I recently visited Canyon de Chelly in Northeastern Arizona to get re-connected to the spiritual vibes and visual inspirations that come from the area. We camped in a Navajo owned private campground called "Spider Rock Campground". Howard, the owner, plays Native flute music every morning to start the day. He rents tent and RV sites but also has primitive hogans for rent as well. And if you like to seek inner peace through traditional ceremonies, Howard has two Sweat Lodges. One is a Navajo Way Sweat and the other is an Inter-Agency Sweat. All in all, this was an excellent place to relax and smell the junipers after a day in the canyon 700 feet below.
The first night, we hiked down to the White House Ruins just before sunset. It's a beautiful trail and many Navajos use it for their daily exercise regime. Once at the bottom, we got to witness this year's first "flood waters" slow start as it edged its way around the dry creek bed. The next day, we found that this slow water flow turned into a major flood covering the canyon floor. We never even saw any rain.
We hired a Navajo guide "Francine" with the Park Service. She directed my husband to the best trails as he romped our Jeep through the now deep mud. It was a blast. But the best part was stopping to see the petroglyphs and pictographs on the canyon walls. Francine carried a small hand mirror to reflect the sun on areas where the ancient art designs were located. She described the Anasazi and other Native tribes, their lifestyles, and beliefs. The various ruins demonstrated the different cultures and building styles. It's a credit to the Navajo people that these ruins remain today. They have worked with the US Park Service to prevent damage to the ancient art and ruins sites. Currently they are removing many Cottonwood and Russian Olive trees that had been planted in the 1930's to prevent erosion but today, they are zapping 50 gallons of water each and threatening the crops and water sources for the animals. They continue to learn how to best manage their hidden treasure known as Canyon de Chelly.
Francine was also a jeweler and had her necklaces and bracelets set up at the Antelope House Ruins. Her husband and daughter had been "minding the store" in her absence. She sold several pieces to our guest, a New Yorker, to take back to the ladies in his life.
She told us about her life and family; and how her grandmother leased a parcel of land in the Canyon. The Navajos are a matriarchal society so the land is passed down to the eldest daughter but is shared by any family members interested in continuing to raise corn or other crops, cattle, or sheep. No one lives in the canyon now, however, the elders use to heard their animals down in the spring to live in hogans. Then they would return to the top for winter where the woman would use the sheep's wool to weave beautiful rugs. Rug making is still a big business in the Canyon Area. You can buy a 2 x 3' rug for as low as $250.00 in the Canyon or buy it for $1000.00+ at one of the local shops affiliated with the area hotels or trading posts at the canyon's entrance.* Hmmm. I prefer to buy direct.
As we made our way out, we passed many horses that live in the Canyon. Typically, they have to dig deep into the earth for water but on this day they had pockets of watering holes from the previous day's storm above the Canyon.
Our visit to Canyon de Chelly was a reminder to me of how art has been valued since the beginning of time. My latest photos of this special place will serve as springboards for new paintings. I hope that my art will someday be seen as a reflection of my unique life and times in Arizona, as well.
I highly recommend this trip.
* The historic Hubbell Trading Post will be having it's annual Rug Auction on September 19th. This is the second best way to get a great rug or Navajo arts at reasonable prices. http://www.nps.gov/hutr