We got an early start today. Miles and Mallory are in a 5k Training Program, so we went for a short run around Chinle as soon as we got up. Well, at 7:30 in the morning in Chinle, you don’t see many joggers, but you will see open range cattle walking through your motel parking lot.
Miles grabbed his camera and ran out to take some pictures about the same time the motel staff wandered out to shoo them out of the parking lot. The employee got a kick out of Miles taking pictures and started talking very excitedly to him in Navajo.
At check-out, I asked the clerk if it was common to see cows out on the roadway and she said, “Oh yeah. Some people need to do a better job of keeping their open range cows confined.”
While we were stopped for gas in Chinle, an elderly Navajo lady approached Scott and I. She kept repeating one word to us in Navajo and would point to her legs. I’m not very good at games like this, so I thought she was complimenting my shorts. During this entire “conversation”, Scott completely ignored both of us and continued to wash the windshield. Later, we decided she was probably asking for a ride, but we didn’t have room for her anyway.
As we left Chinle, to visit our first destination, we drove past an Adolescent Treatment Center and an Adolescent Correctional Facility. Now, this is a small town, so it is too bad that this is where their money has to go to.
Our first stop of the day was Canyon de Chelly. This National Monument is unique because it sits entirely on Navajo Tribal Trust Land. It was the first National Park Service location we have ever been to where people actually live on-site.
We made a stop at the Visitor Center first and checked out their few displays and short video. It was a very bare bones Visitor Center. We got our instructions for the South Rim Drive, which is advertised as taking 2 hours if you stop at all 7 overlooks. We realized later that we are not their typical tourist because we managed to finish the tour in 4 hours and only stopped at 6 of the overlooks.
When we stopped at the first Scenic Overlook, we found something else interesting. The Navajo would park their cars in the parking lot and spread out their merchandise to sell the tourists. Necklaces, earrings and bracelets were the most popular. They also had clay pots and sandstone etchings.
If you know us at all, you realize we are suckers for a gift shop and an even bigger sucker for a cheap trinket handmade by a local artisan. Marissa, Mallory and Stephanie all bought some jewelry and proudly wore them around for the rest of the day. I am sure that an outsider would have a hard time distinguishing them from a native Navajo.
The artist who made Marissa’s necklace asked where we were from, and when I told her Tulsa, she knew it well. She had relatives in western Arkansas, so she had been through Tulsa many times.
Every Scenic Overlook would have more of the same selection of jewelry. I will give them credit for one thing – it was all reasonably priced, I thought. A necklace for $5, or a necklace and bracelet for $8. Those kinds of prices ensure lots of sales. And the vendors were busy at nearly every stop, even though the number of tourists visiting today was very light.
At one of the stops, Erin overheard the Navajo vendors talking to each other, and one said they were going to drive to Kayente for the fireworks show tonight. That is great news, because that is where we have planned to watch the 4th of July fireworks as well.
At our second Scenic Overlook, we got the attention of the Park Ranger. Our group had wandered over on some rocks to get a better view of the canyon. We took lots of pictures and most of us had walked back to the cars and to the vendors. Most of us, except for Stephanie and Miles. The Park Ranger found them where she didn’t think they belonged and let them have an earful. For the rest of our South Rim Drive, we noticed that the Park Ranger would always drive by slowly when she noticed our group.
Canyon de Chelly has been occupied by a various number of Native Americans for over 4,000 years. The rich farmland in the canyon and the access to water made it very attractive. The Anasazi built cliff dwellings in the side of the canyon wall. We were able to see several of these dwellings from the canyon rim today.
Currently, the Navajo reside in the canyon and in the surrounding area. The Navajo are still an impoverished people. Many of the homes looked more like glorified shacks and there was trash everywhere. The kids participated in the Junior Ranger program and one of the requirements was to pick up some trash. Now I understand the reason behind that.
As we made our stops along the tour, I was amazed by the number of Europeans. They easily outnumbered the American tourists at this National Monument. Stephanie thinks it might have a lot to do with it being Independence Day, and all the Americans are at the lake.
As we wrapped up our visit, we returned to the Visitor Center so the kids could get their Junior Ranger badges. While loading up in the vehicles, Scott got me a Pepsi from the back of the pickup. A Park Ranger noticed that inside the bed was some beer so he marched right over to tell Scott this was a “dry reservation” and drinking beer was not allowed. Scott assured him we were just dishing out Pepsi. I am worried that the Park Rangers will not have enough to do now that our family has left the park!
Our next stop was Monument Valley in Northern Arizona, and we got the “shortcut” from the Park staff who worked in the Visitors Center. The drive from Chinle to Kayente was about an hour and a half and it was a very interesting drive. Lots of unusual rock formations and a changing landscape from one mile to the next. KK and Mallory switched vehicles for this ride, so he rode with us. Any time we would pass a great rock formation, he would get on the 2 way radio and point it out to the other vehicle. We have been joking for several weeks that we are all getting Rock Fever. Show us the Rocks!
We checked in at the hotel in Kayente and then had to make a stop at the local grocery store. You could describe the people inside the store like this: the Navajo, our group, and the Europeans.
I have never seen so much Spam for sale in my life! They had towers of it on display right next to the towers of Vienna sausage, which was right next to the towers of ramen noodles. Obviously, the Navajo take their health very seriously.
It was interesting that the parts of the store were labeled in English and in Navajo. We saw a very similar custom in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, last year where you will see street signs in English and Cherokee.
Next stop: Monument Valley. This was one of the activities on the trip that I have been looking forward to the most. It is truly one of the iconic symbols of the Southwest.
Monument Valley is not part of the National Park Service. We arrived after 5:00 on a Sunday and we were concerned the Visitors Center and Park may not be open. But the Navajo can do whatever they want. They took our $5 per person entry fee and we were on our way.
Once inside “Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park”, you can drive on a 17 mile scenic tour that takes you around the formations. Oh, and the 17 miles are unpaved. It took us 90 minutes to drive 17 miles, with only a few quick stops for pictures here and there. The roads were either rocky or covered in sand.
It was very hazy today. So, not only could we not see as well as we’d like, the quality of our pictures left a little to be desired.
Marissa wondered out loud if “the formations were carved or if they just came that way”. All travelers should have a 6-year-old with them!
We were once again surrounded by Europeans here. Are there any other American families touring the Southwest this month? We’d love to meet you!
Once through, we hightailed back to Kayente for dinner and fireworks. We grilled chicken, brats, hot links and hot dogs in the parking lot of our hotel. The weather was very pleasant. So pleasant that by the time it got dark, most of us were wearing a light jacket.
While I was grilling, everybody in the group was busy doing something different, it seemed. Stephanie went to the on-site laundry to wash everyone’s Vacation T-Shirts, KK went to the grocery store, Scott took a shower to help recover from his sunburn, and PK took the girls to the swimming pool.
Miles made a new friend, as there was a family from Minnesota (hey, that’s in America!) staying here, and they had a boy about Miles’ age. They hung out and watched the fireworks together.
The fireworks show was at least a mile away, but we had a great vantage point from our hotel. It worked out great that we could hang out and visit while we were eating and being entertained with fireworks.
The only distraction we had during the evening was a stray dog that kept wandering into our picnic area. But that was better than having to shoo away a cow.