Canyon de Chelly
Administrative History
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John E. Cook took over as superintendent on August 14, 1966. He was not only the superintendent of Canyon de Chelly, but also of Hubbell Trading Post, which was made a national historic site in 1967. The rationale given for this was as follows:

to improve management and manpower. . . . Both areas continue as separate units of the National Park system under a single manager. From a field point of view this is working out very satisfactorily. It is resulting in a reduction in the overall combined grade structure and better utilization of appropriated funds. [1]

Ranger Wallace reported that the National Park Service and the Navajo police had a good working arrangement and were assisting each other in curbing law violators. [2] In addition, a new Polaroid camera was obtained "for use in Protection patrols, accident investigation and reporting." Cook believed that it would "no doubt prove to be of great value in the field of protection." [3]

As the year ended at Canyon de Chelly, 344,347 visitors had been recorded for 1966. This was a sizeable increase over the 1965 total of 182,785. Visitor contacts for interpretive services totaled 89,842. [4]

One of the major problems during the late 1960s and early 1970s was that of sonic booms. Correspondence on this subject practically dominated the source material used during this period. The major concern of the Park Service and Canyon de Chelly officials was damage to the ruins. Beginning on August 11, 1966, a record was kept of the exact time and date that the sound barrier was broken over the canyons. Just from that date through October 6, 26 sonic booms were recorded. [5] The Navajos were aiding in this record keeping. One of them reported that a shock in Canyon del Muerto caused a large portion of overhanging cliff to fall, which damaged a cliff dwelling below. Cook was deeply concerned over this and recommended that "a full scale investigation should be made." [6]

Responses to this plea were encouraging. Chief Archeologist John M. Corbett stated:

We have discussed the matter with the Bureau of Land Management, and they are investigating to determine how much of a problem it may be on their lands. We also will explore this matter with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

It is possible that a coordinated plea from several Interior agencies might have some effect on the Department of Defense. [7]

In addition, Regional Archeologist Albert H. Schroeder stated:

Apparently our suggestion that protection of the ruins from sonic booms is being explored with other agencies. We hopefully look forward to results that will reduce hazards of this type as a result of activities of the Department of Defense. [8]

The booms continued, however, and Cook reported that they were increasing. He submitted a report of the exact times and dates of the booms from August 11 to December 22. It revealed that there were 8 booms in August, 13 in September, 16 in October, 24 in November, and 22 in December. He concluded by stating that visitors and Navajos reported that the cliffs "vibrated" with each boom and furthermore, he was not only concerned with damages to the ruins and cliffs, but also feared for the fragile structures at Hubbell Trading Post. [9]

In January 1967 the sonic boom question at Canyon de Chelly finally received publicity, first a story in the January 10 issue of the Albuquerque Journal, which carried a front-page headline. Then the Associated Press and United Press International picked up the story and it received national coverage. Moreover, Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall held a news conference on the problem. [10] Cook reported that the Department of the Interior, the United States Air Force, and the Federal Aviation Agency were discussing the situation. [11]

Secretary Udall's view on this issue was revealed in a letter to Secretary of the Air Force Harold Brown. Udall believed that

This is a growing problem, and one that carries with it the alarming threat of destruction or defacement of some of this nation's priceless natural and archeological heritage, as well as exposing thousands of visitors to possible injury.

Pending the outcome of planned discussions with the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Agency, he believed that

positive steps can be taken to ameliorate the impact of supersonic flights over National Park areas, and to outlaw low-level flights, which are also capable of causing damage to fragile geologic formations and prehistoric structures. . . . [12]

Yet the number of booms continued to mount. Wallace, as acting superintendent, reported that 29 booms were recorded in March. "Evidently," he wrote, "our protests in the past were not worthy of consideration." He was especially worried about the chance of injury to visitors from falling rock or collapsing walls. He said that if such a thing happened, it would not be "due to our lack of concern or lack of positive measures." [13]

By September Cook could report a total of 190 sonic booms recorded from August 11, 1966, to August 24, 1967. He stated that "although damage to structures and scenic features since that time cannot be definitely attributed to this activity, we remain genuinely concerned about this continuing problem and the possible long range effects." [14] In November Wallace reported on further possible sonic boom damage, which he had observed near Standing Cow Ruin on August 12. A large block of the cliff had broken loose and bounced twice on the way down with such force that only an expanse of fine white powder was left at the bottom.

The break occurred approximately 1/4 mile from the one reported on August 11, 1966, in which case Navajos reported a sonic boom at the time of the break. In both instances the slides occurred on the farm of Guy Yazzie Teller, a Navajo resident.

Upon investigation and questioning of the local Navajo people, the slide occurred "during the noon hour" on Thursday, November 9, 1967, at which time they observed a large cloud of white dust at the site. Our records show a recorded sonic boom at 12:50 P.M. of extreme density on that day.

Ironically, the latest slide happened above and partially covered one of the few main trails from the canyon floor to the rim. This trail has been used by local Navajo people almost daily during the summer months for many years. The slide did not obliterate the trail and it can be used; however, danger from falling rock is now extreme and continued use would not seem feasible.

.   .   .    .   .

Another factor that might well be taken into consideration is the very strong feeling of the resident of the farm below the slides. Mr. Guy Yazzie Teller feels that he should abandon the farm for the protection of himself and his family. He also has a strong feeling that he has committed some terrible wrong and this is his punishment. If he abandons the farm his ability to support his family is in question. [15]

Cook forwarded Wallace's report to Santa Fe with the recommendation that it be passed on to Washington, noting

15. Wallace to Supt., Nov. 15, 1967, C de C, W4618.

Mr. Teller is a non-English speaking Navajo who believes in the old ways and he is now quite worried. Thus, even in this "remote" country, possible sonic boom damage affects not only physical features but human relations. [16]

The July 5, 1968, issue of the New York Times carried an article on the effects of sonic booms in national parks in Arizona. Chief Ranger Kevin McKibbin was quoted as saying: "I've even seen them (the booms) move our front glass doors. Sometimes when they're really intense, they'll open a door." It was hoped that the booms would cease, and apparently, the article did help rouse people in high places, for very few booms were recorded after November 1969.

On March 28, 1972, Acting Director Raymond L. Freeman was able to report that "the United States Air Force has issued a regulation prohibiting supersonic operations over all national parks." [17] For the year 1972 Rodney W. Harris, acting superintendent at Canyon de Chelly, could report no "physical damages due to sonic booms." [18] As late as January 1974 Assistant Director of Park Historic Preservation Robert M. Utley urged each region to forward information on sonic booms, stating:

It is strongly recommended that any adverse effect suspected to result from sonic booms be referred immediately to the office of the Chief Scientist. [19]

The monument has continued to keep records of each sonic boom as of the date of this writing.

Another movie company visited Canyon de Chelly from May 31 to June 8, 1967. The movie was McKenna's Gold, starring Gregory Peck and Omar Sharif. Approximately 75 people were included in the cast and crew. Cook reported that 16 local Navajos would be in the film. Filming took place at Spider Rock, White Sands, White House Trail, Canyon Junction, Tsegi Overlook, and at the canyon mouth. When describing the film, Cook wrote that the portion being filmed was

the end of the movie when McKenna and his girl friend find the Canyon of Gold, are chased by Apaches (played by Navajos), and are caught in an earthquake just after the gold is discovered. The earthquake is NOT being filmed here. [20]

Special activities in the Chinle area included two rodeos. The first, held on April 29, resulted in $200 worth of damage to the campground comfort stations. [21] When the annual 4H Rodeo was held in May, the tribal police and rangers cooperated in a 24-hour patrol of the campground. [22]

The establishment of a justice of the peace court in Chinle had made arrests possible for traffic violations for some time, but this court was not utilized by the Park Service until May 1967. In that month two citations for speeding were issued to local high school students (both apparently non-Navajos), one of which resulted in a conviction and a $10 fine. [23]

In 1967 the Code of Federal Regulations was amended to include a section pertaining to visitor use of the canyons. The purpose of the amendment was

to control public access to the canyons of Canyon de Chelly National Monument by requiring that all visitors be accompanied by National Park Service employees or authorized guides, except in such areas as the Superintendent may designate. [24]

In forwarding the draft for consideration at the area, the assistant to the Director, Frank E. Harrison, admonished:

Of course, the Superintendent is aware that Navajos exercising their statutory rights are not subject to the requirements of this regulation. Our regulations, whether general or special, cannot be applied to prohibit rights given by treaty or statute. [25]

The proposed draft was published after the addition of a paragraph specifying that the "regulation in no way impairs or modifies the rights of the Navajo Tribe of Indians as already provided by Treaty and/or Statute." [26]

In March 1967, about the time that two new pits for trash disposal were dug, each 10 feet deep, 12 feet wide, and 500 feet long, Chief Ranger Wallace held a meeting in his office with chapter president Walker Norcross and a delegation of members of the Chinle Chapter to discuss trash disposal and sanitation. [27] Precisely what agreements were reached is not recorded, but it appears likely that the Park Service offered to allow families close to the headquarters area to use the pits in exchange for permission to locate the pits within traditional use areas of the Navajos. [28]

A special use permit for 1967 was issued to Marjorie Kaye Wilson, a Navajo, to rent horses to visitors. The permit was reissued yearly. It was issued with no charge, because Navajos had exclusive rights to rent horses according to the original legislation creating the monument. [29] Rental rates for horses were $2.00 per hour. The tribe would not approve any permits unless the permittee had liability insurance. [30] In June Cook reported that the new permittee, doing business under the name of Canyon de Chelly Riding Stables, had recorded 157 rentals during the month. [31]

In June 1967 the final monthly report for Canyon de Chelly National Monument was submitted. Apparently this practice was becoming too burdensome and consumed too much "time and manpower." Cook was happy with the discontinuance of this responsibility, but felt a bit nostalgic about it also. [32] With the elimination of these reports, however, a valuable source of information for future researchers was lost.

Continuing to work closely with the Bureau, the Park Service signed an agreement for a joint road development project on the north rim of Canyon del Muerto. The distance was approximately 26 miles plus spur roads leading to three overlooks and the Tsaile Ranger Station. Each agency was to finance the main road equally, but the spur roads were to be financed solely by the Park Service. The plans and specifications for the rim drive were to be prepared by the Bureau, while the Park Service would prepare those for the spur roads. All right of way acquisitions, contracting, and construction supervision were to be the responsibility of the Bureau, which was also obligated to maintain the roads, while the costs of maintenance for the spur roads were to be charged to the Park Service. The main road would be carried on the real property records of the Bureau and the spur roads on the records of the Park Service. [33]

Cook also wanted to extend road construction of the south rim road another 11 miles to the Spider Rock Overlook, but needed approval of an easement from the Navajo tribe for 3 miles that were outside the monument. [34] The Bureau obtained the necessary right of way from the Navajo tribe, [35] but with stipulations. The tribe had presented the matter to the Chinle Chapter, which "consented to the granting of the right-of-way—with the understanding that the road will be left open to the general public, to improve and enlarge the school bus service, and to develop economic potential of recreation and tourism." The tribe incorporated these requirements into its own grant of easement. [36]

At the end of 1967 Cook reported on the recreational opportunities available to visitors at Canyon de Chelly. He considered driving and sightseeing the outstanding activities and felt that existing facilities were adequate "only in minimal terms." There was fishing at Tsaile Lake, but the area was being used to capacity and besides was under tribal control. Water skiing, boating, and swimming were of little importance, the first two because of tribal regulations and the latter because of a "viral snail." Picnicking and camping were available, but these facilities saw little use in the winter. Not many people took nature walks or went horseback riding, and hiking was necessarily under very restrictive regulations. [37]

One activity that he did not mention was mountain climbing, but he may have considered this part of hiking. The restrictions on this particular pastime were very important, especially in regard to Spider Rock. In October he had had occasion to deny a request from the editor of ASCENT Magazine for permission to climb this spire. In explaining his refusal he stated that he was aware of five previous climbs, in 1956, 1960, 1961, 1964, and 1967, but noted that the last two were done illegally. He pointed out that all requests since 1961 had been denied

not because of danger, but in respect for the wishes of the Navajo people who consider this a sacred rock. The 1961 and 1967 ascents generated considerable bad feeling among many traditionalist Navajos who feel that their religious rights are being violated or made a mockery of. Both the National Park Service and the Navajo Tribal Rangers have been requested by the Navajo people to make every effort to eliminate all further ascents on this classic feature. [38]

Nonetheless, on November 24 another illegal climb was made. A visitor reported seeing a man on top of Spider Rock. Chief Ranger Wallace and Maintenance Man Kelly went to the site and apprehended the two violators. They were informed of their rights and agreed to sign a waiver and to talk. They said they were not associated with any specific organization and were unaware of the restrictions. Cook, in his report, said he believed them and let them go with just a warning.

To remedy the situation he planned to place more off limits signs at the base of Spider Rock and recommended that a letter be sent to ASCENT Magazine in hopes that they would carry an article about the illegality of climbing there. [39]

Subsequently a letter was written to ASCENT Magazine and also to SUMMIT Magazine. It explained why the climb was prohibited and asked that the magazines present this information to their readers. [40]

An article by O. F. Oldendorph, containing information on Canyon de Chelly, appeared in the May 1968 issue of National Parks Magazine. The sentiments of the author were reminiscent of those expressed in the 1930s concerning visitation. The author appeared to be upset with the influx of visitors because of paved roads. He believed that if roads to national parks were dirt highways, this would discourage the type of visitor who littered and caused unnecessary trouble. He declared:

Nothing discourages the overnight campground-hopper as much as fifteen miles of dirt road. Nothing else is so welcome to the truly interested visitor, for he knows that at the end of the rough road he will be camping with people who share his interest in the park. [41]

Progress can not be stopped so easily, however. Oldendorph, despite his recent visit to Navajo country, had failed to notice that the Navajos were no longer traveling by wagon and that their pickups were as much benefited by paved roads as were the tourists' vehicles; more so in fact, for the Indians traveled these roads regularly, while for most tourists the trip was made once in a lifetime.

Early in 1968 the Navajo Lands Group was organized with John Cook as general superintendent. [42] The group office was maintained at Chinle for some time, but was eventually moved to Farmington, New Mexico, when Arthur H. White succeeded Cook.

With the creation of the group office the new general superintendent had responsibility for many aspects of Navajo relations formerly handled by the area superintendent. This was especially true as long as the office remained in Chinle throughout Voll's tenure as superintendent. Later superintendents, from Cammack on, necessarily had to give more attention to local Navajo relations, but the general superintendent at Farmington retains considerable responsibility in local affairs and is most accountable for relations at the tribal level. [43]

A question arose over whether Canyon de Chelly was affected by the Wilderness Act of 1964. Cook believed that "Canyon de Chelly can never really receive wilderness consideration because of the legal status and because of the Navajo use thereof." [44] The director of the Southwest Region agreed with Cook. [45] These opinions were accepted in Washington and Canyon de Chelly was excluded from the provisions of the act. [46]

Several applications for land use permits were received by Cook and other superintendents of the monument. When one was sent in by Willie Willson, the Navajo Lands Group was asked by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to concur in the permit request. In doing so, the group's general superintendent stated:

We concur with the following stipulation; which is general for new permits within the monument and specifically for those so adjacent to the core visitor use area. "Any improvements or changes to or in this site are subject to the prior approval of the National Park Service, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Chinle, Arizona."

This is really not a restriction but is just something that gives us the opportunity to review and be involved in any developments in the general headquarters area of the National Monument. [47]

Cook was disappointed over another permit issued to Amos Kee Yazzie to build on lands occupied by Anson Bahe Benally, across from the Park Service housing area, because he said that the Bureau in 1964 had assured the Service that "no additional development would take place in this general vicinity." He requested that "the subject lands be earmarked for eventual administrative withdrawal for National Park Service development purposes and that no further building be permitted on said lands." [48]

Superintendent William G. Binnewies received a homesite application from William and Mabel Hunter for an area 1-1/2 miles east of the Thunderbird Lodge. Binnewies had no objections, since "the home will not infringe on park resources or values." [49] Therefore, the homesite grant was given to the Hunters. [50]

Other problems involved hookups to the Park Service water system. Binnewies reported that he denied two requests from Navajos for such hookups because

parks cannot sell or give away water unless it is for the direct or indirect use of the park or park visitor, and also because all local water hookups in the Chinle area are handled through the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. [51]

He said that the Tribal Utility Authority was unable to provide water hookups to Navajo homesites east of the headquarters area because their distribution system stopped between the Thunderbird Lodge and the campground. If possible, they would furnish water service, but in these cases it could not be done. [52]

Problems arose due to misunderstandings about the water service. Bennewies informed certain Navajo applicants, such as Alice Hunter, Amos Yazzie, and Edith Yazzie, that the Park Service could not provide water for their homesites and recommended that they apply to the Tribal Utility Authority. [53]

Binnewies also granted temporary access to the homesite of Elizabeth B. Kelsey, which was east of the Park Service residential area and inside the farm lands of Irene Benally. Access was to be by way of the Park Service residential road and through the south end of the fence around Irene Benally's land. He said that an alternative route "should be worked out as soon as possible as the residential road is not designed for, nor designated as a public thoroughfare." [54]

On June 17, 1969, LaFont received permission from Raymond Nakai, Navajo tribal chairman, to close his trading post operation. LaFont was to continue the "remaining,operation in accordance with the present lease." [55] Closure of the trading post, which included ending gasoline and oil sales, was due to the incurrence of financial losses. To ensure that the Indian customers would not undergo hardships, Garcia's Canyon de Chelly Trading Post was to acquire all the remaining stock at full wholesale value after the Thunderbird closed officially on July 31. [56]

The closing of the trading post was to have an effect on tribal relations beyond the mere matter of shopping convenience. In 1970 negotiations were begun for renewal of the concessioner contract, the one then in force expiring on December 31, 1973. Frank F. Kowski, in a letter to Navajo Tribal Chairman Peter McDonald, explained the matter in some detail:

On July 26, 1972, a meeting between your representatives, the Concessioner and this office was held at Window Rock to discuss counter proposals made by the Navajo Tribe and the Tribe's further involvement as a party to the contract.

It is apparent that the Navajo Tribe became a third party to the original contract primarily due to the existance [sic] at the time, of a trading post operation by the concessioner. By letter of June 17, 1969, Raymond Nakai, Chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council, authorized closure of the trading post.

Since the old trading post no longer exists, the primary interest of the Navajo Tribe as a third party to the contract has been eliminated. Therefore, any renegotiated contract should not include the Navajo Tribe as a third party thereto. This is borne out by the July 2, 1964, opinion rendered by Field Solicitor Gayle E. Manges wherein he states in part concerning the Act of February 14, 1931, establishing Canyon de Chelly National Monument: "It is my opinion that Congress stated in clear and unambiguous language that one of the exceptions to the Tribe's right to use the surface of the land for 'other purposes' is the right to use the surface of the land for the care and accomodation [sic] of visitors to the monument. To read into the clear language of Sections 2 and 3 of the act that the Indian retained the rights and duties of the Government set forth in Section 3 of the act is to ignore the unambiguous exception in Section 2 of the act, which reserved to the Indian the use of the surface of the land for purposes '***except as hereinafter defined***' The right of the National Park Service to provide for the care and accomodation of visitors to the monument is set forth in Section 3 of the Act of August 25, 1916, as amended (39 Stat. 535, 16 U.S.C., Sec. 3), as well as Section 3 of the Act of February 14, 1931. Solicitor's Opinion, 60 I.D. 214 (1948)".

Moreover, there is no authority by which the franchise fee which ranged between four and six thousand dollars annually, may be paid to the Navajo Indian Tribe. Therefore, under any renegotiated contract any such fee must be deposited into the Treasury to the credit of miscellaneous receipts, as set forth in 16 U.S.C. 452.

With the elimination of the Tribe as a party to the contract, this concessioner should be on the same basis as any other concessioner with respect to the franchise fee. . . .

.   .   .    .   .

Notwithstanding the foregoing, however, it should be pointed out that the existing contract vested certain rights in the Tribe, including the right to the franchise fee thereunder. These rights cannot be terminated except upon expiration of the contract by limitation of time on December 31, 1973. Therefore, the proposed new contract with Justin's, Inc. should be effective January 1, 1974, rather than to supersede and cancel the existing contract as originally proposed. [57]

Thus, with the expiration of the old contract, the concession came under exclusive Park Service regulation.

With increasing visitation and a growing local population, travel within the canyons has increased markedly. In a report prepared in April 1971, Cammack summarized the growth of this travel during the preceding few years. Navajos were estimated to make about 7,000 trips up the canyon per year, with an annual increase in their travel of about 10 percent. Travel by others, including both the concessioner's guided tours and those visitors who had their own 4-wheel-drive vehicles and hired guides, increased from 380 trips involving 3,800 people in 1965 to 1,060 trips involving about 9,000 people in 1970. An overall projected annual increase of 15 percent was predicted. Despite this volume of travel, only 6 illegal entries were noted for 1970 and the requirement that guides accompany all non-Navajos within the canyons kept trespass on Navajo farms to a minimum, although there was some concern expressed for possible damage to the ruins. Routine ranger patrols of the canyon seemed to curb the potential problems. [58] Spider Rock was still considered sacred and a new petition from the Navajos requesting that the Park Service continue to refuse permission to climb there was received. [59]

In 1973 Superintendent Binnewies submitted a proposed "back country management plan" for the area. After noting that the Park Service lacked any legal authority to regulate Navajo activities within the canyons, he listed the following rules for visitors:

  1. Canyon Trails—A permit and and authorized guide are required for visitor use of all trails except White House Trail. No motorized vehicle use of any trails is allowed.

  2. Camping—Overnight camping permitted only at Cottonwood Campground and Spider Rock Overlook campground. Camping within the canyons is not permitted unless the camper is the personal guest of a resident Navajo.

  3. Vehicular Access—Access by vehicle will be through the mouth of the canyon by permit, and limited to 4-wheel drive vehicles. No vehicular traffic will be permitted beyond the Draper Ranch in Canyon de [sic] Muerto nor beyond a point approximately 2 miles up canyon from Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly.

  4. Cliff Dwellings—Access into cliff dwellings without a guide is allowed only at White House and Standing Cow ruins.

The objectives of these rules were as follows:

  1. Protection of property rights and privacy of Navajo residents of the canyon.

  2. Protection and interpretation of archeological resources.

  3. Provide accurate data on visitor use of various parts of the park as a basis for impact studies.

  4. Limit use of more primitive areas by practical controls for the purpose of minimizing impact.

  5. Minimize adverse visitor exposure to unfamiliar natural hazards by requiring a guide familiar with canyon travel. [60]

Local population growth has caused new problems and aggravated old ones throughout the monument area. In a report submitted in August 1973 Binnewies pointed out that law enforcement in the campground was a growing problem requiring more regular patrols, that the demand for homesites was increasing both in the Chinle area and along the rims, that Navajo improvement of old foot trails into the canyons was sometimes destructive of scenic values, and that the Park Service was being blamed for the inability of the Utility Authority to provide water service to Navajo homes near the headquarters area. While he suggested solutions to some of these problems, he hoped that the forthcoming master-planning study would be a means of getting all the various local agencies and population segments together and of informing them of Park Service objectives. [61]

Only one other event of the last few years should be mentioned here: the major archeological project of stabilization and excavation at Antelope House under Don P. Morris, which began in 1970.

The Antelope House work was the result of an increased emphasis on archeological resource management under Cook and Voll, which has provided impetus for the better programming of maintenance and stabilization work at the ruins. [62]

This very brief survey of the years since the end of Guillet's second tenure as superintendent concludes the history of the monument at this time. These years are so recent that no true historical perspective is yet possible, and whether the issues that we have selected to mention here will indeed prove to have a significant effect on the future course of park operations at Canyon de Chelly can only be determined by future events.

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Last Updated: 08-Mar-2004