Day 2: Window Rock, Chinle, and Canyon de Chelly

Unfortunately, Jane has been suffering from altitude sickness (or a stomach bug) today, making her extremely sick for most of the day. The day was spent mostly driving – first from Albuquerque to Chinle, and then from Chinle to Whiteriver. On our way to Chinle, we stopped at Window Rock, the capital of the Navajo Nation, where we witnessed the titular geological marvel that resids adjacent to the governmental buildings. In Chinle, we visited the multiple sites at the Canyon de Chelly, a historic Navajo site. Tonight, we are spending the night with gracious hosts from the Johns Hopkins Center for Native Health by Whiteriver, AZ, the largest town on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. Jane was extremely resilient over all 400 miles travelled today, but her sickness means her input will be missing from today’s post.

Maggie on “Indian Gift Shops”:

On our drive to Chinle from Albuquerque, we quickly left behind the populous areas of the city to find a vast, empty, and varied landscape. Rock formations sprinkled among the sagebrush starkly contrasted the highway plowing directly through this nature; we were officially on the Navajo Reservation. Though it was sometimes hard to distinguish the reservations from outside lands, kitschy “Indian Gift Shops” line the highway as a clear reservation indicator. Filled with Route 66 Memorabilia, the main focus of most roadside shops was Native imagery and exploitation. Obviously aimed towards white tourists, the shop featured terrifying dolls of romanticized native children, fake moccasins, and appropriated dream catchers adorned with screen printed US flags. While some pieces in the shop were authentic, most were highly commercialized Anglo perceptions of Native culture and Native Americans themselves. The murals and trinkets featured traditions from tribes and cultures that do not exist within a thousand miles of the Navajo reservation. This ignorant ideology of Native Americans completely disregards the actual experiences, practices, cultures, and lives of Native citizens living a few miles from these shops. These shops exemplified the objectification of Native people perpetuated by White Americans, through which actuals humans are devalued and simplified into dolls and things to observe as if in a zoo or museum.

Gwyneth on Canyon de Chelly:

From the moment I first saw Canyon de Chelly, I once again found myself speechless before the extraordinary natural beauty of the southwest. Located deep in the land of the Navajo, the canyon has long been an important part of the tribe’s history. Although they were difficult to make out, we saw several homes deep within the canyon. I can only imagine what it would be like to live there, almost completely isolated from other humans but quite literally enveloped by the wonders of the natural world. The spiritual energy of the place was intense. Standing high up and looking down into the canyon, I could see the Navajo creation myth, in which the first man and woman traveled through three other worlds before reaching this one, brought to life. It was as if a giant hole had been dug in this world – the fourth world – revealing a glimpse of the third world underneath. As I reflect upon my experience at the canyon, I am beginning to see the clear connection between the land and the traditional spirituality of the Navajo people.


Closing thoughts:

Something spiritual can be witnessed in the seemingly eternal landscape of the Southwest, especially at night. With our car hurdling into the darkness on an isolated backroad in Arizona, it was unclear where the land ended and sky began. As a sea of darkness enveloped our car and its beaming headlights, there was a beautiful and terrifying sense of being alone in a giant world.

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