Monday, September 18, 2006

Awesome Arizona

"Who shot at you?" was the first question we were asked when we stopped at Canyon de Chelly. Two Canadians, looking somewhat distraught, were staring at the bullet holes in the Land Rovers’ side window. We were in the real "wild west" country. Most of it, 27 million acres in the Northeast sector of Arizona, was Navajo Tribal Trust Land.

The "bullet holes" were TH’s idea of a joke. While they looked quite realistic, they were stick-on fakes. It was surprising how many people they fooled.

Canyon de Chelly (pronounced "shay") National Monument is one of the longest continuously inhabited areas of North America. Before the Navajo, were the Anasazi pueblo peoples. They had carved out stone houses on the impossibly small ledges, which jutted out from the steep canyon walls.

The land surrounding the canyon was dry and scrubby, but we were told that the canyon floor stays green and fertile all year round, protected by the tall rocky walls of the canyon. Apart from perching on a cliff edge, I could see this would have been an attractive place to live.

The living Navajo community maintains this culturally significant area in partnership with the American National Parks Service.
http://www.neartime.com/ruins/chelly.htm

We had driven up from the Petrified Forest National Park, following Big Joe Petrillo’s recommended route. I loved the colour contrast of the red cliffs and the sage-green coloured bushes. However, the "spoiler" was the large numbers of empty alcohol bottles and cans, thrown from cars as they sped past. We’d seen the same thing in Nevada.

We continued north to Monument Valley. John Wayne country. The land of many Western movies, where isolated buttes and mesa thrust up from the empty, sandy desert.


The valley is not really a valley, but a wide flat, desolate landscape, interrupted by these crumbling formations rising hundreds of feet into the air, the last remnants of red, sandstone layers that once covered the entire region.

I’d seen these views in so many "ride into the sunset" movie endings - the darkened outcrops silhouetted against the dying sun, the "heroes" galloping away into small dots, while the melancholy, accompanying theme tune plays on into the fade out. I wondered which movie cliché character I was. The Good? The Bad? Or The Ugly. Maybe all three?

There was no question about what Monument Valley was. It was "The Fabulous", with its deep, rich, iron oxide red colours.
http://www.americansouthwest.net/utah/monument_valley/photographs.html
or
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monument_Valley

By now it was getting late into the day, and we needed our own "fade out" place to spend the night. Camping in Navajo Land was restricted and, distracted by all this majestic beauty around us, we had missed the fact that the only camping ground (amongst the 27 million acres) was back at Canyon de Chelly.

We huddled over the map. The next "biggish" town was Shiprock in New Mexico and we headed in that direction. TH spied a "dry weather road" just out of Lukachukai. If we could get through, it would get us to Shiprock before nightfall.

Avid blog fans will know that this road petered out into a muddy, impassable track. On it we encountered some very drunk men who thought we were married twins from Nooo Zeeeeeeland. (Refer blog entry for Friday 22 July 2005, entitled: "Shoes and Clothes – What more does a gal need?"). Check out:
http://eventfulwoman.blogspot.com/2005_07_01_eventfulwoman_archive.html

We high tailed it, back down the dry weather road, and continued on to Shiprock, by the conventional highway.

As it got dark, a chill wind blew up, hurling dust and tumbleweeds across the road. In the pale light from our meagre headlights, the tumbleweeds looked like wild, hairy monsters screaming along in front of us.

Shiprock did not have a campsite. We grabbed some dinner and pressed on to Farmington. We pulled into "Mom and Pop’s RV Campground" at 8:30 that night. We had driven 350 miles over a 12-hour day. The friendly owner looked rather sympathetically at us - two cold, tired, dusty, dishevelled strangers with funny accents, and who had blown into his camp, along with a now icy wind.

He said he didn’t get many campers at this time of year and the camp was mainly for RV’s. However, he let us pitch our tent in the sheltered side of his camp store. Close by was the camp’s excellent, heated amenity building with plenty of hot water for showers. We had long, wonderful showers, clambered into our thermals, zipped ourselves into our tent and then our hooded sleeping bags.

During the night I heard the strangest soft, squidgy sounds. Like someone was kissing the outside of the tent. I woke the long-suffering TH. He peered out and said, "It’s snow. Snow falling on the tent."

We snuggled back down. It was warm and cosy together and we drifted back to sleep.

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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