human behavior

From Monument Valley to Canyon de Chelly

Posted in American Culture & Politics, Travel by humanb on January 5, 2010

After visiting Grand Canyon and the magnificent Monument Valley in Navajo country, I was skeptical that another canyon would impress me. Canyon de Chelly is supposedly the second great monument worth visiting in Navajo country.

We arrived at the picturesque town bordering the canyon before dusk.

Navajo farmers were stacking and transporting hay for their horses by the side of the road.

We were told there was a north and south rim of the canyon – the south offering more view points and a hiking trail. We opted to check out the north rim immediately before nightfall and the south rim the following day.

There was a very short walk to the north rim from the parking lot.

And a spectacular sight before us.

The picture doesn’t do justice to the depth and grandeur of the spot, and even in person, it’s hard to make out the ancient pueblo village in the bottom right of the picture, at the foot of the canyon.

These villages were built and occupied by the Anasazi or Ancient Ones  (350-1300 A.D.). The Hopi moved into the area in 1300 A.D. The Navajo occupied the area from the 1700s.

The following day we were excited by the prospect of exploring the south rim given what we’d seen already.  At every view point along the rim there were Navajo artists selling traditional arts.

The most popular art was contemporary petroglyphs on slabs of rock from the canyon. Other artists sold traditional Navajo pottery, beautifully crafted jewelry in silver with gold plating, and art objects made of horse hair. Prices were cheap and the artists were desperate for customers in winter. We felt obliged to buy something small at every stop, not only because the vendors were persistent, but because we recognized that the people residing on the Navajo reservation make their money principally from art work and tourism. They don’t operate casinos on the reservation.

So we understood the motivation of the shepherd who came to collect money from us for having photographed his sheep. We only had a dollar and change at that point, having bought too many crafts already. He accepted it.

After a few viewing points, we arrived at the White House trail.

The White House is another Anasazi ruin – once whiter in color – that sits at the foot of a canyon. It wasn’t visible from the hike entrance, but the serenity of the place was already suggested.

This view of the canyon offers a glimpse of a home. As in Monument Valley, a few Navajo still live here.

The residents sacrifice running water and electricity for solitude and a spiritual connectedness with their environment.

The hike down was on rough and uneven terrain, potentially treacherous, but easily navigated by one Navajo man on his horse, with his dog trailing behind. The desert vegetation was bountiful, and its colors were surprisingly vivid.

After 1.5 miles down to the foot of canyon, we approached the location of the White House. A lone shack stood before the ruins, and not surprisingly, a lone vendor selling contemporary petroglyphs on slabs. We promised him a look at his art after we took in the ruins.

While the White House ruins were remarkable, we found the cliff housing and protecting it magnificent.

The White House is the structure built above into the cliff.

A few trees framed the scene.

They were impossible to ignore, not merely because they stood alone, but because they were the source of a sweet and hypnotizing music. The leaves of the trees fluttering in the wind played like wind chimes.

We spent a good hour at the White House just being still. Then we made sure to revisit the vendor before hiking back up the canyon.

He was frank with us about the scarcity of business in winter – particular at his location. We were the first tourists to make the trek down that day. We bought the petroglyph he’s holding in this picture and recorded a video of his explaining its meaning. As we were out of cash, he accepted a check.

There were a few other view points from which to see other Anasazi ruins, but these ruins were built into the middle of canyons, so they were impossible to approach. It’s inconceivable that the Anasazi were able and willing to build villages so difficult to access. I suppose that was the point.

We could barely make out the villages from our vantage points, even with the aid of a view finder.

I have few pictures of Canyon de Chelly. I can’t regret spending my time there being still.

We left the canyon the same day and so ended our stops along the scenic route to Albuquerque.

I saw an America on this trip I barely knew existed. This country is a great deal more than the concrete jungles of the coasts and the sterile deforested suburbs of the interior. Before I made this trip, I knew I didn’t know my country fully, that few of us did. It’s richer than we know – in cultural and physical geography. In history.

I’ve heard foreigners describe America between L.A. and New York as fly over country full of ignorant, uncultured Americans. That says more about the poverty of their own knowledge and tastes than it does ours.

The meat is in the middle.

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2 Responses

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  1. Judith said, on January 6, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Dear Human B
    Just looking and reading your report slowed the pace of my breathing while, paradoxically, exciting me. What could be the value of electricity compared to the peace and connectedness to land and each other that these few wise people have found? I don’t know how you disciplined yourselves to leave so soon.
    Thank you for the wonderful photos and thoughtful words.
    Lucky you.

  2. humanb said, on January 6, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Thanks for reading Judith. 🙂

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