Navajo Nation

We left the Grand Canyon and prepared ourselves for another few hunded miles on the road. The landscape quickly changed back into flat, dry plains…

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and the land around us soon changed into a brick red colour. We were entering Navajo territory.

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Once again, we cruised along these endless roads and fields of red dust, with not a soul around for miles. There’s no town or village around (take a look at the route here!) – just these desolate plains. And then, from time to time, you get the feeling that there is so much more around. We stopped at this little stand in the middle of nowhere:

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and, as we walked up to it, we realised the earth seemed to split open a few feet behind it. We walked to the edge…

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and were amazed by the sight of another canyon – on the Little Colorado river gorge, this time.

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The muddy brownish red earth, that tear in the ground, the muddy river flowing about 500 m below us, the Navajo trading shed right behind us – it all felt a bit like we were in a movie.  A sort of melancholic one (it’d have to be a road movie, of course). Made me think of  this piece of music.

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We left the trading post and that little secret viewpoint behind and drove deeper into Navajo/Hopi territory. Navajo Nation is the largest federally recognized native american tribe in the States, with about 300,000 tribe members. The Hopi tribe is much smaller, with only about 18,000 members, but also federally recognised. The two tribes live semi-autonomously in their respective reservations in the area (Hopi territory is entirely surrounded by Navajo territory, which has been a source of more than a few disputes in the past).

We went deeper into the aptly named Painted Desert, past Tuba City (largest Navajo community), past Kayenta, the next Navajo town (only a mere 120 km away! these places are quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Spoiler alert: that fact was going to be of significance that very evening…but more on that later!), and into Utah. When we turned off onto US Route 163, everything around us seemed to tremble with excitement (or maybe it was just us :-) ). Remember this scene?

or movies like this one? That was our destination, and we couldn’t wait to get there and see for ourselves that little bit of sacred land that has become a symbol of the american west. We watched the Painted Desert go by outside our windows, and then suddenly we could almost see it from far away:

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As we got closer and closer to the Valley of the Rocks, these massive, strange formations started appearing out of the red dust. They showed up one after the other in the horizon – it almost seemed like they were coming out of the earth around us at that very moment.

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We left route 163 and drove into the Monument Valley tribal park, managed by the Navajo tribe. We stopped by the the hotel, appropriately named “The View” – check out these breathtaking photos) and trading post, whose terrace offers an amazing first glimpse of what’s waiting further into the park.

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(This weird dude followed us all the way from the  empty parking lot to the trading post, howling and growling creepily like a ghost dog, then as soon as we tried to take some pictures decided to photobomb us by passing out on the terrace and refusing to move. We have about ten pictures on that terrace, all of them with Cujo lying there).

Walking into Monument Valley was an great experience. We were all alone in this absolutely quiet, unbelievable place that felt like the most compelling testament to nature’s power.

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We took the scenic drive, and walked around as much as we could. We watched the sun go down behind these strange rock formations,  listening to this.

We left the Valley right after sundown, and hoped to make it to Zion Canyon (about 400 km away!) that very night… But we’d underestimated the winter of Arizona… It’d been very nice till then so we hadn’t given it much thought, but soon after we passed Tuba City it started snowing lightly. We decided to keep moving, but all of a sudden it turned into a snowstorm…

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The road was getting covered in snow, we had no tire chains, and then next town was more than 150 miles ahead… we thought we might have to pull over and spend the night in the car, and then wake up in the middle of  snow covered nowhere, miles from anything (i kept thinking of this movie).When we saw a sign indicating a gas station somewhere off the road, we decided to give it a try, hoping that we might find tire chains for the snow. We turned into a small dark village road – we found no gas station, only a sleeping community of about fifty houses at the end of the road. Nothing was open, and not a single soul was stirring. The whole thing started feeling a little bit too much like the beginning of a horror flick (you know that thing in the movies where there’s a knock on the door on a snowy night, storm raging outside,  and a stranger asks if they can use your phone because their car broke down?? well, that night i came to realise that that is actually something that might happen, because we were this close to doing it ourselves). We were getting slightly concerned – the road was less and less drivable and completely empty, visibility was getting worse, and we were still hundreds of miles away from the next point of civilisation… were we going to have to spend the night in a snowed-in car by the side of the road, in the middle of the Arizona plains? Or would we make manage to find a warm and dry place to sleep? Stay tuned to find out… :-)

Comments

  1. chris snr says:

    can’t wait for the next episode, the suspense is killing me!!

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