In the morning the Canyon calls again, with one more hike, a short but steep descent into the Canyon. I am still slow from the previous endurance testing walk, and I am reluctant to give her one more. I am not as young as I used to be, I feel. I do descend a couple hundred feet to admire the view, but the total trail drops 1600 feet. I contemplate the effort of climbing down then up a 160 story building, and I can not rise to the occasion. It is too much, and I have miles and miles to do still.
Just outside the Grand Canyon Park on Hwy 64 is a town called Cameron. It is a small place with big trading posts. I eat lunch, and then go in. I am stunned by the prices and the quality of the rugs and jewelry. They are beyond my financial reach, which is disappointing. However, I find a piece of jewelry that I have been looking for, in a manner that exceeds my hopes, and I contemplate purchasing it. I am excited by finding this piece so easily, and I know that the world famous Hubbell Trading Post is on my itinerary today, so I believe that I can find a similar piece at a better price and pass on buying it.
I pass through a town that I have been looking forward to, Tuba City. I am a big fan of Tony Hillerman, and this is a center focus to some of his novels. As I get closer to town, I notice a change, subtle, but clearly there. The land is obviously harsh, and there is power, but I start to notice outhouses, and I realize that a lot of this area does not have running water. It starts to sink in what "Reservation" means. I am riding through what is known as the Navajo Nation, and it is a country all to itself. It has its own laws, its own revenue base, its own law enforcement. I do not need a passport, but I am not a citizen of this country, and it becomes evident in Tuba City. I attract a lot of looks from the people, not necessarily expressing dislike but clearly not expressing welcome. I stop for gas and as I am getting back on my bike a Navajo male approaches me. He seems friendly, asking a couple questions, and then tells me he's hitchhiking to a town I passed on the way in. I tell him I'd give him a ride but I'm heading east. He looks away, and then looks back, asking me if I have a dollar or two so he can eat. Without hesitation I tell him no. I've been in Jamaica, where the slightest flash of money makes you a target, and this has the same feel. I leave quickly.
The deeper into the reservation I go the more poverty I see. Soon the power lines are gone, and the residences I see are either solar or windmill powered, or not powered at all. Now the dislike is evident, as any people along the road that see me turn and stare. It is also dangerous on the road because of livestock in the middle of it. Nothing like coming over a hill at 65 and finding a long hair sheep a quarter of the way into my lane. I slow way down, exhibiting caution the rest of the way into Ganado and Hubbell Tradning Post. I am anxious to find some more exquisite jewelry.
And of course Hubbell turns out to be a bust. I strongly recommend skipping Hubbell in favor of Cameron. The selection, the quality, and the prices are all better in Cameron. As an aside, writing this from the perspective of having unsuccessfully searched a dozen more trading posts for the type as the piece I found in Cameron, I also heartily recommend that if you find a piece that you like, buy it then and there. the artwork is too unique, and the tastes too varied, to guarantee that you'll find anything similar again. If you do, it likely isn't as high quality as you originally believed and may be mass produced against a stencil pattern. There are some real exciting buys outside of the trading posts, though. Don't ignore the sidewalk vendors, as often they are the artist of the piece you buy, as opposed to the trading post which buys from many different creators. I found the most thrill from buying two or three small and inexpensive pieces from the person who made them.
It is getting late, and monsoons are building. I make the ride to Chinle and DeChelley National Monument without changing into my riding suit, but as soon as I get to the free campground it begins to rain. Every time now it seems the conditions are getting worse when I go to set up my tent. The usual monsoon stuff, heavy rain and thunder and lightning, impede my efforts to get my tent up, as does the really hard dirt that is only a couple inches below the surface. I manage to get the tent up, but I am completely soaked. The rain lasts for quite some time, and after dark I decide I will have a prepared meal for only the second time in the last week. It goes down well.July 24, 1998
Early in the morning I decide I will not be leaving after I go hiking to the Anasazi ruins that DeChelley is famous for. The campground is free, and this will mark the fourth straight night of free camping. Unfortunately, it also means a second day of not having had a shower. I head out for White House Ruins, the cliff dwellings at the base of the high canyon wall so often pictured. The hike is a mile each way, down 700 feet and back up. It is worth it, for the clash of cultures and the piece of history. The dwellings are impressive, and complement Gila Cliff nicely, where the dwellings weren't as large but one could climb up in them. Almost as fascinating is the stark expression of the difference between Navajo Nation and the USA: the barb wire fence around the path to the dwellings and the dwellings themselves. The Monument is in the US; everything else is Navajo Nation and private property. I can sympathize with the hostility I have been glimpsing. These people consider this their homes, and in the middle of their land the US government has decided to have a public viewing site.
This contrast is heightened when I go into Chinle later that afternoon for supplies. I can feel the change as I leave the park proper and re-enter reservation land. I get to the main intersection in Chinle, and pause at the lights. Across the way, waiting to turn left toward me, a man looks out his truck window at me, and leans out, spitting. The message is clear.
But I begin to have less sympathy when in the course of two hours I am hit up for change twice, once by a guy who looked at least in as shape as I am. I find more contrast, that of those who have pride and those who do not. It is like saccarin and sugar, where those who beg come up to me and ask how I'm doing, like I'm their friend, and then hit me up in manufactured niceness, in contrast to those who are selling their wares crafted by their own hands. These people are sincere, demure in manner, but proud of the jewelry and paintings on the table before them. We can make something of ourselves, or we can blame everyone else for our misfortune. I see both during my trips to Chinle.Email me gtkelly domain dialectronics.com