Tag Archives: Arizona

Southwest Road Trip: On The Floor of Canyon de Chelly

We have hopscotched through four states — New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado since October 1, 2023. We left Canyon de Chelly (pronounced SHAY) and Chinle, Arizona, yesterday morning and are back in Gallup, NM, before going on to Chaco Canyon, NM, where we will see the annular solar eclipse on October 14 as it passes over us there. This location promises to give us the maximum view!

Mostly, for the last week, we have been in Navajo country, a vast area of 16 million acres that spans New Mexico and Arizona. Diné is the native language and this is what the people prefer to be called. I was compelled to do this road trip after reading the epic tale of conquest of the American West, Blood and Thunder by historian Hampton Sides.

He eloquently tells the story of the Diné people and their expulsion from their sacred homeland, Canyon de Chelly, by Kit Carson and the U.S. Cavalry in 1964. They employed a scorched earth policy by burning corn and wheat fields, killing churro sheep, and starving them out. They cut down 5,000 mature peach trees on the valley floor. The Diné forced Long Walk to desolate Fort Sumner in southeast New Mexico along the Pecos River near the Texas border, resulted in hundreds of deaths. It is told and retold today, a painful part of history.

In a sense, this trip has been about learning more deeply about Native Americans by visiting them on their ancestral lands, in their pueblos, appreciating their connection to the spiritual, and the beautiful weavings, pottery, baskets, and jewelry that they create. We have eaten Navajo tacos (fry bread topped with chile con carne, onions, tomatoes, and cheese, and attended the Northern Navajo Fair in Shiprock.

Most importantly, we spent a full day on the floor of Canyon de Chelly with a Diné guide exploring the cliff dwellings built by the Ancestral Puebloans and retracing the footsteps of great grandmothers and grandfathers who were forcibly expelled and then interned at Fort Sumner from 1864 to 1868.

Yes, Diné people still inhabit the canyon floor where they farm, tend apple orchards, raise horses and cattle. They are the descendants of the survivors. On the canyon rims, too, there are ranches and farms where Diné gave lived for generations.

What is remarkable here are the Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, much more numerous than at Mesa Verde. We made the trip through Canyon de Chelly in a Jeep, across gullies and washes, through shifting sand, wind, over rocks and between old growth trees. I sat in the back seat and figured after this ride, I could easily ride a horse in Michoacan.

Our destination was the impressive Mummy Cave and White House. We saw some amazing petroglyphs, also created between 350 and 1300 AD. The Diné painted glyphs of Spanish conquistadores that came through in the 16th century using charcoal.

From the South Rim road, we saw Spider Rock, the birthplace of the Navajo Nation. From the canyon floor, we saw where the Diné climbed the narrow crevice to get to the top of Fortress Rock to escape, and hide from, the U.S. Cavalry.

The only way to explore the ancient archeological sites, caves, and petroglyphs is by going on a tour with a Diné guide. It was expensive, but it was well worth the experience. We both agreed that this was a highlight of our trip so far.

Southwest Road Trip: Zuni Pueblo to Gallup, NM

There are 23 Native American tribes in New Mexico. In Oaxaca, we count 16 distinct indigenous groups each with their own language. My sister and I decided to do a Southwest road trip about six months ago instead of making an international trip. We chose to do a wide circle starting from Albuquerque (ABQ), traveling to Zuni Pueblo, then on to the three Hopi Mesas in Arizona, up through Monument Valley, on to Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelly, and Chaco Canyon before returning to Albquerque and then to Taos.

The Zuni people live on native lands about two-and-a-half hours west of ABQ. We signed up in advance for a tour operated by the Zuni Cultural Center, where we met Shaun, a cultural interpreter, who took us on a tour of the original pueblo called Middle Village. The name Zuni, Shaun told us, is an abbreviation of the Spanish Conquistador Gaspar de Zuniga, who colonized New Mexico with Juan de Oñate. Their original name is A’shiwi.

The Zuni are known for their exquisite silversmithing and fine inlay work called petit point, using predominantly turquoise and coral. He explained that about 75% of the village is engaged in the artisan craft of jewelry making, but most are only able to sell through middle men, who take a 40-50% commission from the retail price. This is a familiar number to me, since this is what tour guides in Oaxaca charge artisans when they bring tourists to workshops and studios and the customer makes a purchase. Finding markets to sell directly to clients is difficult for most artists and artisans, who are makers and not promoters.

Isolation amidst exquisite landscape enabled the Zuni people to survive despite Spanish colonization, and then later expansion of the American west. This is a similar story to that of Zapotec, Mixtec and Mixe pueblos in Oaxaca; remote mountain villages were able to retain original language and culture because they were far from the colonizers. In the Zuni pueblo, we could feel the isolation and see the struggle to achieve economic well-being.

We left the pueblo in late afternoon and headed toward Gallup where we found a room at the El Rancho Hotel on the original Route 66. This is a memorabilia hotel is steeped in history of the silver screen. Hollywood directors made this hotel their headquarters for western films shot in the region. The two-story lobby boasts photos of John Wayne, Errol Flynn, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple (as an adult), Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, Ronald Reagan, and more!

Vintage Navajo rugs adorn the walls. Movie star photos, leather banquettes, antlers, carved table lamps with cowhide shades, a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace add to the old-timey atmosphere. And, the restaurant is always packed, likely the best place in town to eat. What’s yummy? Enchiladas with Christmas sauce (red and green salsa), and a Prickly Pear Margarita to wash it down.

The next morning, we set out for Ganado, Arizona, and the historic Hubbell Trading Post, a mid-way stop on our way to the Hopi Mesa. The trading post is the oldest operating in the Navajo Nation, and is operated by the National Park Service. To be continued.

Race, Ethnicity and Hate Crimes: The Gunning Down of Arizona Congresswoman Giffords

I write about Oaxaca.  What does Oaxaca have to do with Arizona and the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords today?  I am supposed to be writing about travel, culture, weaving and textiles, the wonderful people of Teotitlan del Valle, archeological sites, and the sublime mole prepared by Pilar Cabrera at La Olla.

Read this New York Time article about how an English course in Latino studies has been ruled illegal by the State of Arizona.  It is important to read the last paragraph.  The politicians of Arizona are  creating an inflammatory environment that encourages the kind of violent behavior that was perpetrated on Congresswoman Giffords today.  I consider this a “hate crime” and this has an impact on all of us.  What is happening in Arizona should have the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice.  As the Justice Department moved into Alabama in the 1960’s to support the Civil Rights Movement, there should be a call to action for the same in Arizona now.

Is this blog a place for politics?

P.S.  Gabrielle Giffords is considered a centrist, an environmentalist, and was targeted by Sarah Palin in her “crosshairs map” of representatives to be defeated.  The image is what you sight through a rifle scope.  Her opponent in last November’s election was a Tea Party candidate; she won by a 1% margin.  Giffords supported immigration reform AND stronger border protection.  She voted for health care reform.  Paul Krugman in the NY Times today predicts that the war of words around health care reform will turn to more violence in the months and years ahead.  I believe we have  lost our senses as a nation.

Politicians are culpable in this crime.  Words are powerful and incite fear, hatred, anger and fury.  Sarah Palin, Glen Beck, Fox News and the Tea Party speak about inciting violence, revolution and the taking-up of arms against the government they do not like.  This is provocative and must stop.