Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 26- Navajos & The Grand Canyon!!

October 10th 2010, Sunday

When I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I left it with Rayne in Steamboat Springs, CO so that she could be wowed by it, as I was. About a week ago I started The Girl Who Played with Fire and if I thought the first book in the Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson was intense and gripping then with this second book I am positively obsessed. It opens with a bang, the first sentence pulling you in, and it really doesn’t let go so please do yourself a favor: if you’re going to read this book don’t do it if you can’t devote at least the next three hours of your life to it. We have been obviously moving around a lot and staying very active so I haven’t had a lot of time to devote to reading but whenever I get the chance I read a couple chapters.

In driving through the little bit of New Mexico that we go to see, and not liking it very much, we decided we did not want to pay to stay at a campground surrounded by dust and not much else so we spent the night in Farmington, NM in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart! It’s actually a very safe, *free* place to stay because they have security cameras. They actually encourage RV campers to stay the night because they’ve found that people tend to spend money in the store if they’re their overnight. Problems like, “Oops, we’re almost out of toothpaste” or “I wish I had some popcorn to eat while we watch this movie” could be simply solved by a quick trip into the store. We had planned on staying in Wal-Mart parking lots whenever possible also to cut down on costs since we’re not currently making any money.

This morning we quickly got on the road; I was shaking my head at the swarms of cars parked in the Wal-Mart lot so early in the morning. Who wakes up on a Sunday morning and forgoes lazily stretching out of bed, making a yummy breakfast and reading a newspaper with a cup of tea/coffee for a trip to Wal-Mart?! I mean, really people, come on!

Farmington, New Mexico is not really my kind of place. It is basically a city of about 45,000 people that just sprawls with big box stores and lots of traffic and confusing roads. Mining for petroleum, natural gas, and coal is huge in the surrounding areas. The Navajo Indian Reservation lands are close by so Native Americans make up a significant portion of the population.

In 2005 the US Commission on Civil Rights completed an investigation called, “The Farmington Report: Civil Rights for Native Americans 30 Years Later” ( This investigation was initially done in 1975, looking into the Farmington area after 3 Navajo youths were brutally murdered there in 1974 and there were complaints of discrimination and unequal treatment by the Native Americans. The three white high school boys who committed the killings were sent to reform school instead of prison. This most recent report was a follow-up, 30 years later, because there were several more instances of abuse and mistreatment

Even after the report was published the Navajo community continued to experience acts of racial violence against their tribal members. Hopefully with the work the community is doing today these crimes will become more rare Although, another incident this past April would suggest there is still work to be done

On a happier note, Tyler and I were both very excited because today was the day we would go to the Grand Canyon. We took off, passing through Shiprock, a town named for a huge rock formation that looks like a ship emerging from the sand.

Soon we crossed over the border into Arizona and Apache/ Navajo land. Arizona is kind of a funny place. It doesn’t observe day-light savings time changes but the Navajo tribal lands within the state do (however on tribal lands it is illegal to serve alcohol). To avoid frustration about the time Tyler and I took a general view of not caring what time it was exactly, made easier by the fact that we didn’t have anywhere to be at any particular time. We were headed to the Grand Canyon and we would get there when we got there!

At this point we were in the Painted Desert, known for the beautiful color variations and layers in its geologic formations. The actual desert is made up of easily erodible sediment from the Triassic Chinle Formation. The abundant iron and manganese provide the pigments for the various colors of the area (

I love how boldly the colors contrast in the badlands of the Painted Desert.
The badlands of the Painted Desert are largely made up of Navajo and Hopi tribal lands. In traveling through this area I became fascinated with the history of the people who had first inhabited the area and I discovered some very interesting facts in my research. The first is that the term Navajo was actually applied to the Native Americans by the Spanish, the supposed “Navajo” actually referred to themselves as DinĂ©, which means “the people.” The other interesting thing that I learned is that the Navajo/ DinĂ© are traditionally a matrilocal tribe, meaning that when a man and woman get married they go and live with the wife’s family. Also, women were the only ones who could own land or livestock!

I am continually fascinated with history, but unfortunately I don’t think Native American history can be accurately discussed without it being fairly depressing. The extent to which they were crippled as a people is truly disgusting. Their children were taken away to boarding schools to be assimilated into white and modern American culture, and were punished for speaking their native tongue. Most people know about how the US government systematically killed off thousands and thousands of buffalo for the express purpose of weakening the tribes that relied upon them for food and materials, leaving the corpses to rot and waste. Something else that I just discovered was officially called the “Navajo Livestock Reduction.” In the 1930’s the US government put a livestock quota system in place. They said it was to prevent over-grazing and they went onto the Navajo reservations and killed off 80% of their livestock. To the Navajo, who view livestock as being sacred, this was absolutely devastating. I can understand the need to prevent overgrazing but the Navajo must have been specifically targeted for this enforcement because there are plenty of white Americans who overgraze their land and nobody says anything about it. This system is still in place today.

So anyways, we wound up the road that led to the Grand Canyon’s eastern entrance to the south rim. I wasn't expecting to already by winding around the canyon lands that lead up to the Grand Canyon and the views were spectacular, the colors beautifully muted pinks, browns, greens and beiges.

The amazing canyons around which we traveled to enter Grand Canyon National Park.
When we got into the park we found the first possible campground in which we could park our travel trailer. We had expected there to be a good amount of people because it is a very popular park but luckily the campground didn't have too many people set up in it yet.

After unhitching our trailer and getting slightly settled we immediately jumped back in the truck and drove to Desert View Watch Tower, an almost 80 year old structure, 70 feet high, with a platform at the base over which you could peer down into the depths of the Grand Canyon.

One of the beautiful views approaching the canyon opening.
Desert View Watch Tower
I really wish we had had the chance to look inside the watch tower! Supposedly there are murals painted inside by Fred Kabotie, a Hopi artist. 

Fred Kobatie working on a Hopi mural in the Desert View Watch Tower.
The views are amazing! There's really no comparison between seeing the Grand Canyon in photos and seeing it in person. The sheer depth of the canyon is truly breath-taking. I was amazed to find that the rock at the bottom of the canyon is over 2 billion years old! I mean, I hear that and I know it's a big number but I cannot even fathom how old that is! 

Tyler and Hanz checking out the view
Gorgeous view over the Grand Canyon!
It's so beautiful!

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