Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Arizona, Day 5 - The Navajo Nation and Grand Canyon National Park

The view from the Denny's parking lot. I'll say again that Page AZ is surrounded by some gorgeous scenery!

We woke up this morning, and we got on the road at a fairly decent hour. We grabbed some breakfast at Denny's, and we were on the road again.

AZ Hwy 89 is beautiful in the daylight! As I suspected based on our nighttime drive a couple of nights ago, there is not much there in the way of goods and services; however, the scenery is breathtaking. I did not realize that we had driven through the Navajo nation on our way into Page.

A glimpse of the beautiful Navajo reservation
Another view of the Navajo reservation

As we were driving through, we stopped and met some Navajos who were selling handmade folk art. The pieces were gorgeous, and I was amazed that all of it was made by hand. I wanted literally every single piece that I examined. I could very easily have spent 100's of dollars at this roadside stand. Much of it had been made by a woman named Elsi; the lady who was selling her pieces was Elsi's niece. The niece shared with me the Navajo lore and history that was the inspiration for the pieces that I bought.

The roadside stand where I bought my Navajo folk art

My very favorite piece that I bought is my storyteller bear. According to Elsi's niece, the bear symbolizes strength and courage in the Navajo culture. It is hand carved out of clay. The art that you see on it is made with sand, and the sand is kept in place with tree sap. See the fine black lines going through it? That is horsehair art. It's hair from a horse's tail or mane, and it has been fired into the clay using a special technique.

My storyteller bear

Next, my eye caught a beautiful Christmas ornament that Elsi created, and it was also made of clay. You can see horsehair art used here, as well. The depiction of a Navajo on the horse is symbolic for "end of the line". This made me a little sad, because it represents the loss of many elements of Navajo culture through the years...the systemic and mandated elimination of their traditions and customs. Happily, the Navajo are currently working to revive many of those very traditions and customs.

My clay Christmas ornament

Finally, I found a gorgeous bracelet! It's made of silver, turquoise, and apple coral (which I had never heard of before).

My new bracelet

As we were driving across the Navajo reservation, we listened to a public radio station that serves the western Navajo nation--KGHR. They play quite a large variety of contemporary music---everything from The Archies to Van Morrison to Green Day to Los Lonely Boys. However, they also play traditional Navajo music, as well as contemporary songs about the history and plight of the Navajo people. Both English and the Navajo dialect were spoken. I thought it was quite fascinating, and listening to it as we drove made the trek through the Navajo nation feel surreal to me. I felt sad as I looked around the beautiful landscape and saw small communities consisting of shacks, campers, and trailers. It drove home the fact that we weren't merely passing through a tourist trap; these people live here. This is their home...their community. They are born here, live here, work here, and die here. I would like to visit this area again; next time, however, I want to educate myself about Navajo history and culture.

We drove through the Grand Canyon National Park again. It is much better in the daylight, I have to say. I took more pictures from various lookout points. These photos came out much better than the sunset tour, I think. Perhaps it was because we didn't have the smoky haze with which to contend this time.

I have been fascinated by all of the different countries being represented among my tourist brethren. I've heard very little English being spoken during this trip. Today, I've heard German, French, Japanese, and Arabic being spoken...and those are just the languages that I recognize. When I do hear English being spoken, it is often with a British or Australian accent.

We made it back to Phoenix around 8:30 p.m. or so. At this point, we were both pretty worn out. Although we've had a great time (except for the hospital thing), we're both ready to get the hell home. I love to travel, but I'm always ready to get back to my home base for awhile. We found our hotel with relative ease. I had my usual battle with the electronic key card (Kelley got it open on her first try...but then, she's much more patient than I), but we made it into the room. We were both craving McDonald's, for some reason. We got semi-settled, and we headed out again. I wanted to go ahead and fill up the gas tank so those rat bastards at the car rental place wouldn't charge a jillion dollars (roughly) if we returned the car on empty. The gods smiled upon us; my GPS led us to a nearby gas station...and there was a McDonald's right next door! We hit McD's first and then headed over to the gas station. As I pumped gas, Kelley started to clean the thousands of dead bugs off of our windshield. A Latino gentleman came running out of nowhere, exclaiming "Mami! Let me do that for you!" He was a kind and friendly fellow; we talked as he wiped down our car. It turns out that he's homeless. He was a construction worker and came from CA with his truck and his tools. He found work right away, and he was living a pretty good life. A few months ago, his truck and tools were stolen. He lost his job and, eventually, his home. In spite of this, however, he had such a sweet spirit and an exceptional outlook on life. He talked openly about his belief in God, as well as his approach towards life and his recent bout of rotten luck. He had virtually no possessions, yet he was one of the most generous people I've ever met. Kelley and I were running low on cash; she gave him a couple of bucks, and he accepted it humbly and gratefully.

Since we had a refrigerator in our room, we decided to buy some milk and cereal for breakfast the following morning; now we can eat a quick (and cheap) breakfast in our hotel room and get straight to the airport to catch our noon flight.

I'm exhausted. I should sleep juuust fine tonight.


Debby Morris said...


Great pictures and write up. You had a great experience. We spent some time there with Navajos when I was 12 years old in 1969.

Thanks. I will read more and comment more later.


Anonymous said...

Loved having the pictures of Bubba. I printed them and am showing them off at work.

Love you.