outside the pool area and enjoyed some good ole fashioned hangar flying and reliving the day's activities. Before long, the chill or the evening and the heavy eyelids took its toll and we soon broke-up and headed to our rooms for some sack time.

After the check-out chores were done, we all gathered in front of the office for the van ride back to the airport. Since there were only two vehicles, we elected to shuttle the pilots first to start their pre-flight tasks before the rest of their "crew" arrived. There were four of us that were going to make a stop at Holbrook for some cheap(?) fuel before heading back to the valley. Of the four planes that went to Holbrook, three of us, about 9-people, decided to take the short hike to Denny's on the old Route 66 have breakfast there; It was sort of like a "fly-in with-in a fly-in". When we had first arrived and wanted to get fuel before having breakfast, the gentleman that operates the fueling facilities was running late to get to church so he instructed us on how to operate the credit card machine and where to stow the key to access the fuel pump switch. How many places in America today would ever consider conducting business in that manor. I once asked him if he had ever been stiffed on a fuel purchase and he responded "No".

We had an absolutely marvelous weekend and I was overwhelmed by the turn-out of so many
Breakfast Club folks for this fly-in. And the best part was, we got to share it with folks who like to fly and eat.

The Chinle Gang

  • Warren & Jeri-Ann McIlvoy with Austin Erwin in 93MB, BC-1, 1.5, & 86
  • Jim & Gert Little in 68C
  • Adam Rosenberg in 4372J
  • Walt & Kathy Schultz
  • Art Rankin
  • Larry & Sandy Jensen in 14LJ, BC-65
  • Glen & Judy Yoder, BC-007
  • Keith & Kathy Swapp in 65244
  • Randy & Joyce Lippincott with Roger & Ginny Adler in 2515Q
  • Larry & Debra Berger in 7077V
  • Don Graminske in 9064V, BC-16
  • Dan Tollman in 5975L
  • Richard & Marcia Azimov with Paul & Marnee Solon in 6864Q, BC-2
  • Lance Thomas in 3180R, BC-80
  • Mark & Bill Hess in 428DW

What's Next?

In October, we will be traveling to Page, Arizona with breakfast at the Ranch House Grille and then a tour of Antelope Canyon. In November, we will be going to a new destination, Henderson, Nevada. These should be some really neat fly-ins and I hope to see all of you at these fly-ins. That's all for now but remember, fly safe.

Click on the Canyon de Chelly link to view photos of this fly-in.