It’s National Park Week!! And here at Canyon de Chelly National Monument we combine fun hiking events with service to the park. We extend the idea of Earth Day (the last Saturday of NPS Week) to cover the whole week and encourage visitors to help beautify the park as they visit, mostly by tackling the ever persistent problem of litter. To cover the whole week, five ranger-led hikes were scheduled along with four days of clean-up in other areas of the park like our campground, rim drives, and public trail—White House. The special hikes are usually led by Park Rangers here at the canyon, but I was offered the opportunity to lead the very first hike of NPS Week. I was a bit hesitant but after a cold winter of being stuck indoors, I wanted the chance to work outside again.
This wasn’t my very first time guiding a hike, as I did lead a group of Navajo high school students through the canyon last autumn for their educational field trip (the topic of one of my previous blog posts). Nevertheless, this was my first full interpretation hike with visitors not from the local area and with no assistance from rangers, teachers, or chaperones. Naturally, I was a bit nervous, especially when the morning of I counted a total of 19 hikers! There was no reason to be worried however, as all the visitors were excited to hike and had no issue with helping to collect trash as we went along. In fact, a few were so enthusiastic about helping to clean-up that I actually had to reign them in a bit, and remind them to think of their safety before venturing off to collect something that was in a precarious area of the canyon. Fortunately, there was not much trash littering the trail and most of it was near the beginning at Tunnel Overlook which has high traffic. We also had some very nice Navajo guides conducting Jeep tours through the canyon, who didn’t mind taking the trash bags back with them. Because of them, the hikers didn’t have to carry any extra weight back up the trail.
The hike down Tunnel Trail is unique for the fact that once you reach the canyon floor, you walk along the bottom through the wash. There is no avoiding it. And at this time of year, the canyon has quite a bit of water flowing from the winter melt off. So all my hikers got their feet wet—literally! In fact, for about 3 of the 4 miles of our hike we were meandering through the water, and I encouraged the hikers to simply walk barefoot and enjoy everything. After the initial shock of cool water (luckily it wasn’t freezing as the spring temperatures had warmed the water up) we all had a blast trudging through mid-calf high water. Occasionally, a few of us would encounter quick sand and sink down to our knees, but no worries here! At the canyon there is no threat of anyone getting sucked up in sand pits like actors in swash-buckling action movies. Humans just aren’t heavy enough. Although I do know the canyon likes to swallow a truck here and there. In the end, the quicksand was simply amusing as none of us were spared its surprise attack, and once you’re wet you might as well have fun in the water anyway. All in all, the hike was a success! Myself and the hikers simply enjoyed the morning exploring the canyon and keeping it beautiful.