Friday, June 27, 2014

If you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, take the highway, that’s the best…

Posted by Scot

Hiking down into the Canyon de Chelly, Navajo Nation, Arizona
Leaving Carlsbad, we headed north through the Arizona desert.  The first place we passed of any interest was Roswell, New Mexico.  They trade pretty heavily on the UFO rumors, with billboards and statues of aliens all over town.  We briefly entertained the idea of going to the UFO museum.  Then we remembered that there are actual real museums to see in the world, and decided to save our money for one of those.  We settled for a photo op with an alien statue at a gas station.

I guess being famous for something is better than being famous for nothing.
Aliens everywhere!
There wasn’t much traffic heading out of Roswell and continuing north, until we hit the famed Route 66, and turned to the west.  Then the RVs and tourists from around the country came out of the woodwork.  It’s unclear to me exactly why Route 66 is famous, other than the fact that it rhymes with “get your kicks.”  We did spend the night in one of the towns named in the song – Gallup, New Mexico.  My apologies if you now have the tune stuck in your head.

Leaving Gallup the next day, we worked our way a couple of hours north to the town of Chinle, in the Navajo nation.  This was to be our introduction to the famed Arizona canyon lands.  We managed to check into our hotel early and grab some lunch.  The Navajo nation has been a surprise to us.  We have been impressed by how much of a nation it really seems to be.  There are few non-native faces to be seen.  Everyone working in our hotel and restaurant in Gallup was Navajo, and things were even more culturally concentrated in Chinle.

After lunch,we met up with our tour guide for a 3 hour jeep trip through Canyon de Chelly (pronounced, “de Shay”, which was the Spanish bastardization of the original Navajo word “Tseyi”).

Jeep tour of the Canyon de Chelly.  A great recommendation.  Thanks Dave!
Our tour guide was JT Hunter.  He was a pony-tailed, soft spoken 29 year old, who had spent his life around Chinle.  In fact, he was raised by his grandparents, who owned land in the canyon.  Growing up, they spent their summers living there.  He has only recent started giving tours with Beauty Way tours.

TJ, showing us some pictographs.
As he wrestled our 4 wheel drive through the deep sand in the middle of the canyon, at first he pretty much kept to the script, and pointed out some of the interesting pictographs and petroglyphs on the canyon walls.  He also showed us the remains of some ancient native structures, perched high on the cliffs above the canyon, safe from floods and other attacking tribes.

Ancient Anasazi ruins.  This ruin is called the "White House", named for the whitish building in the middle of the rock shelf.

Petroglyph showing two horsemen chasing down a deer.
Pictographs, decorating what is thought to have possibly been a maternity chamber for the Anasazi (the Navajo's ancestors).  The figure lying on his back playing the flute is Coco Pele, who is featured in a lot of Navajo art.
The kids loved the rock formations that looked like animals.  I guess the Navajo people that lived in the canyon had lots of time to study the rock formations and see all sorts of things in them.  TJ was great at stopping the jeep at the perfect spot for us to see what the Navajo had seen.  It didn’t take much imagination for the animals to pop out of the rock.

Can  you see the cat? (This one is pretty obvious)...
... how about the St. Bernard...
... or the duck, lying on it's stomach...
... or my favorite, the two owls, with the blowing cottonwood seed looking like snow.
As we got to know him a bit better, TJ started to tell us stories of living in the canyon as a boy.  His grandmother was an herbalist and medicine woman, and she taught him about the plants growing around the canyon.  He described what it was like to go collecting plants with her to dye wool, or to treat various illnesses.  He stopped the jeep a few times to pick plants and berries off various trees and describe what they were for.  We also heard great stories about flash floods in the canyon, and the time his grandmother sheltered them in a hidden cave for the night when rising waters made it impossible to get back home.
Spider rock, acting like a big sun dial.
The canyon itself was stunning.  The red rock rising straight up from the flat canyon floor made an impressive sight.  The next morning, we hiked from the south rim down into the canyon to get a closer look at the walls themselves.  After a bunch of days driving, it was great to get out and stretch our legs, and everyone enjoyed the exercise.

Hiking down the steep cliffs into the canyon.
A good view of some of the fields being tended by Navajo who own land in the canyon.

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