Monday, August 19, 2013

Our 100 Day Trek through the US of A, part 16, Monument Valley

This was not on the program initially. But to do a private sunset tour, on the largest Indian reservation in the U.S., with a Navajo guide was irresistible. Thus onto Kayenta, Arizona the nearest city to the Monument Valley tribal park, after an unsuccessful try to book the hotel on the park grounds. A local B&B near the grounds where one would sleep in an original Navajo Hogan amended with a real door and a queen bed instead of sleeping on the floor, was rejected by my spouse, who needs air conditioning (in 100+ degree temps) and ensuite facilities.

Monument Valley is so so Red
Winter picture of the Hogan B&B
The classic entrance picture to the park

So we booked the most, although not fact checked yet, expensive Hampton Inn in the country. Seems that way, or the fee and taxes to the Navajo Nation causes this, or that Hampton Inn lacks competition and behaves in a capitalistic free trade fashion. The fact that the gas prices here were much lower than outside the reservation makes me opt for the latter.

Most famous Grandmother

The next unfortunate realization was that throughout the "Nation" no alcohol can be sold. I realized too late that the family structure here is matriarchal. Grandmas rule the clans. The nearest wine and beer outlet, as a consequence, was 2 hours driving from the hotels, across the Nations border. O'Doul's rules here. Our guide Wayne smiled when I asked if there were stills around. I brought up this subject during our sunset trip, because I wanted to live with the hope that grandmas can only rule to the extent that can be endured by man.

Wayne trying to tip the cube
The hole is right above us
The gossiping sisters
The Navajo Cathedral

Dinners were infinitely cheap as a consequence. By the way, stay away from Navajo fry bread, an unseasoned corn tortilla that is deep fried, dense and oily.

The weather did not oblige as I had hoped during the sunset tour, because no wonderful sunset was observed that night. Having Wayne, a talkative guide naming each rock formation with touristy labels such as "right thumb" and "the three sisters" led me to change the subject to clan life. His family history here, while we passed compounds of hogans blazing smoke through the roof vent holes and to schooling, lack of electricity, job opportunities, etcetera, etcetera. The average clan size here is thirty members, ruled by the oldest female. She has a council of wise elders, which can include men.

Having a guide brought us off the tourist trails onto tribal lands to rock formations not otherwise accessible. And we enjoyed songs, by Wayne and other guides, to the spirits in a cave with a hole in the roof, considered a religious gathering place by the local tribe.

Right thumb
All clans have one or two sweat hogans. I was wondering why in this heat? I immediately said to myself but the winters are very cold. That must be why. Wayne however explained that these sweat lodges exist because there is no or little water in the desert. And sweating is one way of cleansing pores. So it is their shower. Wow.
Right thumb
Masterwork by water and wind

The next day we drove around the Navajo Nation and visited a National Monument co-managed by the National Park Service and the Tribe: the Canyon de Chelly National Monument, where we saw Indian villages below us on the canyon floor, where farm life today still flourishes. Pumpkins, Indian corn, melons, peaches etc. are grown here in one of the widest canyon valleys in the US.

Chelly Canyon

It was here where we bought the only souvenir during this trip from a young Indian, who wanted to use the money of his sales to leave the village on the canyon floor for better opportunities.

The only souvenir I bought and the artist

From here it was on to Moab on a Sunday morning driving back through Utah where, funny enough, on Sundays one can not buy alcohol!


Anaszasi Ruins on Valley floor


Petroglyphs in Monument Valley



Sweat lodge


Female Hogan


Male Hogan


Our 100 Day Trek through the US of A, part 17, Moab

I knew of Moab only as a Semitic tribe from which people with questionable morals, such as Lot and his daughters sprung. The people that named this town, founded on a canyon floor, had obviously the same type of thoughts, because the city historians reference heated discussions about the name, that actually stems from the Indian name "Moapa" or mosquito.

We find ourselves here for three nights to visit two National Parks: the Arches and the Canyon Lands. May I say this, and I can hardly believe that I am going to write this down, but I think I have seen these parks before somewhere in my recent past.

All alone: A last one Standing?

This seemingly blasé attitude came to the fore in "staying in" behavior till mid afternoon before climbing in the car for a quick tour around one of them.

Newspaper Rock
The wheel was invented

Actually not completely true. On our way into town we sojourned into a lesser visited southern entrance to Canyon Lands and visited a few viewpoints, got out of the car, peered over and said "not bad" and returned to our cool car. 100 plus degree weather, even if it is a dry heat, does not really invite long walks. Although the "newspaper rock" was definitely worth the trip, allowing us to look at "BC" depictions of life, as well as "only" 800 year old messages for us the readers.

The Shoe

After checking into our little apartment we ventured out again around 6 pm to see a sunset over the Arches landscape, which was partially successful. I never got an Arch or Butte or Mesa and a sinking sun together in one picture, but I got a moon shot, and a wonderful sunset.

The northern entry to Canyon Lands showed to be no comparison to the Grand Canyons, but we got the thrill of our lives, when I was allowed to descend 1000 to 1500 feet down a vertical canyon rim in Hansie, with my sweet bride white knuckled besides me.

No picture can describe such a ride, but maybe words can: when you drive the first 500 feet of gravel road high above the canyon floor you see the road disappear in front of you and when you take your first right corner clinging Hansie to the canyon wall a few feet from the edge and look across the divide to the wall you will be driving, you actually see only a 1000ft plus straight drop and no road at all.

Start of my descent
Half way down shot
Where is the road?

As you come closer to that side you see a ledge that from this distance may let a bicycle traverse, but surely no car. This winding and turning takes about half an hour with hairpins that require a 3 mile an hour speed and almost a 300 degree turn hugging the wall of the canyon now looming way above you and with still a canyon floor that seems too far away to be ever reached.

6 layers down to go I count

When at last on the canyon floor we still needed to drive 32 miles on clearly 4WD required roads with so called high clearance. The canyon is so much more (in romantic terms) grand and towering and the road makes you feel as if you are transported back in time to the age of the prospectors and their donkeys. The lonesomeness only adds to that sense of being a speck in a timeless environment.

The Missouri
Salt beds in the making

At the end of this journey we encountered a salt factory where we were warned that we entered private territory, but that we were welcome to traverse as long as we stayed on the mapped road. When at last we arrived back on the asphalt alongside the river that accompanied us out of the canyon, still driving right below a sheer cliff wall on our left, we found many a parked car and rock climbers scaling the 90 degree wall. I almost wanted to lower my window and yell: "I just scaled 90 degrees down in a car".

Sand stone layers from eons back

This balancing act will come down one day


More sunset and moon pictures