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Communing at Spider Rock

Spider Rock, Arizona
Spider Rock, Arizona
Jeannette Marxen

Among the canyons and cliffs of
, stands a 800 foot tall monolith that is the spiritual center for the Navajo or Diné people.  Canyon de Chelly (pronounced shay) lies in the eastern part of the state, not far from the border with
New Mexico
.  Set aside as a National Monument in 1931, it is surrounded by the lands of the Navajo Nation and from the observation points along the rim, you will be able to see that much of the canyon land is still used for farming and livestock. 


Human occupation of the canyons surrounding de Chelly has been traced back to between 2,500 and 200 BCE.  The stone ruins that can be seen throughout the canyons most likely belong to the Anasazi people.  The Anasazi are the people who preceded the
people of the Southwest.  They moved from a nomadic society to a stable and agriculturally-based one.  With this change, they began to build village in the cliff walls of Arizona, New Mexico and
.  Over the centuries, their society continued to flourish which is evident from the massive buildings that still stand and the beautiful pottery that remains.  But in the 1300s the Anasazis practically disappear and it can become an ongoing mystery as to what led to their sudden decline.


With the Anasazis gone, Canyon de Chelly became inhabited by the Navajo people.  Linked with their oral traditions, it became an important sacred site.  And within the sacred canyons, Spider Rock holds a special reverence.  According to the Navajo lore, the history of their people can be broken down into four worlds.  After a period of time, they would leave the previous world behind and emerge into a new one.  The world we know today is the fourth world.  When the Navajo first entered the fourth world, it was overrun with monsters.  One of the deities, Spider Woman, gave the people the power to overcome the monsters.  With the monsters gone, the Navajo were able to thrive.  She also showed them the art of weaving, which they would become renowned for. Spider Woman also became a bit of a cautionary tale for Navajo children.  They were told that it they misbehaved, Spider Woman would descend and whisk them away to the top of Spider Rock. 


Today, Canyon de Chelly National Monument is open to visitors.  You can explore the area by car and drive along the rim, taking in the beautiful scenery, or you can take a guided jeep tour that will take you into the canyons and allow you to get up close to the ruins of the cliff dwellings.        


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