Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them. Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life. Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer. Never take the first. Never take the last. Take only what you need. Take only that which is given. Never take more than half. Leave some for others. Harvest in a way that minimizes harm. Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share. Give thanks for what you have been given. Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken. Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.
These words resonated with me and I pondered them for quite a while. Right before we went to Canyon de Chelly, some one asked me if I was going to take pictures. That was a very normal question but I was struck by the word, “take”. It went clunk. Would I go into this place and “take”? I started to consider how else I might approach this trip and, in the end, I decided that my intention would be to receive the images in whatever form they chose to arrive.
As I let my imagination loose on this way of thinking/being, I considered how I saw myself in relation to this place. Was I this sentient being who would enter and exit this static ‘place’? Or, is it possible that I would engage with this place? – that we (this place and I) would breathe each other in and out? Would we effect and be effected by each other’s presence? So, it was in this spirit, that I received these images and I am profoundly grateful for them and to the canyon and to our guide, Howard, who held the space.
The rock art was inspiring. Howard shared his and his people’s views of some of the images. He described the horizontal zig-zag design as a description of life with it’s ups and downs – as one way of life ends, another starts. He returned to that theme many times on the tour especially when referencing with old ways of his people and the new ways of current times. In the picture below, the outline of a person represented one who was still alive on the earth. The subsequent filled in drawings of people were of the elders who had died and who’s spirits were still present.
Being in the canyon was very moving. Rock cliffs lift almost 1,000 feet straight up. The presence of that much rock, with its own unique elemental vibration was palpable. It was above, below and all around me. I felt the deep solid peace of the place while being present to the horrors of death and destruction that occurred here to the Navajo, the Spaniards and the US troops.
According to Navajo legend, Spider Woman lives at Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly. She was first to weave the web of the universe. She taught the Navajo how to weave, how to create beauty in their own life and to spread the “Beauty Way” teaching of balance within the mind, body & soul. To learn more about Spider Woman, click here https://www.navajorug.com/blogs/news/spider-rock-center-of-the-navajo-nation
As Larry mentioned in Part 1, the canyon has been inhabited for over 5,000 years. The remains of the structures are a testament to the builders’ skill and to their artistry.
So, the trip to Canyon de Chelly was a deeply moving one for me. I feel that the canyon gave way more to me than I would ever return to her. I give thanks to the canyon, to Howard our guide, to our new friends, Donn and Judy who explored with us and to my ever trusty travel mate, Larry.
According to archaeologists, Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Chelly is pronounced Shay) has held Native American inhabitants for over 5000 years and it is one of the longest continually inhabited places in North America.
Canyon de Chelly is located on Navajo land near the Four Corners area of the Southwest, just outside the town of Chinle, Arizona. Map of Canyon de Chelly
Above photos by Susan Warren
Canyon de Chelly National Monument is administered by the National Park Service and admission is free but, since it lies on Navajo land, access is restricted to overlooks and one trail that leads down to the White House Ruins. All other excursions down into or along the canyon require a Navajo guide.
There is one campground inside Canyon de Chelly, called Cottonwood. It’s run by the park and is located near the visitors center. There is also one private campground just outside the parks boundary along Rt 7 on the southern rim called Spider Rock Campground.
With our new friends Donn Fowler & Judy Kerry (whom we met at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument), we set up camp at Spider Rock Campground. The whole area was flooded a month before our arrival and you could see the damage at Spider Rock Campground. Some sites were deeply rutted and washed away but we found a nice spot to set up camp.
The owner of the campground, Howard Smith, met us and made sure we were comfortable and asked us if we had any questions. Howard is also a Canyon de Chelly guide and one of the most laid back people I have ever met. Not much bothered him with the exception of deviations from the old Navajo ways.
The next day with Judy feeling under the weather Donn, Susan and I toured the overlooks on the southern rim.
All the photo’s above were taken by Donn Fowler.
On the third day, six of us hired Howard for a guided tour.
Howard used a 1993 Chevy Suburban as his tour vehicle. I have to admit that as he pulled up and I heard vroom vroom because he had no mufflers and then I opened the front passenger side door to get in and it creaked and clanked and dropped down 3 inches because the door hinges were worn out, I wondered if we should have chosen a guide with a more modern vehicle. As it turned out we made an excellent choice!
Striking up a conversation with Howard, I mentioned that in another life I use to repair 1993 Suburbans. Later when we were stuck in the middle of the wash with knee deep water rushing by us, unable to move seemingly because of a transmission problem, I regretted mentioning that to him.
Howard told me that he had only owned the suburban for 2 years and that he was not yet “one with it”. I think he is well on his way to accomplishing that undertaking because somehow he got the old girl moving again.
On several occasions Howard compared his Navajo ancestors with the ancient Egyptians. To prove his point he pointed out the image of an Egyptian on the canyon wall.
Howard stopped the suburban once and said to us “You all know that in a National Park you are forbidden to remove any rocks”. I’m ashamed to admit that at this point my first thought was that this comment was directed at Sue. But then he said “That one over there we will let you take home” and pointed his finger. I snapped a picture.
So it turns out Howard also has a keen sense of humor.
A couple other interesting things about the tour that come to mind. Howard mentioned that he had 11 grandmothers. I took this to mean that his grandmother had 10 sisters.
If you Google “How was Canyon de Chelly formed” You’ll quickly learn that it came about after millions of years of land uplifts and stream cutting. Howard had a different take on the subject. He stated that it was formed at the time of the Meteor Crater impact, insinuating that the impact of a meteor 50,000 years ago created the canyon. Interesting.
Howard mentioned that the canyon is always changing and told us a story about one tour he did in 2011. They got to a certain point in the tour and came upon a spot where one side of the canyon wall had fallen down during the previous night and created a damn blocking the road. They had to turn around. They, meaning all the guides, later got permission to detour across someone’s property so the tours could continue.
If I was going to hire a tour guide for Canyon de Chelly, I would make sure the guide used a private vehicle like a Jeep or in Howard’s case a Suburban. In the picture above you can see a vehicle that holds 6 or 8 people. They sit across from and face each other. You can also see the guide standing on the ground talking to his clients. The problem is you can never get out of the vehicle but once at the turn around where there is a rest stop and some Native American vendors. We were able to get out on numerous occasions to walk around, getting as close as allowed to the canyon walls, ruins and rock art. We received from Howard a much more personal tour in my opinion.
More pictures of Canyon de Chelly all taken by Susan.
Someone asked Howard how old he was. He replied 67. Someone else asked how much longer he would be giving tours and he said with a chuckle “until I’m 97”.
Howard stopped the vehicle in front of a small ranch and told us that just recently 3 mountain lions were killed there after they killed some of the owner’s sheep. Surprisingly it seemed that he did not hold the big cats in high regard.
And a few more pictures by Susan.
One last memory before I turn the narrative over to Susan. At one point as we were looking at a set of ruins someone in the group asked Howard if, as a child, he had ever climbed up into any of the ruins. No, my grandmother and my grandfather told me to never go near them, I would only hurt the people if I did.
Susan will write about the rock art, ruins and legends of Canyon de Chelly in Part 2
I have been procrastinating on writing this post for about four months. I am a good procrastinator especially when my expectations for doing a really good job are high. Then, I somehow shut myself down and lock up. That’s when I have to remember one of the many lessons I learned from my Dad, Richard E. O’Shaughnessy. Dad always said, “any job worth doing is worth doing well.” And, he lived that. He seemed to give himself to the work whether it was teaching eighth graders about Earth Science, blacksmithing, or raising seven kids with my Mom. The key was to just do the work, even if you didn’t feel like it in the beginning. Just get going.
The flip side of this message was his, “let’s go for it!” attitude about life. He had a belief that things would work out and this was the source of great comfort to me when I was growing up. In a lot of ways, it was Dad’s and Mom’s approach to life that gave me the gumption to say, “Yes! Let’s do it!” when Larry suggested we sell the house and live in Shiny.
My Dad passed away at home on December 5, 2020. He leaves a big hole in my life but bigger than that is his legacy of doing what you can, using your gifts, helping others, and having fun along the way. So, I dedicate this 100th edition to my Dad.
We started writing this blog in October, 2017. We were dreaming about hitting the road. We had bought Shiny 6 months earlier. Our daughter and son in law would be house sitting and we were just waiting for Larry to mend from surgery on his knee. Even though we had campers for years, this would be our first foray into living full time on the road. So, we were green horns in a lot of ways. We are happy to report that we love being on the road and hope to continue as long as we want to.
Shiny has taught us a lot. We call the lessons, ‘Shiny Time’. Pretty much the lessons are about slowing down and trusting that things will work out. We’ve had lots of practice and I am a lot more open to ideas when Larry says, ‘Shiny time. Shiny time’, instead of, ‘Settle down, for Pete’s sake!’ I guess Shiny time has become our mantra, our reminder that if you want life to be different, then you need to do things differently, respond differently. We have reluctantly learned a lot about Shiny Time thanks to COVID-19. Many of the places at which we usually stay like state and national parks, have been closed. We have been concerned that we might unwittingly carry the virus from state to state and would place innocent people in harm’s way.
We could have easily turned this adventure into a lot of work if we had wanted to. Some how we have managed to slow the heck down and to just be amazed at the beauty of this country. The other great benefit of slowing down is being able to meet and to get to know some really cool folks
Shiny Time appreciation comes in handy when things get sketchy. We also find that the unexpected makes for a really good story. Most of the time I am too irritated to take a picture but I have caught a few. There was the time I learned about how to store plate ware while in transit.
Then, there was the time when it was about 30 degrees and icy at Edgar Evins State Park in Tennessee. We thought it would be warm in the south! Anyway, Larry thinks it’s safe to head down the ice covered road pulling Shiny. I’m not so sure. We make it out safely but, yikes!
We have had our share of wild weather and actually enjoy hunkering down in Shiny during a big rain storm. We’ve learned that heading north does not necessarily make things cooler as we discovered in the Dakotas. On the other hand, higher altitudes can bring relief during a hot summer.
We have been trying to think of our favorite places we’ve been and we’ve decided that there are a lot of things to consider such as the feel of the air, the number of people there, the night sky, and perhaps that thing that I have no words for – some sort of vibration, a story, the presence of ones who have come before us. The poet, David Whyte would call it the ‘genius of the place’. Feel free to click on the green links to get to an earlier post on the location with more details and photos.
We had a hard time narrowing down our contestants because we have seen so many beautiful places. After much debate, we have decided that Canyon de Chellyis our favorite so far. The landscape was stunning and location was remote. There were few people. It was steeped in history and we had the honor of being shown the area by our guide, Howard. Canyon de Chelly is Larry’s #1 favorite.
Organ Pipe National National Monument is another favorite. We were there in March and the Spring flowers had just blossomed in the nearby mountains. There were lots of good hikes and we met some great folks. We got a closer look as issues around illegal immigration and the hazards the immigrants face.
Next on our list of Favorites is Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve in Chase County, Kansas. I had always wanted to see the prairie and to imagine what it was like when, for thousands of miles, that’s all there was. We enjoyed the wide open spaces, the really big sky and the sense that the landscape had been touched little by mankind (thanks to the flint in the ground that made it unfit for farming).
White Water Draw Wildlife Area in McNeal, Arizona was a birder’s dream especially because we were so new to many of the birds of the Southwest. I will always remember the sight and sound of hundreds of Sandhill Cranes flying up into the sky at dawn.
Goose Necks Canyon State Park in Mexican Hat, Utah was some kind of crazy raw energy! You could walk up to the edge of a 1,000 foot cliff down to the San Juan River. We never got that close because the winds were blowing steadily at 40-50 miles per hour. We were in a very remote area with few folks around.
We had Clayton Lake State Parkin Clayton, New Mexico all to ourselves except for the bald eagles, osprey, deer, ducks, wild turkeys, snow geese and rabbits. Oh, and the fossilized dinosaur tracks were pretty cool too! We spent a lot of time sitting and watching.
Chiricahua National Monument in Wilcox, Arizona was definitely my (Susie’s) favorite. It was (you guessed it) remote. The rock formations were provocative and astounding. And, that thing that I don’t have a word for…the energy of the place was old and grounding and rich. It felt like a home coming.
Our last stop before COVID arrived was in Lone Pine, California. It was March and we thought since we were in California, it would be warm! Haha! There’s that little matter of the altitude. The mountains, streams and sheer wildness of the winds and snow made it a great place to be.
Last but not least is Swan Creek Recreation Area in Selby, South Dakota. Swan Creek is off of the Missouri River and it is, yes, remote. The hikes on the hills were lovely. The winds were wild. We had visions of the Lewis and Clark Expedition that had passed nearby over two hundred years ago.
So, that winds up this edition of Streamin’ in Shiny. Every day we feel so lucky to be able to write this post and to have these adventures. It remains hard to be away from loved ones but that seems to make me love and appreciate them all the more. Best wishes to each of you. Hopefully we will see you around the bend.