dateline: Grand Canyon
After lunch in Farmington on Wednesday, we set off for Monument Valley, driving down the long way from the north on Highway 163. We drove west through Navajo lands, passing the San Juan River and "Shiprock," so called by 19th (?) century missionaries. I wondered about this nomination because how many desert folks ever see a ship. It really looks like a magical floating fortress, especially in the heat of the day with the mirage in air, sort of like Laputa in Miyazaki's film of the same name (aka in English, Castle in the Sky). More below about this place.
From "Shiprock," which is also a town, we continued along 64 W to Teec Nos Pos. We passed Beclabito Dome of red rock and a stunning panoramic view of mountains and desert with little vegetation visible. Is this where uranium mining happened? It looked like the desolation of Smaug (ref the Hobbit). We stopped briefly in Redmesa and found orange sherbet pushups made in Louisiana by "Blue Bunny" company. More dairy than most sherbets and certainly than sorbet, but very refreshing. At the stop was a letter posted and dated March 12 from the Regional Health center (a large beautiful new complex which we saw just before coming to the stop and which seems to serve the four corners area) warning about an outbreak of meningitis. Redmesa environment reveals red earth both pale and deep with terra vert plants, both pale and deep also
As the afternoon shadows lengthened, we came by Mexican Hat, a famous rock formation, and on down to the increasingly stunning views of this storied valley. Driving into the main part of the valley, which is a Navajo tribal park, at about 5pm, we thought we'd have to come back the next day. However, the Navajo tour guide service offered us a 2-hour sunset tour of the valley, and we gladly accepted. They were very quick on the uptake, and joked with us about a plant in our car which Sarah had given us, asking if we were going to smoke it. Their somewhat grizzled humor reminded us of our experience with crab salesmen in La Push, driving around town selling freshly cooked crab from the back of a pickup, and raucously telling us to eat it with "Indian sauce" i.e., butter. Beer was in evidence there, but signs all over the Navajo reservation indicated that by federal law, alcohol was forbidden, including restaurants.
We set off in a jeep Wrangler with our guide Tito, who was very knowledgeable about the Navajo coming from northerly Athabascan peoples, had visited British Columbia for a conference, and knew much about Salish and other tribes. He provided a perspective beyond the "missionary names" given to many of the formations in the valley, as he expertly maneuvered the little jeep through washes, joking about a place where someone had gotten stuck yesterday while going right through it. Alice was so grateful Tito drove because he went carefully and slowly, avoiding the jerking movements which propel motion sickenss. He told us about the Navajo names and stories in the valley, which is a sacred place for his people. With him, we were able to travel well beyond the posted limits for visitors, and we saw many beautiful and imposing places as the sun set. Tito is a first Gulf War veteran, and he provided a very different viewpoint about current events, telling us that Navajo believe the gods have given up on us, and are awaiting a next renewal of the world. He described Navajo as liking to live far apart from one another, in contrast to the ancient Pueblos of places like Chaco and modern people living in cities, where too close proximity led to many troubles. He connected this to the Navajo's long ago decision to leave the more temperate northwest and live in the more arid and less hospitable southwest. He joked that "somebody had to leave". He pointed out a large hotel being built right in the valley by middle eastern interests, expressing a good deal of cynicism and disapproval. He also pointed out a place where years ago a B-52 had crashed, filling the valley with feds and leading to a change in flight routes in that area. He seemed doubtful about the reality of native sovreignity when the US military could overrun their home, or when the elders, who are women, agreed to the hotel development. Tito told us that the most frequent visitors these days are Europeans, and other folks from around the world, but not so many US visitors. We ran into Germans from Hamburg during this tour, visitors from Asia, and heard a good bit of French spoken at Gouldings.
NB: Tito also told us the story of the "Shiprock," which was actually a leftover place from previous world destructions by the gods. A giant dragon was devouring everything and an eagle (or a person on an eagle) was able to maneuver onto the dragon's back and attack a vulnerable spot (sounds similar to the Korean film Dragon Wars, eh?).
After an excellent dinner (we ordered steak) including fry bread at Gouldings, a hotel and restaurant next to the valley operated by the Navajo, we stayed overnight in Kayenta, coming back in the morning for a second look. There, Alice found a pretty silver and stones bracelet made by a Zuni jeweler, and we bought a pot made by a local Navajo artist. The women who worked in the shop were not very busy at this time and were patient with our questions and decision making.
After lunch, again at Gouldings and seeing some of those highly embellished elder women with their embroidered clothing and squash blossom jewels, we took the road south and west through Tuba City, through the very northern part of the Hopi reservation. We stopped at a place where an Indian man showed us a number of T. Rex and hadrosaur footprints which had been discovered in the 1940's. A lot of them had been removed to museums, but enough remained to show tracks as well as an example of a very sharp toenail. Our friend Barbara had told us about this place, so we kept a sharp lookout as we approached Highway 89. The signs now are freshly painted. From there, we turned more directly west and began to see evidence of canyons carved by the Colorado River. Stopping for our first real view of the magnificent Grand Canyon at Grandview, we encountered a French-speaking tourist who for some reason was interested in photographing our Wiwaxia license plate; we have still to encounter anyone who identifies the obscure reference of that name. Seeing the canyon during the sunset shadows was truly magnificent--I (Jim) was blown away by the sheer size and extent of the formations.