Saturday, October 25, 2014

Touring the Four Corners


If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know I love Tohono Chul Park. There are so many reasons, but one is that they offer several trips each year run by Baja's Frontier Tours. This isn't one of the big organizations like Colette's or Globus. Baja's Frontier Tours is run by Piet and Mary Van de Mark and, when you travel with Mary and Piet, you feel like you're traveling with family. Travel is provided in one to three vans, depending on the size of the tour group, and is much friendlier than those big bus tours. We had only one van, so we all got to know one another really well over the course of five days.

Accompanying us was Mark Bahti, an expert in Indian arts. Mark kept up a running commentary on the places we visited and Navajo culture. He seemed to be able to answer any question we asked.




On our way to Cameron, we stopped at Montezuma Well, which is close to the much better known Montezuma's Castle. The well is fed by springs at the base of the pool and has been a constant supply of water for thousands of years. The Hohokum took advantage of it by building irrigation canals, which you can still see on the site today.


Our time was spent about equally between Navajo arts and culture and some of the most notable sites in the Southwest. We visited four or five trading posts, which varied from the primitive Shonto Trading Post to the very modern Twin Rocks. First, however, was the Cameron Trading Post and accompanying restaurant.

There's one thing you should know about Piet and Mary: they like to eat. There were times it seemed as if the tour route was planned around some of their favorite restaurants. Okay, not "seemed," but "was." This is not a bad thing. They've been touring and scouting for tours since 1962, and they know where to eat! We didn't have a single bad meal on the trip. I must admit, I did skip a couple of breakfasts in favor of an apple (bought when Mary suggested we stop at a Basha's for fruit--try getting one of those big tour companies to do that!) and a cereal bar because I'd eaten so much the night before.

I chose the Navajo Taco for dinner. It was recommended. It was also huge. What makes it Navajo is that the base in a huge piece of fry bread rather than a tortilla. This is topped with a mixture of meat and beans, kind of a chili, lettuce and cheese and onions, if I remember correctly. This was not the last Navajo taco available. In fact, Navajo taco seems to be a staple at most of the restaurants we went to. It was good, but impossible to finish.

The next day we stopped at the Shonto Trading post. While the Cameron Trading Post was huge and largely catered to touristy items (although there was a separate shop with more real Indian items to buy), Shonto was reminiscent of what a trading post was back in the early days.


As you can see, it's a simple one-story building with gas pumps outside. The restroom facilities consisted of a single porta-potty for which you had to get the key. It was the cleanest porta-potty I ever used. It looked like it had been recently scrubbed and emptied. No smell. No icky stuff.

I think the highlight of the Shonto Trading Post visit was the hogan. These traditional Navajo dwellings are one-room buildings, usually in a polygon shape, but sometimes circular or square. There is a single doorway and, in a traditional dwelling, the fire is at the center of the structure. In the one on the Shonto Trading Post, there was a fireplace built into one wall. There were two or three other hogans on the property, but they had fallen into disrepair. As we drove through the Navajo Nation, we saw plenty of hogans from the outside, but this was the only one we saw from the inside.

The destination for the afternoon was Monument Valley. Anyone who's seen a cowboy movie or two has seen Monument Valley on film. It was amazing in person. Unfortunately, the day was overcast, so the photos I got don't do it justice. The beautiful colors were muted by the lack of light. It was still an amazing sight, though.

Monument Valley is not a national park. It is a Navajo Tribal Park and sits entirely on the Navajo Reservation. It's also in the state of Utah. The Navajo Nation spans parts of three states: Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico.

From the parking lot of Goulding's Lodge, you can sign up for tours. Most of these are in open vehicles, which in the cool weather were obviously uncomfortable, as you could see people huddled up in their sweatshirts and jackets and not enjoying themselves very much at all. Since Piet has been off-roading for decades, he drove the van in.

This is where I became very grateful for tours like this. Being a born city girl, I get nervous when driving my Camry over well-packed dirt roads. There was no way I ever could have driven through the loose sand that made up the "roads" through Monument Valley. With Piet, there was no fear of driving off the road or getting stuck. I could just concentrate on the incredible formations.

Of course, it was cool to stop at John Ford's Point and know that he and John Wayne had probably stood in the same spot.


Looking the other way from John Ford's Point are the vendors.


This is a formation known as The Three Sisters.


Be careful of getting too close to the edge!


That's all for this week. We saw and did much too much for one blog post!

NaNoWriMo Update

No, I haven't forgotten about NaNo and my promise to keep you posted on what I'm doing. Up until this morning, I was really afraid all I was going to be able to write in November was the opening scene. It's the only one I had in my mind. It's a good scene, but I think I need more than one to make a novel.

Anyway, this morning I started free-writing with my coffee. Free-writing is just writing things down as they occur to you. You don't think about them much, don't edit them, ask yourself a lot of "what if" questions and toss ideas onto the paper. It's the only way I can make up stories. Some people see their whole novel in their heads or have dreams that tell them the story. Not me. I'm a writer--in more ways than one. Only by starting to put words on paper (and it usually does have to be paper, not a computer screen) do ideas start to flow for me.

So I've got a good base for the novel I'm going to write in a--WAIT! A WEEK? ONLY A WEEK UNTIL I HAVE TO START WRITING? EEEEEKKKKK!

Gotta go now. Gotta get working on this thing. See you next week.
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