On our first morning in Chinle, I woke full of hope for Canyon de Chelly. We’d slept deeply in the Thunderbird Lodge, and it was one of those glittery late fall days in the high desert, when the air is so clear and dry it makes everything look sharper, more angular. Out in the parking lot, the Airstream gleamed with frosty promise. We unlatched the door and looked inside: The fridge had slid out of its plywood cabinet, but the table was still bolted to the wall; the closet door was on the floor, but all windows were intact. A few stove knobs lay scattered at our feet, but at least the heater hadn't fallen off. This was cause for minor celebration, so we sizzled up eggs and bacon in our frigid little kitchen, and then carried our plates into our hotel room to eat next to the heater—one last little luxury before camping again.
Located entirely within the Navajo land, Canyon de Chelly National Monument is managed by the National Park Service but it’s under the jurisdiction of the Navajo tribal government. It’s a complicated arrangement, but for the typical visitor it boils down to this: You can’t enter the canyon without an authorized Navajo guide. Because it was low season and we hadn’t bothered to hire one in advance, so we unhitched the Airstream at Cottonwood Campground and drove the quarter mile to the visitor center, where a ranger gave me a list of outfitters. On my second call, I found Adam at Antelope House Tours, who agreed to take us into the canyon in our truck for $30 an hour.