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Navajo Indian Adventure

After visiting the South Rim of the magnificent Grand Canyon, we headed northeast toward the Utah border and the great Monument Valley. This is the land of the Navajo nation, the largest Indian Reservation in the United States. It covers over 27,000 square miles in the states of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. This high desert country contains some of the strangest and most beautiful geological features in the USA.

Navajo jewelry stand © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Good deals on Navajo Indian handworked rugs, silver and turquoise jewelry can be found at roadside stands.

Kayenta is near Monument Valley

The road to Kayenta was straight and flat across the land known as The Painted Desert. This landscape was shaded in pastel pinks, reds, browns, whites and grays offset with streaks of brilliant vermilion and black. Oddly shaped mounds of sandstone grew out of the desert floor and multihued cliffs framed the horizon. Along the roadside, we passed many small stands with local Indians selling jewelry, pottery, and hand-woven textiles.

Kayenta was a pleasant little town in the middle of this enchanted desert country. It offered a nice variety of accommodations, restaurants, and fast food establishments. Strange rocks spires, buttes and pinnacles rising out of the surrounding desert offered a prelude of what was to come.

Monument Valley is situated about 30 miles north of Kayenta where it straddles the Arizona-Utah border. As you approach it on Route 163, the surrounding landscape becomes more and more spectacular. Gigantic pink and red sandstone buttes, mesas and spires of rock rise up to 1000 feet from the desert floor.

Harold was our Navajo guide

We met our guide, Harold Simpson, at the modern Navajo visitor center near the entry to Monument Valley. Harold, a full-blooded Navajo Indian, is the son of a medicine man and medicine woman. His family has lived in this valley for many generations. He now operates his own tour guide service and proudly presents his spectacular homeland to visitors from everywhere.

We climbed into Harold's van and rode into the magnificent Monument Valley. He showed us all the spectacular sites that are so often portrayed on postcards and calendars. At each feature, Harold added his own interesting and witty commentary. He told us about the Dineh (Navaho) people and the history of the valley. He told us about his ancestors that have lived in this magnificent place for many generations. After visiting all of the usual tourist attractions, Harold took us to the restricted regions of the Valley barred to everyone except Navajo guides. There, he showed us many other wondrous sites: magnificent buttes, spires, arches, ancient ruins, petroglyphs and scenic grandeur that most tourists never see.

Susie © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Susie, an eighty-three-year-old Navajo woman who is matriarch to a seven-generation clan, has practiced her art of Navajo rug weaving for many years.

Susie is matriarch to seven generations

We visited the home of Susie, an eighty-three-year-old Navajo woman that is matriarch to a seven-generation clan. Harold led us into her traditional Hogan workshop where she has practiced her art of Navajo rug weaving for many years. He beseeched her softly in her native Navajo tongue, and she graciously demonstrated how she painstakingly converts raw wool into masterpieces of Indian art. Her completed rugs are now considered national art treasures and often sell for thousands of dollars.

On our way out of the valley, we stopped at the roadside stands and bargained for some of the Navajo jewelry. Their hand-worked silver and the native turquoise jewelry were very reasonably priced. We ate lunch in the Stagecoach Restaurant at Goulding's Trading Post across the highway from the Valley entrance.

After lunch, we all piled into Harold's four-wheel-drive Jeep and headed across the desert to Mystery Valley. The road was little more than two ruts across the parched landscape. We bounced and slid across its soft sandy surface. Our little jeep clambered in and out of dry creek beds and crawled up steep rocky inclines.

Landscape like another planet

The surrounding landscape is difficult to describe. Giant mounds of rock were carved into grotesque surreal sculptures by the blowing sands. It seemed like we had been transported to the surface of another planet. Harold stopped at many secluded locations and allowed us to explore the landscape and to scramble atop the strange formations for better views. We saw many Anasazi ruins left by the ancient people that once inhabited this forbidding place. Their strange cliffside dwellings were scattered throughout the valley. We explored many facets of this eerie valley for three hours and never saw another tourist.

Ancient Navajo Indian dwelling © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
An ancient abandoned Anasazi cliff dwelling in its naturally formed amphitheater of solid rock.

As the sun was setting and the giant mesas took on a rosy glow, we stopped at the foot of an immense rock wall. On a ledge high above, stood the hollow specter of an ancient abandoned Anasazi cliff dwelling in its naturally formed amphitheater of solid rock. Harold asked us to wait by the jeep as he disappeared into the Mesquite brush near the base of the cliff. We waited in silent reverence of this beautiful and mystical place.

Mystical chants echoed from the cliffs

After a few minutes, we began to hear a low rhythmic chant coming from the base of the cliff. Soon the melodious rhythm grew in volume and began to echo from the face of the cliff. The echoes joined to form a ghostly chorus that sent chills up our spines. We slowly realized that Harold was serenading us with traditional Navajo chants. His beautiful voice sang to us for over 30 minutes. I cannot describe the wonderful enchanted feeling of watching the sun set over that spectacular landscape as we sat beneath ancient Indian ruins listening to Navajo chants.

We returned to the home of Harold's parents and were taken to a traditional Navajo Hogan. This round log house, built in the shape of an Eskimo igloo, was plastered over with a red-sand adobe. It had only one small door and a smoke hole at the center of the roof. Harold explained that his father, the medicine man, uses this traditional dwelling for religious ceremonies. It would be our primitive accommodation for the night. We built a small fire in the center of the Hogan and spread our sleeping bags on the soft sandy floor. Harold's mother brought us a hearty meal of Navajo tacos and bid us goodnight.

Navajo Hogan © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
A traditional Navajo Hogan built with logs and plastered with red-sand adobe.

A desert night

Sometime in the middle of the night, I awoke to the sound of a distant coyote howl and silently slipped out the door. I marveled at the spectacular display of brilliant stars spread across an inky black desert sky. The wind was swirling smoke-like wisps of sand across the desert floor, and a tumbleweed silently rolled by. It felt like I had been transported back to a time when the Dineh ruled this beautiful land, and we intruders had not yet soiled it.

The next morning, we bid farewell to Harold and his family. We promised to return to the Navajo nation for another visit in the not-too-distant future. The road was beckoning to us, and we had many other wonderful places to visit.

If you are interested in trying some of Harold's tours, here is a link to his homepage for Simpson's Trailhandler Tours.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Photo Description: View of Monument Valley