Travel day on the 15th – drove from Towaoc, CO to our next location, Red Rock Park. Dust, dust and more dust now; this area is really desert! We are outside Gallup, NM in a very quiet park run by the city. It gets very busy when they sponsor rodeos, and groups often use the convention center as well (U NM had a graduation there last night, for example) but nothing is going on this weekend, so the park is nearly empty.
From our base at Red Rock Park in Gallup, New Mexico, we spent another long day on the 16th with nearly 10 hours spent checking out all the neat locations near here! There are so many places to go and things to see in the Four Corners region, we will not have time to see everything during our five week trip, but we sure are trying to put a big dent in the region! It cools off fast in the evenings out here, and is still quite cool (high 40s) when we take off each morning, but I have learned my lesson. I wore jeans and took shorts, since I knew I’d need them to be comfortable by lunchtime. Today we did a large loop, heading west from Gallup into Arizona and the Navajo Nation. We stopped first at the capital of the Navajo Nation in Window Rock, AZ, and visited their cultural museum. There were exhibits about the basket weavers, both from long ago and also modern baskets were on display (and for sale, but I sure can’t afford them – they are exquisite, and are very expensive). Another room focused on the Navajo rug weaving families, again from times past and modern weavers. The rugs were displayed by family groupings, and many were also on sale – gorgeous workmanship, and well worth the asking prices, but again, too expensive for my budget. Information in a third center taught us about the Navajo forced “long walk” in 1864, when Kit Carson followed a “scorched earth” policy to make the Navajos move east out of their homelands to a reservation at Ft. Sumner in east central New Mexico. Like the Cherokee Trail of Tears, many of the Indians died during the next four years, but finally, in 1868, a federal peace commission led by General William T. Sherman resulted in a treaty and the Diné (what the Navajo call themselves) were permitted to return to their ancestral homelands. The treaty is displayed at the museum, along with accounts and information about the dire conditions under which the Navajo had to live during the reservation years. Another room focused on Navajo culture, and a fifth on the trading post history in the Navajo Nation. All were very interesting, and we learned a lot!
Traveling westward again, we arrived at the small town of Ganado, AZ and the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site. The Hubbell family, well liked by the Navajo people, once owned as many as 30 trading posts in Arizona and in the Navajo Nation. This post, owned by the US government but located in the Navajo Nation, is jointly run by the two groups. Tours are given of the Hubbell home and farm, but they were not having a tour until two hours after we arrived, so we looked around ourselves. The trading post itself has been in continuous use as a store since 1876. Many Navajos still come here to shop for groceries and to sell their baskets, jewelry, and rugs. Inside there also was an interesting group of 19 long guns from John Lorenzo Hubbell’s own collection, ranging from a Kentucky muzzle loader made in 1800, to some Springfield muzzle loaders from the Civil War period, to a Sharps buffalo rifle made in 1874, to several Winchester models made after the Civil War.
By now, we were ready to head northward for the highlight of our day, where we spent several hours hiking and viewing Canyon de Chelle National Monument, located in Navajo Nation; we found out this park is really made up of several canyons, the two largest being Canyon de Chelle and Canyon del Muerto. We ate our picnic lunch in the shade near some cottonwood trees, and then began our tour by riding on the South Rim Drive, which runs along Canyon de Chelle, and after that we did the North Rim Drive, which runs along Canyon del Muerto. The canyons are very steep and deep, and have many examples of cliff dwellings from ancestral Puebloan people, but are different from Mesa Verde because the Navajo live and farm on the canyon floor, as well as up on the plateaus that surround the canyons, while the only people who live at Mesa Verde are the rangers! Another primary difference is that the canyons here have been continually inhabited since about 2500 BC. First archaic peoples lived in the canyons seasonally as they moved from place to place hunting and gathering. Next, from about 200 BC to 750 AD, the Basketweaver culture lived here, building pit houses and beginning to farm corn. The ancestral Puebloans built cliff homes and homes on the canyon floor from about 750 – 1300 AD, and after they left, the Hopi would still return to the region for seasonal farming and ritual pilgrimages. This continued from about 1300 – 1600 AD. In the early 1700s, the Navajo entered Canyon de Chelle and established homes there – both on the plateaus and on the canyon floor. Except for the four years they were forced to live on the reservation in New Mexico, the Navajo have remained in Canyon de Chelle for over 300 years, farming and raising sheep, creating baskets, jewelry, and weaving rugs.
The canyon is over 1000 feet deep at its deepest point; at this deepest juncture, Canyon de Chelle meets Monument Canyon and Bat Canyon. At Spider Rock Overlook, you can see two huge 800 foot tall free standing sandstone formations, the view for which Canyon de Chelle is most famous. Also at this location is Speaking Rock, another enormous formation, but one that is still connected to the canyon wall. There were numerous lookouts, and of course, we wanted to see them all; most were not very long walks from the parking areas, and each overlook had varying formations and views –the overlooks had some exciting views down into the canyon floor where we could see cliff dwellings far below, some with as many as 80 rooms and several kivas, and we could also watch Navajo farmers tending their fields, often right near 1000 year old Puebloan ruins. Some of the cliff dwellings and canyon floor homes were built as early as 900 AD, but all the ancestral Puebloans had left this area by 1300. The Navajos living on the floor of the canyons live in traditional hogans or small wooden houses, but those on the plateaus live in hogans, wooden homes, or trailers; I did not see any currently used adobe homes in this park since the Navajo do not live in that style home.
There are more cliff structures along the North Rim Drive, and at each stop, we encountered Navajo salespeople who set out their wares on the ground or even on the hood of their cars: modern handmade petroglyphs and painted rock pictographs, jewelry, baskets, and rugs. Unlike the salespeople in Mexico however, the Navajo were very quiet and did not ask anyone to look at their goods, but if someone was interested, they would explain to potential customers how they created their merchandise. Since I already bought a couple inexpensive pieces of jewelry at Four Corners and Monument Valley, I did not look at the jewelry here. Another overlook had a giant rock formation called the Navajo Fortress, so named because Navajo warriors used it as refuge from enemy attackers. The sheer drops of the canyon walls and the rock formations were awe inspiring. The last overlook we visited showed more recent history. Called Massacre Overlook, it commemorates the 1805 massacre of 115 Navajos by Spanish soldiers, who attacked the Indians because the Indians were raiding Spanish settlements that were encroaching on Navajo territory. We’ve learned a lot of Navajo history today, and have seen some magnificent natural sights as well. The rest of the loop home was along a scenic highway, through several vegetation zones – desert, plateaus with small shrubs and grasses, and even some beautiful pine forested areas, which surprised us both since we had not seen any of that vegetation since we left the San Juan Skyway last week. Tomorrow we are off to southern Utah; we will drive across northern Arizona and then drive northward to a ranch in Utah where we will camp for the next week, using it as our base to visit Bryce, Zion, and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.