Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Toto, we are not in Utah anymore…

Walk down to the canyon floor
We crossed the border into Arizona and almost immediately, we felt the difference. Utah thanked us for coming and wished us well as we left. Arizona couldn’t give a crap.

The flat barren landscape was littered with weather worn simple buildings, surrounded by numerous old rusty trucks and farm vehicles and a lot of junk. A few horses grazed within fenced areas and groups of wild looking dogs gathered at gas stations and along the edge of the highway. Then there were groupings of small identical unadorned buildings, all the same, evenly spaced. We assumed that these were ramshackle accommodations for migrant workers, but there didn’t seem to be any crops.

No grocery stores, nothing that said a community of any kind lived here. It took us a while to clue in that we were driving through a Navajo Reservation.

Canyon De Chelly National Monument (pronounced De Shay) is in the centre of a large Navajo Reservation. Our best guess is that some kind of reciprocal agreement has been made between the Navajo Nation and the State of Arizona, to preserve the prehistoric Puebloan dwellings that can be found in the canyon.

There are two hotels at the entrance to the Park, and a lodge and picnic ground inside the park. All run by the Navajo. There is a road going through the park with viewpoints of the canyon, which our guide book assured us has views that rival the Grand Canyon (but on a smaller scale)*. The Ranger at the visitor centre gave us directions to the only hike down to the canyon that is allowed without a Navajo guide. Signs at each stop remind you to respect the inhabitants of the canyon and not to take pictures without permission.

The experience from the get go was overshadowed by the poverty we saw all around us and the ever present sense that we were trespassing — walking through someone’s front yard, who had been put on display against their will. The disparity between the visitors and the visited was in your face at every step.

Left: View of the Canyon. Top right: Spider Rock. Bottom right: Prehistoric Peubloan ruins

Looking at the photos today, a few days after the visit, I do see the beauty of the canyon, and I am glad we spent the morning there, even though at the time, I was distracted by the plight of these and so many aboriginal peoples all over the world, who have been segregated into areas devoid of a means of supporting themselves, by governments who take everything worthwhile from them and then pretend to preserve their artifacts.

We did walk down to the bottom of the canyon and spoke with some local artisans that were displaying their jewelry and pottery. I bought a pretty necklace that will remind me of the hike and the few hours we spent with the Navajo and the Puebloan ruins.

*As of the time of publishing this post, we are in the grand Canyon, and as picturesque as Canyon De Chelly was, it does NOT rival the grand Canyon!

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