a private view
Howard Smith was born in 1952 at one of the first missionary hospitals on the Navajo Reservation. He has lived in the Canyon de Chelly area all his life. In 1995 he established the Spider Rock Campground a few miles due east of Canyon de Chelly National Monument in the hope of learning about other cultures while carving out a living for himself. This wonderful man operates the rustic campground while providing a memorable experience for his guests.
As the result of a suggestion from a fellow HAZ member, we opted to stay at Spider Rock Campground during our visit to Canyon de Chelly. The Walk Trail trailhead is located on Howard's land, making it privately owned. If you're not planning to spend the night and only want to do the hike, please check with Howard first, there could be a small fee.
The Walk Trail begins at an elevation of 6655 feet. The first half-mile winds thru flat, red dirt and sand, crossing a private road before starting the gradual descent to the rim of Wild Cherry Canyon. Wild Cherry Canyon leads into the national monument from the southeast. The trail is well worn and easy to follow. Cairns mark the way as the trail approaches the rim and the first spectacular view. As you can see from the photo, spray paint is also used to mark the trail and to warn hikers to stay back from the rim. At about the 1-mile mark, an Anasazi ruin is visible on the north wall of the canyon. It is at this point that the canyon turns to head west, and the cairn trail weaves around pinion pine and juniper trees as it presents hikers with one tremendous view after another. It is also here that you discover that the Walk Trail has been cairned both for hikers heading in as well as hikers heading back to the campground. This means that there are two sets of cairns and arrows, one for each direction. The trail itself is easy to follow, making the two separate routes somewhat unnecessary.
Regardless, we found ourselves hugging the rim to take in the immenseness of the canyon.
As you approach the mile and a half point, the cairns seem to spread out and a short scramble is needed to continue. Just past the 1 1/2 mile marker the trail and canyon is closest to the nearby highway (2 lane road).
The canyon eventually turns again to head north into the main canyons of the park. From this point on there are no trail markings or cairns. After the 1-1/2 point, route-finding skills are necessary. We found the travel to be easy, as we used the canyon rim as our guide. Hiking away from the rim would present a more difficult hiking experience.
The return trip was equally stunning and we found ourselves just strolling along the hard rock surface as we checked out all the area had to offer. Just past the ruins, we noticed a small rockslide on the northeast wall of the canyon. A half dozen mule deer were working their way up what appeared to be an impassable section of canyon wall. These sure-footed animals were amazing to watch as they leapt their way up the wall.
The final 3/4 of a mile back to the trail involves the majority of the 220 feet of elevation gain experienced during this short hike. It was just starting to get hot when we returned to camp. Pat decided she'd relax while I prepared breakfast.
This easy 3+-mile hike is a great way to explore one of the outer canyons of Canyon de Chelly National Park. It's also the only way for hikers with dogs to explore any trails in the park. The difficulty level is low, while the rewards are high. You won't find this trail listed in any hiking guide or on any map. This one is special. If you're visiting Canyon de Chelly, Howard's Walk Trail is worth exploring!
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WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.
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