The Road Through Navajo Nation

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The drive North to Albuquerque seemed to take an eternity. The speed limit off the highway was slow as can be; we were worn out from dune jumping and parading around like children in the bright, exhausting sunshine. We pulled in late, and crashed at our friend’s Dad’s house.  Not much sleep was to be had; people in New Mexico know how to have a good time! The boys were up until the wee hours of the morning playing poker, drinking, telling tales, enjoying the night. It was a struggle to get off the couch that morning but we had to hit the road, Grand Canyon bound. As usual, we were set on remaining off the beaten path even if it meant more driving time. We drove through roads cluttered with tumbleweeds flying in the wind like plastic bags do in the city. We saw many abandoned trailers in the brush, dilapidated houses, and lots of empty open brown landscape. As luck would have it, we cruised by right as a man put up a sandwich board on the side of the highway. It read “exit here for Indian fry bread;” just in time for breakfast! We swerved to catch the exit and ordered one with green chile and one with powdered sugar. Delicious local fare is always a welcomed treat.

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We continued on toward this said “Grand”Canyon by way of the Navajo Nation. After studying our route options, this direction seemed to be of utmost intrigue to us both. I caught myself having day dreams of Native Americans in their traditional garb greeting us as we drove by, children playing with feathers, and teepee like structure developments. I knew all too well this was not what we would encounter. My illusions were quickly shattered as we hit sudden bumper to bumper traffic. It appeared to be a checkpoint of some sort, but during the middle of the day? When it was our turn, the sheriff came up to the window and asked if we had any alcoholic beverages in our vehicle. We told him about our beer in the cooler right in the backseat, intentionally neglecting to mention the half full bottle of Tequila. We let him know we were just passing through, destined for the Grand Canyon. “There is no alcohol allowed on the Navajo Nation,” he explained calmly. He continued, ” I am not going to make you guys pull over, its better if no one knows you have it on you. Please don’t drink as you pass though.” We drove off in semi shock contemplating what it all meant. Is there always a checkpoint at the entrance of the Indian reservation? Are they more worried about Natives drinking then people passing through? Do they search the locals cars often? Whatever the usual protocol, it was obvious that alcoholism for these people is sadly, a very serious problem.

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That set the mood for the drive through the reservation. As I kept having flashbacks of America History classes as far back as high school, menaced by all the terrible offenses caused to this amazing culture that has consequentially nearly  disappeared. Driving through the sparse, dry, brown vista with a pit in my stomach I surely did not see anything to uplift my mood. There were no power lines, not even any towns? Only scattered huts with the occasional church or barn, maybe a cow or a sheep, and definitely no gas stations. We were in need of fuel and a restroom. We passed some sort of community center  on the Second Mesa that looked closed. Out of desperation we turned around to make sure and discovered it was in fact open. We also found some locals selling hand made crafts. One artist in particular caught our eye. He made gorgeous, intricately carved Kachina dolls. He patiently explained all of their symbolism and shared his people’s customs and the Hopi spiritual beliefs with us. His name is Bryson Huma from the Waterfall Clan. We purchased one of his pieces, a red-haired doll named Red Beard who is meant to bring light rains. “Ko-Koi,” Thank You. The exchange uplifted my spirits; it was as if we had found a gem in the vast, desolate reservation. It was so inspiring to see these people preserving their culture though art.
As we neared the border of the Navajo Nation and entered Tuba City, many stray dogs roamed and the deep red earth shimmered with thousands of broken bottle pieces.

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“Certain things catch your eye, But pursue only those that capture your heart.”

– old indian saying