By Valarie Tom, Ron Goulet and George Joe
The Navajo people call Chinle “Tseyi.” In the Navajo language it means ‘place of running water’ OR, “place deep in the rock.” It’s one of the largest Navajo communities on the reservation with about 5,000 residents, and gateway to Canyon de Chelly National Monument, established in 1931 primarily to preserve the archaeological sites and record of human history. Canyon de Chelly is unique among the National Park Service units because the park is located entirely on Navajo tribal land and Navajos still live and graze livestock in the canyon. For this reason visitors are allowed very limited access down in the canyon. A trail for visitors descends and terminates at White House Ruin, or visitors may hire a licensed guide to explore further. Beautiful views of the landscape can be seen all along the canyon rim on two scenic drives with well-marked overlooks.
The earliest history of European contact at Chinle was for trading with the Spaniard. Chinle was the site of the 1864 peace conference between Kit Carson and the Navajo that ended the war between the Navajo and the U.S. The first trading post was established here in 1882. This grew to a full size camp by 1885. A government school was first established in 1910.
Chinle is home to the largest Native American high school in the U.S.—Chinle High School. The high school offers sporting events and cultural activities, such as one-act plays, music performances, and other theater. Most events are open to the public and often there is a nominal fee.
There is a branch of Dine College and Navajo Technical University in Chinle. They also have a number of cultural events open to the public. Visit their websites.
For local flair and flavor, Chinle also has a flea market all day on Fridays. Get traditional Navajo foods from many vendors. The Central Navajo Fair is held in Chinle each August.
You can catch the local government in action if a chapter meeting is going on (see chapter meetings). Because Chinle is a larger community, many of the issues get heated because of land and growth issues that come before the chapter. You can also stop in and ask for local information and people there will be able to assist you as it is a public office.
As with most areas on the Navajo Reservation, livestock grazes freely. Be careful while driving the roads and follow speed limits. You may see livestock roaming free even in the small commercial districts of reservation towns. Be especially careful at night.
There is no shortage of churches in Chinle. Services are held at the Baptist Church, Tselani Valley and Spider Rock Fellowship United Methodist Churches, a Seventh Day Adventist Church, a Mennonite Church, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Grace Fellowship Community Church, Canyon Fellowship Community Church, Canyon Family Church, Foursquare Gospel Church, Chinle Potters House, Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall.
Services in Chinle, Arizona:
Gasoline, restroom, food and dining – snack food, fast food, and family dining restaurants; grocery store, Wells Fargo Bank, auto repair, lodging and camping, Native American arts & crafts.
Lodging and Camping
With Canyon de Chelly National Monument as the attraction there are three choices for motel accommodations in Chinle. All are modern and recommended. Each has a restaurant.
Our top choice for Navajo hospitality is the historic Thunderbird Lodge near the entrance to Canyon De Chelly. The lodge is on the site of the original trading post building built in 1896. The all-day, cafeteria style restaurant serves Native American and American foods. The Thunderbird Lodge Trading Post has the areas best selection of fine Native American jewelry, crafts, Navajo rugs, souvenirs, clothing and other items.
The Best Western Motel in Chinle has an indoor heated swimming pool and steam room, rare amenities on the reservation. It’s Junction Restaurant is our choice for a good family meal in Chinle!
The third choice is Holiday Inn Canyon de Chelly. Dine at Garcia’s Restaurant, where Navajo and regional dishes are the specialty. The gift shop – Garcia’s Trading Post – has authentic Navajo jewelry and pottery.
Camping is permitted in two campgrounds in the vicinity of Canyon de Chelly. Fee required. Camp at the Cottonwood Campground near Monument entrance with sites available first-come, first-serve. Sites have table and grill. Open all year. Limited facilities in winter. No showers or hookups. Call Navajo Parks and Recreation Department at 928-674-2106 for details.
Spider Rock Campground is privately operated, 12 miles on the South Rim Drive.
Nightly fee. No hookups. Hogans available. Dumpstation and water available for guests. Contact (928) 781-2016 or P.O. Box 2509, Chinle, AZ 86503
Weather: While you may see water running at the bottom of Canyon de Chelly, and lush vegetation, the climate in the Chinle vicinity is arid (very dry). Summer average high temperatures in June, July and August are around the 90 degree mark. During July and August the majestic cumulous clouds on the horizon can turn to thunderstorms with heavy rain. These are the wet months of the year on the Navajo Nation and in the surrounding region. Thunderstorms often dissipate by sunset.
Spring and Autumn daytime temperatures are more moderate, with overnight lows going down as low as the mid-30s.
Winter daytime high temperatures are generally in the 40s, with overnight lows averaging 20 degrees. There is light snow from time to time at Chinle.
Chinle Area 7-Day Weather Forecast
Call 911 for Navajo Nation Police or emergency services. Nearest hospital is Chinle Hospital.
Contact the Navajo Nation Police at (928) 674-2111, or dial 911 for Navajo Nation Police and emergency services.
Side Trips from Chinle, Arizona
Hubbell Trading Post
Tsaile, Arizona and Dine College
Canyon De Chelly