Arizona Wonders

October 9, 2012 — Tuesday

Today was a glorious day for a jeep tour of Canyon de Chelly National Monument with a native Navajo guide.  This was a side trip from 66 that Margaret and I both were anticipating.

The Thunderbird Lodge prepared us well for the 3.5 hour bouncy ride, oatmeal for Margaret and a blue corn pancake with fresh strawberries for me (yep, it’s really blue from special blue corn  ground into flour).

The open-top jeep held 14 people, plus David the guide who was born in the canyon and has been giving informative jeep tours for over 20 years.  Good thing he knew how to handle that jeep, because the terrain was rough, rocky, twisty and full of deep sand.  A not so PC observation: the decades-old feud about land between the Navajo and Hopi Tribes was not mentioned directly, but there were plenty of statements about the Navajo ancestral ties to the land.

It had been many years since my only other visit to Canyon de Chelly, a summer trip in the mid-1980’s with Steve when we hiked into the canyon and crossed a calf-high stream to see its famous and much-photographed White House Ruins.  Much has changed since then.  Today the only way to hike in is from the top of the mesa–a tough and steep trail down 2.5 miles–or hire a Navajo guide.  I couldn’t wait to ford the stream in the jeep.  Alas, no longer.  Now the jeep stops behind a fence, so that you cross a wood plank bridge over the stream instead of wading through it, and today the stream was bone dry.  The ruins remain, but now you must look at them from behind a fence, and I was kicking myself for not packing binoculars.  Even though I understand today’s need for preservation and protection from relic-hunters and grafitti, I am deeply glad to have to have walked through the cold, rushing stream and the cave ruins years ago.

The jeep tour was beyond great.  Even though the jeep really jostled our innards, the scenery made up for it.  We saw  petroglyphs aplenty and three sites with ruins, two of them accessible only with a guide.  We passed simple hogan homes unreachable after a winter storm, cute-as-could-be Native children, horses, a deer standing stone still, circling buzzards, the occasional hawk, sheep with identifying bells, cattle, and for each thing we saw or heard, there was ten times that much land that seemed untouched.  Flying along with the wind on your face under a wide, blue sky and looking out and up at the canyon cliffs in varying shades of red, beige and black, it doesn’t get any better.  Magnificent.  This is another world, where time seems to suspend and The Great Native Spirits are alive, well and working to preserve Mother Earth.

By early afternoon Margaret and I were back in the car, headed for more natural beauty in Arizona’s Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert National Park.  We drove the 28-mile park trail through the 221,621-acre of petrified logs and trees, with colors ranging from black to cement grey to mottled pink/purple/red/blue.  Over 225 million years ago, this was high, dry grassland with hundreds of trees, which fell during floods and washed into floodplains where they eventually became petrified.  The Painted Desert colors, which come from the multitude of minerals in the water when the trees were submerged, are at their glowing best in early morning or before dusk.  Indeed, the colors change by the hour and season.  The two parks contain ancient pueblo ruins, petroglyphs, and many viewpoints to pause and admire.  Two of the most interesting areas were The Tepees of cone-shaped rock formations and the mass of dark, brooding hills which instantly gave new meaning to “badlands”.

We left the park at sundown, ready to resume Route 66 and indulge in some hospitable luxury at La Posada Hotel in Winslow.

La Posada, one of the 66 crown jewels, put us in the Albert Einstein Suite, decorated in High Southwestern crossed with Colonial Spain.  The beds had massive footboards that you could barely see over when lying down, a generous built-in seating area around and under full bookcases, Navajo rugs mixed with Orientals, and a wonderful vintage-tiled bathroom with a long, deep tub that whispered “have a beautiful bath tonight.”

As soon as we registered, and on the advice of the front desk, we went straight to the hotel’s four-star Turquoise Dining Room.   A stylish hostess with a long tunic flowing behind her told us in no uncertain terms we would have to wait an hour plus because we hadn’t made advance reservations.  When we asked about the many empty tables, she said they were reserved for a tour group.  I wasn’t happy about the delay because I had been looking forward to this hotel and dining room as a trip highlight, so I mentally dubbed her “the dragon lady.”  We freshened up, had a drink at the bar, and poof, another hostess called our names early.  We noted that those empty tables were still empty.  Oh well.  Life is too short for feeling grumpy over small stuff, plus it was really nice to wear casual clothes in a four-star dining room.  The food and service were outstanding.

After dinner, I debated a relaxing bath versus writing for this blog.  Folks, I looked longingly at that tub, the lovely toiletries and large, soft sage green towels, but I chose blog over bath.  We writers know about sacrifice.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.