Because we had decided to check out of our motel today, our morning was very busy packing and getting out by 10:00 am. We weren't sure what lunch arrangements would be for our Canyon de Chelly (pronounced "duh shay") tour so we went to the adjacent Subway for take-out sandwiches. We had booked our Navajo guide for 11:00 am and he showed up right on time. Daniel introduced himself and we jumped into his Jeep Wrangler for our journey to the Canyon.
After checking in with the ranger station, we entered the restricted zone of the Canyon. As we went through the entrance, a woman flagged Daniel down and we picked her up. It turned out Gloria was a jewellery maker who sells her wares at the White House ruins, the only location where unguided hikers can freely access. She and Brenda got along well in the tiny back seat, along with Gloria's large cases of handiwork and our pack and lunch (oh, did I mention Brenda let me have the cushy front seat....I love that woman!).
The Canyon enters along the sandy Chinle Wash, a shallow, wide watercourse that had an appreciable amount of water in it this day. Daniel had no qualms about splashing his way through, inventing the road as we went. The further we went in the Canyon, the more imposingly rose the walls and in no time Daniel had stopped to point out ancient pictographs and petroglyphs. The Canyon has been occupied historically since 200 AD, first by the Anasazi, then the Hopi and finally the Navajo.
We arrived at the White House Ruins and dropped Gloria off with the rest of the vendors, while I strolled and took pictures of the ruins. Around this point, we found out that Daniel is a respected leader among the Navajo guides and vendors, to the extent that he appeared to be involved in resolving some current controversies or disputes. At most every stop, people sought him out for one discussion or another in the Navajo language. While growing up, Daniel lived in the Canyon during the summer, farming and herding sheep and in the winters, as they say, he lived "up top".
We completed our tour of this arm of the Canyon and returned to a junction where we headed up the ominously named Canyon del Muerto (Canyon of the Dead). Our destination was the Running Antelope Ruins. Along the way, Daniel stopped across the running water from a summer Navajo residence. A young girl struggled across the creek to display her beaded bracelets and necklaces. She was so sweet and had worked so hard to reach us; we had no problem with making some small purchases.
We made our way up the Canyon through some fairly constricted spaces, once with a massive coloured sandstone overhang above us while Daniel ground his way through the creek bed. We arrived at the Ruins for more pictures and found a shady spot to eat our lunch. Daniel meanwhile found another guide with whom to have discussions.
We splashed our way out toward the entrance and as there was not a lot of new stuff to see, Daniel entertained us with a long song. The song was a mix of English and native language along the lines of the classic "way-a-hey-ya, way-ya-hey-ho" and supplemented with how he had seen this maiden along the rim and invited her to join him in his Jeep Wrangler as he courted and finally seduced her. It seems he substituted the "way-ya-hey-ya" parts for the naughty bits. He also filled us in, with the help of Brenda's interviewing/interrogation techniques, on his personal interests and family stuff. In another fun parallel, his family structure was very similar to ours and we guessed he was about my age.
It was a fantastic 3 hours that went by too quickly. We were impressed by the Navajo respect for their heritage and how they have optimized it by making a living through sharing it with folks like us. When I asked Daniel if the Canyon had been a special place to him while he was growing up here or did he just look on it as a place to live. He explained that the Canyon was indeed a special and mystical place all his life and whenever he returns here, he can feel its influence and healing powers. I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend Brian Scrimshaw who told me about this wondrous place almost 20 years ago.
We said ur farewells to Daniel and took our trip out along the north rim and followed the Arizona/New Mexico border south through more of the scenic Navajo Nation. We ended up in Gallup, New Mexico around 4:40 pm and found a motel for the night.