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Mojave and the Navajo Reservation

Just back from a lovely trip through the Southwest, from the Mojave Preserve to the Grand Canyon, with quite a few days on the Navajo Reservation.  Here's the full report---with a few photos: Because M's foot is still causing her considerable discomfort, we have been focused less on hiking, more on camping.  Thus this trip: IMG_0349.JPGDay One: Off for our usual long drive through Tehachapi, stopping for lunch at the Harris Ranch café and spending the night at Owl Canyon Campground--$3 a night with our interagency discount—but with no water turned on yet.  It was windy and cool at the campground so we ended up cooking and eating dinner in the van.  Dinner was a memorable dish of spicy ramen noodles, aka napalm noodles, that were so spicy we had to pour off almost all the broth, and they were still painful to eat. Good news—we still have one package of those noodles left!

Day Two:  took a brief walk up Owl Canyon, both along the rim and then through the wash.  And then drove out via the one-lane rough road through Rainbow Basin.  This whole area reminded us a lot of Death Valley, but not quite so dramatic.  From here we drove to Hole in the Wall Campground in the Mojave Preserve, where we camped for two days.  The first afternoon we took the nature trail over to the Visitors Center which had been closed for months.  OK fine.  And then back through the picnic area and along the nature trail back to camp.  After a nap we decided to hike the famous Rings Trail counterclockwise…going down the rings.  This was really beautiful, and the rock shapes were amazing.  Just as amazing was the wild diversity of plant life here---just about every desert plant seems to do well around Hole in the Wall.  And the petroglyphs were also a nice surprise.  Dinner was a green salad and Potato soup with a little chorizo added in.  Yum. Another cold and breezy night…we were in bed early! IMG_0394.JPG

Day Three:  Imagine our surprise to wake up to a campground full of boy scouts!  Turns out those “closed campsites” had been reserved for a large troop from Southern California.  Not exactly a peaceful camp.  No worries.  We drove north today to visit Rock Springs, where we hiked along the trail and saw more cacti and animal tracks.  Lots of RVers in this area, but they didn’t seem interested in walking—only driving around in their 4WDs.  After the hike, we drove over to Kelso and stopped in at the park office, where we asked lots of questions and ate lunch under the portico.  It was still blowing hard! From there we drove to Fenner on old Rte. 66 (boring and expensive) and then back to camp for naps.  Late afternoon we hiked the ring trail the other direction, going off trail to explore the caves on the Southeast side of the butte, and back to camp for Thai Curry and an Asian salad.  We were eating well! That night a ranger (Barbara Michel) showed up for a star party.  The moon was out, and the ranger wasn’t too familiar with her computerized scope, but there were a few other scopes out, and I brought out my huge binoculars, so we had a pleasant time. 

Day Four:  We drove east to Kingman, then took the old 66 through Peach Springs to Seligman.  Bought lunch at the Hualapai store in Peach Springs. Ate lunch in Ash Fork---the flagstone capital of the world.  Good to know.  From there we drove to Walnut Canyon National Monument, which was stunning—whole galleries of Pueblo ruins lined the canyon, and the scenery was as beautiful as the ruins were Impressive.  What a treat!  We went online to find a room at the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino…and were happy to take showers and eat dinner in the buffet.  We washed a few clothes, checked emails, charged our phones, and got ourselves organized.  IMG_0453.JPG

Day Five:  Breakfast in the casino, then off to explore Wupatki National Monument.  This was another wonderful site.  We visited all five of the ancient ruins that were open to the public, although there were clearly many others that were off limits.  The largest, Wupatki itself, is quite imposing, with towers, a ball court, and all sorts of fun.  This was a real treat, and a great way to start the morning.  For lunch we drove into Flagstaff to buy gas and a sandwich, and ate at the Elden Ruins just north of town.  What a surprise to find this right in Flagstaff.  In the afternoon we drove out to Homolovi, where we got a campsite and visited the ruins there.  Quite a contrast.  These ruins had been mined for many years by locals, and they completely destroyed any semblance of the original architecture.  All that was left were large holes in the ground and potsherds everywhere.  It was both impressive for what it had been, and thoroughly depressing for what had been done to it.  The state park had collected a few of the potsherds and displayed them on pieces of stone in the ruins.  It was quite effective at showing some of the best sherds, while still encouraging people to leave them well enough alone.  That night we slept in the campground against spectacular cloudy skies.  IMG_0481.JPG

Day Six: We started the day with a quick hike to the rattlesnake invested butte to the east of the visitors center, where we saw some old and eroded petroglyphs and a fallen eagle nest.  Then it was into the car for the drive to Canyon de Chelly.  We stopped in at Hubbell’s Trading Post and bought a Navajo rug, ate lunch, and generally poked around.  A local weaver was a work in the visitors center—astonishingly good.  And from there it was a drive to Canyon de Chelly, where we immediately drove to take in both of the rim drives under broken clouds, which made for very dramatic lighting.  We met a Navajo couple who shared our time on the viewpoints, and told stories of how they reacted to the ruins---he loved looking at them through my binoculars.  She wouldn’t come close to them, because they made her feel closer to a place of death….but all with smiles and lots of good fun.  By the time we finished up, it was beyond dinner time, so we ate at the Thunderbird Lodge Cafeteria—and that worked out great.  Green Chile and a Navajo Taco—tons of food.  And then checked into the Best Western for more showers and a soft bed. IMG_0529.JPG

Day Seven:  We met our guide, Deswood Yazzie, in the lobby, and then took his jeep into the Canyon.  He was a wonderful guide—full of stories about his time growing up in the Canyon, but also giving us enough history to put it all into context.  And he knew his history.  We visited Ledge House, White House, and Antelope House, and all the while Deswood was driving his jeep through deep ruts, deep  mud, and deep water.  Quite an adventure.  And the binoculars here really helped us see some amazing petroglyphs that Deswood pointed out to us.  Highly recommended!   For lunch we drove back to the second of the South Rim viewpoints, where we had a snack and M bought some jewelry from a lovely old Navajo lady we had met the day before.  That afternoon we then drove up the wonderful scenic drive up to Bluff, Utah, and then down to Monument Valley Tribal Park, past Mexican Hat (you could clearly see the uranium mine tailings outside of town) and into the View campground.   This was expensive, and the view was nice, but it wasn’t a very good campground—just bare dirt and a picnic table every 20 feet, lined up like a parade ground.  We were happy that it was almost empty, so that we had a little room to breathe.  Dinner that night was at the lodge---and it was great.  We shared a dinner:  for $14 we got one bowl of soup, one pass through the salad bar, and shared a bowl of green chile stew that was more than enough for us.  We felt so bad that we ordered a non-alcoholic beer and a dessert just to pump up the bill a bit.  And our waitress even had them split the stew into two bowls and found some whipped cream for M, who asked if she could have some for her pecan pie.  As the sun went down we enjoyed the view…and then fell asleep to the sound of rain falling all night long.  We were glad we were not in a tent. IMG_0599.JPG

Day Eight: This was going to be an easy day.  We ate in the van, and then drove into Gouldings Trading Post to buy a few things to eat and do our laundry.  The view from the laundry was pretty darn amazing.  We picked up lunch and dinner, as well as the current issue of a Navajo Tribal magazine, and then drove to Kayenta to eat in the Burger King there.  Why?  Because it has the largest exhibit about the Navajo Code Talkers anywhere in the world.  That was the first time that I had eaten at Burger King in many years---and we shared a burger with fries left over.  That afternoon we drove on to Navajo National Monument, which was also amazing.  But first we were absolutely run off the road by an idiot on our way into the park.  He was headed in the opposite direction, and driving straight at us in our lane.  Luckily, I was able to slide off the road and drive up onto the hillside above the shoulder to avoid him.  Quite an adrenaline rush.  In retrospect, we think he may have been staring at his phone, and just assumed that there would be no traffic on that lonely road.  Well, there was.  We took the hike to the overlook of the Betatakin Ruins, watched the video about the park, chatted with the ranger, and then checked in to the free campground.  When we were getting settled, the campground maintenance man was driving by, and offered to turn on the drinking water for us, since it had been turned off for the winter.  There were another 5-6 people in the campground, which has space for 25 or so.  And the ranger said it never fills up.  It was cold and getting colder, and we were glad that we had our warmest sleeping bags along for this trip. IMG_0609.JPG

Day Nine:  We woke up to a very quiet campground---and when we opened the door of the van, we discovered why.  There were a few inches of snow on the ground and it was still coming down.  It was so beautiful.  We threw on our warmest clothes and joined the rest of the campers who were all heading out to lower elevations.  We ate breakfast in Tuba City at the Hogan Restaurant, shopped for a few things at the local Trading Post and Basha’s supermarket, and then drove on towards the Grand Canyon.  The overlook of the Little Colorado River was spectacular, and then we left the Reservation and drove into the National Park. M wanted to visit Desert View again, and to stop in and see the ruins at Tusayan, so we did both of those things.  We ate lunch at Tusayan, and waited around for the ranger’s tour to start---only to discover that we were still on reservation time, and the Park runs on Arizona time, an hour later during the summer.  And the trailhead at Grandview was snowy and icy—slippery and too dangerous for us to attempt on this trip.  Sigh.  So instead we drove into the park and checked into our campground.  After a rest we walked to Yavapai Point and Geology museum and absolutely loved it all over again. But by this time M’s foot was really bothering her, and we took the shuttle bus back to the campground.  On the way from the bus stop we ordered hot dogs at the camp store, and ate them for dinner, then had salad back at the campsite.  Two French girls pulled into the site next to us with a pop-up tent and dime-store sleeping bags.  It was cold, and I didn’t give them much chance of making it through the night.  Sure enough, it dropped to below freezing, and by the time we woke up, they had been gone for hours.  IMG_0657.JPG

Day Ten: With the trails in the Grand Canyon icy, and M’s foot in pain, we decided to move on.  We stopped in at the Museum of Northern Arizona, because we had heard some very nice things about it.  The collection is impressive.  And the involvement of the various native peoples is really nice.  But we couldn’t help staring at photo of one of the founders in his office, surrounded by literally hundreds of ancient pots that he had dug up fifty years ago.  Yes, he had classified them by type, but there was no record of where they came from, and how they were found.  He had just robbed the ruins for his whole life, and now it’s a museum.  I know that’s how things used to be done.  It’s still sad to see.  We ate lunch rather somberly in the picnic area of the museum, and then drove back to camp at Owl Canyon for the night.  It was cold and windy, but we were warm in the van---and just needed a place to stay.  IMG_0633.JPG

Day Eleven: Up early and off to hit the road, heading west to pick up sandwiches in Tehachapi and then fruit at Murray Ranch.  We ate lunch at the rest area near Coalinga, and drove home to Napa via the REI in Concord, where we stocked up on a few supplies that we had used up.  We were back in Napa by 4:30 or so, and showered and shaved by 6!

Here are the rest of the photos:

Great report, and thanks for the photos!  They bring back many fine memories.  I did the first portion of my career in the southwest, starting as the archeologist at Wupatki on Aug 4, 1962 (a date that will live in infamy). One of my high points was directing the 1970's excavation of Antelope House- a fabulous ruin in a wonderful environment - lots of challenging rock climbs into remoter ruins.

I wonder if your guide, Deswood Yazzie, was related to either Willie or Sam Yazzie, stalwart members of my dig crew in the 70s - hard to say, because Yazzie is a very common last name on the Res.

I really enjoyed my associations with the Navajo, a wonderful group of people - hardy, resourceful, and adaptable...

One thing puzzles me.  You talk about the founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona, whom I believe was Harold S. Colton, as blindly digging up pottery and keeping no record of their location.  Colton kept good records and was thoroughly competent archaeologist by the standards of his day.  I must be missing something...

Nice TR. I have spent a lot of time in that country working on coal reclamation at Black Mesa.  On the Res, in places with no signs and no trails are a wonderful collection of artifacts like Anasazi, Publeoan dwellings, cliff dwellings, graveyards, whole pots, petroglyphs, bows and arrows, and tons of lithics.  

I really like Wapatki and toured it recently with my friend from Flagstaff that I worked with on Black Mesa.  He gets contracts with the Smithsonian to work on primitive weapons and lithics.  He showed us some unrestored habitation sites outside the monument.  I was fascinated by the amount of permanent agriculture that took place there without irrigation. 

Canyon de Chelley is a power spot.  I have fond memories of riding horses in the canyon with the Dine.  Then we played basketball on a dirt floor. 

Chaco Canyon is the other great spot beside Navajo Mtn. 

Thanks for the memories.  It is time for a trip to the area, and maybe Mesa Verde.  We may be going to Telluride next year for the Bluegrass Festival for 70th birthday. 

Colton kept records.  Babbit, whose ceramics were displayed in his law office for most of his later life, did not keep the same kind of records.  He just collected stuff...and his collection has its own exhibition at the museum.

Babbitt is a different story - the Babbitts are local ranchers - one of their spreads is immediately north of Wupatki NM.  We drove on a primitive road to reach one of the most interesting ruins at Wupatki - Crack-in-the-Rock.

It was perfectly legal, although not the best of ideas, to collect antiquities on privately owned land.

Not saying it was illegal---but it puts the looting of Inca and Maya ruins in Latin America into a certain perspective...  w

Blanding, UT has been the nexus of pot hunters for 75 years.  It has taken time for the law to evolve protecting pre-historic resources.  Resources on the Res are largely protected by space.  My Dad had a ranch on the Coconino NF for 30 years.  We found Publeoan artifacts all the time.  They are all still there.  

In the early days, we used to stay at the Wetherill Inn in Kaynenta named for the famous trader and amateur archaeologist John Wetherill.  He was well known in the 4 Corners region and the discoverer of many locations such as Rainbow Bridge.  He later to moved to Kayenta and the area around Tsegi Canyon.

Slightly off topic, if you're ever on a tight schedule around the Navajo reservation, beware your mobile phone picking up their cell towers and changing the time of day on you. Unlike the rest of Arizona, the Navajo Nation does use Daylight Savings Time.

Or another way of putting is the State of Arizona, unlike the rest of the United States including the Navajo Reservation, doesn't observe daylight savings time!


We found this out on our trip as we were waiting for a NPS ranger to lead a tour of the Tusayan Ruins.  We'd spent the last five days on the reservation on daylight savings time.  Once across the boundary of the Park, we were back on Arizona time.  It was the ranger who pointed out that the tour didn't start for another hour... 

It is even a bit more complex.  the Hopi Reservation, surrounded by the Navajo Res, goes along with Arizona and rejects DST.

Anyone ever been to Old Oraibi on the Hopi Res at Second Mesa?

Fifty years ago.  I suspect the rules for visitors has changed since then.  We may try to go back in June...

I hope the rules have changed.  It was a scary place to visit in the 1970s.  For some reason I have been visiting Native American reservations for a long time.  In the early days long-haired white guys in a VW bus did not really fit in.  But people treated us with respect. 

I have learned a lot from Natives.  I went to the Hualapai Tribe in AZ near the Grand Canyon to look for relatives.  My last name shows up there a lot among tribal members.  We figured out we are not related by blood.  The name was adpoted from their employers in the early census around 1885.

Not so much scary as you needed an introduction, and you needed to know and obey their rules---not unlike visiting another country !

Indian Reservations are exactly like foreign countries.  They are not part of the United States.  Many have their own tribal government and make their own rules.  I rarely have gotten intoductions except working with 3 tribes as a part of my job.  The important thing is to be very respectful and learn the lifeways.  Then you get respect in return. 

Reserationsare not like typical Main Street,USA, but they are most certainly part of the United States and they are not exactly like foreign countries.  Essentially there is another layer of governmental authority, tribal laws and regulations, in addition to state and federal jurisdiction.  Usually this doesn't affect the typical visitor - credit cards still work, as does US currency; the sun still shines, etc.

Totally agree that respect and understanding that you are operating within a distinctive culture is highly worthwhile.  I have many pleasant memories of my times on Indian reservations.

State and Federal jurisdiction does not apply. 

Actually, Navajo justice systems and police manage most criminal proceedings, but major crimes are prosecuted under federal law.  Murder, for example, is under federal law.

There is a comprehensive article in Wiipedia which goes into some detail which is more than either i or ppine probably care to comprehend. Here is a short excerpt:

Because tribes possess the concept of tribal sovereignty, even though it is limited, laws on tribal lands vary from those of the surrounding area.[7] These laws can permit legal casinos on reservations, for example, which attract tourists. The tribal council, not the local government or the United States federal government, often has jurisdiction over reservations. Different reservations have different systems of government, which may or may not replicate the forms of government found outside the reservation. Most Native American reservations were established by the federal government; a limited number, mainly in the East, owe their origin to state recognition.[8]

Balzacom post is essentially correct.  The situation can get gnarly when it comes to NPS holdings on tribal lands.  At Canyon de Chelly, the NPS has jurisdiction over "items of antiquity and scientific interest" but not a whole lot of other matters.  The canyon is within the Navajo Reservation and people live there, planting crops and herding sheep.  It makes for interesting situations.  There is a somewhat similar situation on Badlands National Park and the Pine Ridge Reservation, which overlap.

In major crimes, you do call in the FBi, but not for lesser matters.

Go talk to the people at the tribal council at Window Rock  They reject federal authority and want nothing to do with white people telling them how to live or run their court system. 

There is no gambling or drinking in No. AZ on reservations. 

Sounds just like California!  Navajo politics is rather Byzantine, and I don't pretend to know all the twists and turns, but I do now that local groups are often in opposition to Window Rock policies, at least that has been the case in Canyon de Chelly.

I have been told that it is fairly standard practice for an official to have signed, undated letters of resignation from his subordinates filed away for potential use.

No legal sale of alcohol on the Res - the bootleggers would lose way too much money if booze were legal.  Alcoholism is a problem, just like many other places

PPine, you might be a bit out of date.  Check out this link.  There are now four Navajo Casinos in operation:

Alcohol is still forbidden on the Navajo Reservation.

Again, while it is sometimes interesting or attractive to position these jurisdictions as completely independent, that's not technically true.  Murder investigations and other major crimes are turned over to the federal courts, not Navajo Tribal Courts. 

The tony Hillerman mysteries do a good job of capturing the complicated sense of how it all works---with various jurisdictions involved in both investigations and trials. 


Many Navajo residents in Chinle are Hillerman fans.  One asked me, "I woner where he gets his stuff// - apparently it is pretty authentic.

Backpacking near Rainbow Bridge, we were halted while camped in a wonderful rock shelter by a short flood.  Got up, had breakfast, got back in the sack, and read Hillerman in an absolutely perfect setting....

Nice.  My parents were big fans.  When they passed away, I inherited their collection.  Really good stuff: well written, well researched, and exciting as well. 

There is a lot more alcoholism off the Res than on it.  I resent the idea that even liberal white people, quickly change any conversation about Native Americans to alcoholism

PPine--with all due respect, the only person here who is talking about alcoholism is you  Hikermor and I have only discussed legal authority and procedure.  Not sure what you are resenting here. 

Sorry. Back to the discussion.  The Navajos have proven to be some of the most gentle, and easy people to get along with.  I meet them here at pow wows and at Elko at the Great Basin market.  The local custom is that we always got served last at Native restaurants, but once we learned to accept the way people are, no problems.  I enjoyed working with them and miss Navajo Land all the time.  So do the people I brought along on field crews.  We are hoping to go to Telluride next year and stop by for a visit. 

Thanks for the heads up about casinos on the Res. Now there are four.  There has always been Navajo enterprise, but the tribal council has taken some new directions since the coal mines closed. 

The Res has scarce resources.  Peabody Coal Inc has declared bankruptcy which created a large economic void.  We used to shop at Basha's the Navajo owned grocery stores.  There is some green energy potential and we shall see what happens.  

I think there are good possibilities for increased tourism on the Res.  Properly done, that has significant advantages over extractive activities like coal mining.

The Dine are quiet and private people.  They really don't like being gawked at.  Their cultural lifeways are not really suitable for tourism.  Some Tribes like those along the Columbia River have a long history of trading.  They are by nature very gregarious and get along well with white people.  That would be the Cayuse, Pend Orielle and Chinook as examples. 

Casinos and grocery stores seem to be working for them. 

I am thinking more of the country and the scenery than doing Navajo culture as a tourist attraction.  Monument Valley, the Lukachukais, de Chelly, etc.

I have interacted with Dine who are indeed quiet and private, especially at first meeting (like many Anglos in that respect).  Others are quite outgoing and gregarious, especially as the relationship develops.  If you ask me, personality types are all over the place, like folks everywhere.

I do think there is a characteristic Navajo sense of humor - very, very dry and sly.  I chuckle at the nicknames I acquired (at least the ones I was told about- there were probably others...

Just heard a piece on Weekend Edition (NPR) regarding the tribe's declining to purchase the coal fired generating plant.  They are considering a move to solar power and further development of tourism.  Navajos are very adaptable folk...

I have been talking with some Dine on Facebook, about the Sacred, how to find Divinity, and what it means to be Native.  Very interesting discussions.  It is the part I miss most about life on the Res.  Hiking to Sacred sites and meeting herders on horseback with 1,000 sheep and goats.  Reading the petroglyphs, the dinosaur tracks and the pottery. 

I have communed with the owls, the coyotes and eagles. The Memories of the Res are burned in my heart. 

December 5, 2020
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