|Entrance to Canyon de Chelly|
Our stay in Page had come to an end, even tho there was lots more to see and do there. We left early and drove to the tiny town of Chinle (pronounced: chin-lee) on the Arizona/New Mexico border in east Arizona. The trip to Chinle was a ride thru no-man’s land for most of the day, surrounded by desert land, prairies, and savannahs, passing occasionally thru small villages with interesting Navajo names. Basically, the ride was long stretches of road followed by long stretches of road. When we reached Chinle, we had logged the better part of 300 miles on our rented Toyota Camry.
Ever since we hit this part of the country, we’ve been hearing the term “frybread” everywhere we went. Tonight, it happened to be on the menu, so we got to try some of the famous Navajo Frybread at dinner. Very delicious, but probably very high in calories. It tasted much like a soft fluffy version of funnel cake, but instead of confectionary sugar, the Navajo top it off with honey.
|Anne downs a hamburger |
wrapped in Frybread
As we found out, they also use frybread as the sandwich bread for hamburgers, hotdogs, and other deli sandwiches. It was very different eating a burger between two pieces of frybread. We could probably get used to it quickly if we lived in this part of the world!
|Canyon de Chelly from the South Rim|
Canyon de Chelly
Our main focus here in Chinle was to see the famous Canyon de Chelly. The canyon is located entirely within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation. In fact, the Navajo people control all the activities within the canyon, and in order to tour the canyon, you need Navajo approval and a Navajo guide. Only Navajos can own land in the canyon, and only Navajos can homestead there as well.
|Stunning view of Canyon de Chelly from the South Rim|
We first drove around the rim of the canyon on our own, visiting the many beautiful overlooks that were along the rim road. There were many Indian artisans at each of the pullovers, selling their handmade wares.
|Buying horsehair pottery from a Navajo artisan|
(out of the back of his car)
We bought a marvelous “horsehair” vase from one of them – they actually throw horsehair on the pottery right before the final firing to create striking, swirly lines.
|Ready to enter the Canyon with Irene in her jeep|
Later, we met up with our Navajo tour guide Irene, who would be our escort into the floor of this great canyon. Irene was a frail 61-year old Navajo woman who spoke fluent English and Navajo and was very knowledgeable about the canyon and Navajo life. She had lived on the reservation all her life and loved driving her 4-wheel jeep in and out of the canyon. She owns land in the canyon and hopes to live there someday even though there is no electricity and no drinking water. We were her 3rd tour-group thru the canyon on this day alone, but despite the lengthy day, and the fact that her daughter had dinner on the table, she was more than happy to take us in. We never got the feeling that we were just a routine endeavor with Irene; perhaps that’s why she’s rated an excellent guide!
|Canyon floor with Chinle Washbed|
Irene was a bit scary behind the wheel. She appeared to be a careful driver, as she drove slowly over some very bumpy, wet, muddy spots down in the canyon, and across the Chinle Washbed that flowed like a river between the 700 foot canyon walls. Fortunately, the wash was shallow and Irene’s high clearance 4-wheel jeep seemed to negotiate the washbed without problems. But it didn’t help when Irene told us that she just got out of the hospital for rolling her last jeep down a mud bank in the canyon! She also pointed out areas of quicksand along the wash, but reassured us that she knew where all the quicksand deposits were, and that she would try to avoid them! Just try?
Irene pointed out some of the common flora of the canyon, showing us cottonwood, Russian Olive Trees, Tamarisk (Salt Cedar Trees), and Coyote Willows. Most of the flora was useless as timber, and amounted to not much more than scrub brush.
|Ancient petroglyphs on canyon wall|
Our first stop was by a canyon wall where Irene pointed out some very old petroglyphs emblazoned in the rock wall. There were pictures of horses mostly but also a snake and some symbolic Navajo designs. She pointed out some contemporary graffiti too. Irene also warned Frank away from a mound of fire ants that he was standing near as he was shooting some of these photos.
|Roaming the canyon along Chinle Washbed|
Irene gave us much info about the Navajo, but one of the things that caught our attention was that since the Navajo language is a tonal language, it is thought that the ancestors of the Navajo came from Mongolia, crossing over the Bearing Straits and then south to the mid United States. We are certainly no language experts. But when Irene spoke some Navajo for us, it sure sounded similar to some of the Chinese we had learned years ago! There are many other commonalities to support this theory, and the language is just one.
|Anasazi cliff dwelling as viewed from the canyon floor|
We visited some of the Anasazi cliff houses down in the canyon, people that Irene called the “ancient ones.” These multi-room dwellings were built like apartments houses into the sheltered alcoves of the high cliffs, often high above ground level. The houses were so far above us, they looked like miniatures, much like ancient dollhouses. We had to wonder how the people got up to their dwellings. Irene told us they used ladders and still-visible handholds chiseled into the rock. But the ground level was also closer to the dwelling floor when the ancient ones lived here.
|Sheer 700-ft. cliffs loom over Chinle Washbed|
We continued to truck over washes, up and down sandy hills, and over roadless terrain thru the canyon. Frank hung on to the overhead passenger bar and feared getting stuck somewhere in the main river. Spending the night in Irene’s Jeep in some remote corner of Canyon de Chelly was definitely not something we wanted to do.
|Several Mule Deer cross the wash in front of our jeep|
As we exited the canyon, we saw 8 or 9 mule deer dashing across the wash, seemingly bewildered by our presence. Even Irene was thrilled and said she does not often see a sight like that.
|Santa Fe, NM|
After a fun time exploring Chinle and Canyon de Chelly, we drove 300 miles and relocated for some down time in the quaint, easy-going shopping mecca known as Santa Fe, New Mexico. We stayed near the old town, so hoofing it into the center of town was an easy task. Our friends Jim and Kathy joined us in Santa Fe for a few days of R&R.
|Georgia O'Keeffe painting of New Mexico|
desert and mountains
Two cultural highlights were a visit to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum and attending a Beethoven concert in Santa Fe’s Lensic Hall. Georgia, one of the most significant and intriguing artists of the 20th c., lived in New Mexico for the last 37 years of her life, dying at the ripe old age of 98 here in Santa Fe. She was quite a feisty character, and the museum did a good job of showcasing her painting and describing her eventful life. She traveled to many lands (Peru, India, Japan, etc.) painting as she went along. She is also well-known for her unique colorful abstract paintings of flowers such as calla lilies, which many critics have described with suggestive, Freudian sexual interpretations (much to her denial and disgust).
|In the Mezzanine ready for the Beethoven performance|
The four of us thoroughly enjoyed the Beethoven concert which featured 3 major works of Beethoven including the iconic “Choral Fantasy.” Two young men stole the show: Ryan McAdams, the animated conductor and a world class pianist named Sean Chen. We felt as if we were watching two rising stars of classical music. What a lively performance!
|First look at Tent Rocks|
Note: boulder caps on top of "tents"
But the call of the wild once again beckoned. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument was close to us, and a perfect sight for the four of us to explore. Located approximately 50 miles west of Santa Fe, the Tent Rocks slot canyon lies between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Tent Rocks are natural rock formations caused by a geological process thought to be the product of volcanic eruptions 6 million years ago. The resulting pumice and ash ended up in thickly heaped-up deposits that look like tents.
|Anne and Kathy explore the tents|
These curious formations are quite peculiar to see. An interesting phenomenon with the “tents” (also called hoodoos) is that a boulder seems to have rested atop each preserved tent. Geologists believe that these “capping boulders” formed somehow after the volcanic events of long ago, protecting each of these tents from erosion, and prolonging their tent-like appearance thru time.
The loop trail was a fairly easy 3-mile hike out and back through the slot canyon Tent formations, and the scenery along the route was dotted with all kinds of colorful desert flowers in bloom. There were many smaller Tent Rock “tents” along the loop trail which we stopped to examine, but the larger, more evocative Tents were at the end of the loop circuit, along with an ancient man-made cave of unknown origin.
|Dramatic capped tents form |
slot canyon wall
The loop trail winds along the base of the giant Tents, giving great close-up views of the cones, the hoodoos, and the gullies in the rocks. Of course, there is always a threat of poisonous snakes, so we were constantly on guard from these dangers while enjoying the wonder of this sight.
|At the High Noon Restaurant with travel friend David|
On our last evening of the trip, we had dinner with our good friend and fellow world traveler David who lives in Albuquerque. We had met David in Dubrovnik, Croatia a decade ago (circa May, 2006), and continued our friendship thru the years, meeting at various places whenever our paths happen to intersect. Last year we met him for dinner in Paris -- this year it was at the Mexican Pueblo Restaurant called “High Noon” in old town Albuquerque, NM. Always a pleasure to spend time in his company.
|Above Canyon de Chelly|
|Chinle Washbed against canyon wall|
|Anasazi ruins in alcove of canyon wall|
|Antelope petroglyphs on canyon wall at Canyon de Chelly|
|Along the floor of Canyon de Chelly|
Note: The Cottonwood trees on the right
|Anasazi ruins known as The White House|
|The four of us at Tent Rocks|
|Picturesque Tent Rocks line canyon walls|
|Greetings and salutations from Tent Rocks!|
OK folks, that’s all she wrote for this trip. Thank you for traveling with us, and hope you enjoyed our escapades as much as we enjoyed sharing them. See ya in the fall for our next getaway!