Let me start with a story.
Long ago….about 25 years, give or take…I attended a week long program on the Navajo Reservation for medical workers, sponsored by Northern Arizona University and Navajo Community College (as it was called then). It was for those interested in combining western medicine with the Navajo Way. There were 30 of us, mostly nurses, and many of us were giving thought to working on the Rez. This experience turned out to be one of the best weeks of my life, and I got 30 Continuing Education Units, to boot.
Besides visiting a few hospitals and getting tours, we were treated to a healing ceremony with a Medicine Man in a hogan, searching for medicinal plants with a Medicine Woman, a drumming ceremony, a view of the Navajo government at work, a traditional Navajo meal, a jeep tour through Canyon de Chelly (pronounced ‘ d shay’), just to name a few of the wonderful experiences from that week.
I’ve been to the Navajo Reservation before and since, but there were a few places I hadn’t seen since that wonderful week, and I wanted to go back and see them again…and savor the memories and the beauty. So…..I did.
I leave WS parked at Meteor Crater RV Park, and Joy, Shiloh and I take off for an overnight at the Thunderbird Lodge in Chinle near Canyon de Chelly. (On the above mentioned trip we stayed at the Tbird for a few nights, so I was familiar with it).
On our way we stopp in Ganado at the historical Hubble Trading Post, ( which was also part of the trip with the nurses).
The humble Hubble Trading Post. The same now as it always has been.
Hubble started his business here in 1876, and it’s been running ever since (though now by the National Park Service), serving the Dine’ (that is the Navajos name for themselves), and the tourists alike. Hubble was a good friend to the Dine’, helping them in many ways, including opening his home as a hospital when the smallpox epidemic swept the reservation in 1886. (Wonder how that happened?😔). He admired and encouraged Indian arts and crafts and traded not only with the Dine’ but with all the tribes around.
The rug room.
More rugs. No I didn’t buy any.
Some pots. That one way over to the right…ohhh…I wanted that. But no, I didn’t buy it.
Joy and Shiloh have a walk about at the trading post and then we continue our journey to Chinle. Our next stop is at the Canyon de Chelly Visitor Center where I watch a movie about the canyon and buy a pamphlet about what I’ll be seeing at the pull outs along the way.
People have inhabited this canyon for a very long time, even before the Ancient Puebloan ( whom we used to call the Anasazi), but it was they who started building homes in the canyon that we still see today. If you come here and want a really good view, schedule a jeep or horse ride through the canyon and you’ll see much more.) You can’t go into the canyon without a guide. If you are looking from atop the canyon walls, bring binoculars.
I drive the south rim, stopping at each pull over and seeing, along with Navajo homes and farms down there, what’s called “First Ruin”, White House Ruin”, and Sliding House, among others.
White House Ruin. To the right of middle. Under it there is more but it’s the same color as the canyon wall so harder to see.
At the end of the drive is Spider Rock.
The canyon is about 1000 feet deep here, and Spider Rock, towering about 800 feet from the canyon floor, is a sacred place for the Dine’. With a lot of emotion I’m remembering my time here 25 years ago….and before…
The first time I laid eyes on this canyon was a couple years before the tour with the nurses. I was alone, camping out of the back of my truck at that time. I had a few very strange reactions to some of the things I saw then, and one was here. The first time I looked into this beautiful canyon I was surprised to be overcome with a deep sadness that instantly had tears running down my cheeks. It wasn’t until later that I learned about the atrocities inflicted upon the Navajo here in the mid 1800’s, by Kit Carson among others, but apparently the vibes are still here and they reached me.
This is a Hogan, a traditional 8 sided Dine’ home. There are many of them around being lived in, though some tend to look more modern. The door always faces east.
Inside of the Hogan. No one really lives here, it’s for demonstration purposes only.
We turn back and go check in at the Thunderbird Lodge on the other end of the canyon. I found out on line that they allow pets and I have reserved a room for the three of us. It turns out to be a nice room with no sign that anyone’s pet has ever been in it, and that’s how we leave it, too.
Our room at the Tbird Lodge.
For our evening walk we go across the road to have a look at Cottonwood Campground. When I camped here in the back of my truck long ago it was free, now it’s $14 a night. There are bathrooms (no showers), some water spigots, fire rings and picnic tables. You’re wondering why I didn’t bring Wandering Spirit here? I considered it, but the reviews about goat head thorns all over the ground and the many stray dogs that come here discouraged me. Sure enough I find the goat heads, so we don’t walk here. And yes, we find the stray dogs, or rather they find us, but they find us when we walk by the lodge too, or just about anywhere where tourists go here. So sad.
One of the stray dogs in front of the Lodge. Breaks my heart.
Also theft is a big problem here, and I had first hand experience with that the first time I was here when one of my license plates went missing. Along the canyon pull overs there are always signs reminding you to lock your vehicle.
Next day after our morning walk we get back in JR and drive to the sites on the north rim of the canyon.
I don’t turn back at the end of the canyon sites though, but continue on this road because about 15 miles further near the town of Tsaile (the T is silent) is the college.
When I was here getting my CEU’s we attended some classes, stayed in the dorms, and I bought a sweatshirt that I still wear that says Navajo Community College on the front. The thing is, the college has changed its name to Dine’ College and I want a new sweatshirt. I buy two shirts.
I roam the campus and recall pleasant memories of the other nurses and especially of Ursula Knoki Wilson, a Navajo Certified Nurse Midwife, and I will say Medicine Woman because that’s what she was to me….who led our group. (Some might remember her as the one who, along with her mom, made the Navajo Birthing Beads that I brought back and shared with many).
This is the main building on the campus for classrooms. Eight sided, like a Hogan.
Do I feel out of place here on the Dine’College campus? Well, I’m old, and I’m Belagana (white), so I suppose I should…..but somehow, no. No, not really.
One more stop, back in Chinle. The hospital where once upon a time I toured the birth center and the Hogan-within-the -hospital….and where I thought about working. And never did.
Chinle Hospital entrance.
The following is an excerpt from the Navajo Chant known as “The Beauty Way”. (The word beauty, in addition to what we know it as, in Navajo has a deeper meaning along the lines of peace, harmony and balance.)
In beauty all day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With dew about my feet may I walk.
With beauty before me many I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty.
lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty
living again, may I walk.
My words will be beautiful.