The Navajo Life

DSC_4292.JPGOn the way back from the Canyons, our guide told us a little about the Navajo way of life; their traditions and beliefs. As I heard her speak, a thought formed in my mind ” Indians are Indians, Native American or Asian.”  Did you know that  in Navajos, children of siblings are considered siblings. This has given rise to using terms like “cousin-brother” and “cousin-sister” to define relationships in English and that the literal translation for your mother’s sister is “little Mother.”  Another thing that is common with Hindu Asian Indians is that tradition dictates that Navajos do not eat when there is an eclipse.

A very interesting titbit about the Navajos that I read online is that the Navajo language lacks a direct method of commanding another person and traditional Navajo consider it extremely poor manners to tell or order another person to do something.

Our guide told us how her people wake up at the crack of dawn and end their day with the last rays of the sun; how they led their lives without electricity or running water; how she wasn’t allowed to wear make-up growing up. I can almost hear my mother ( grandmothers and aunts) saying, “Makeup is for grown ups who want to look younger. You are young. You don’t need makeup.” ” If you use makeup, your skin will get used to it and a day will come when you will look so haggard without it. You will then be forced to use makeup.” Our guide told us how her children hate it  when she sends them to the reservation every summer to spend time with her family, and how they hate it when it is time to come back home. All those vacation we were forced to spend in Chennai come flooding back.

Her words provided me insight into how at least a section of the Navajos felt about the “white man”. While the older generation was distrustful, the newer lot are more determined to reclaim their heritage. I must add here, that our guide at the lower canyon was much younger and didn’t seem to feel as strongly about the Navajo way of life.



The Roadtrip from Phoenix to San Diego- Day 3, Part 1

Day 3 – The Redemption – Antelope Canyons (and Sedona)

In beauty I walk

With beauty before me I walk

With beauty behind me I walk

With beauty above me I walk

With beauty around me I walk

It has become beauty again

-Extract from a Navajo Prayer

Water Painting (Lower Antelope Canyon)

Water Painting (Lower Antelope Canyon)

Our new plan was to queue up outside the Lower Antelope Canyon tour office at 7:00 am to get on the first tour at 8:15 AM or so and then do the upper canyon tour as booked at 10:30 AM. Before we went to bed, the husband changed his mind and said if we did it that way we would reach San Diego really late as the drive was too long. We agreed that we would drop the lower and do just the upper canyon.  Early next morning we went to the tour booking office to see if we could move our Upper Antelope Canyon Tour from 10:15 AM the 8:30 AM slot. Turns out that was not possible as that tour was booked out and we could not cancel the 10:15 tour since it was no longer  refundable.  The plan then went back to run and catch the first tour to the lower canyon and make it back in time for the upper canyon tour.

The Mountain Lion

The Mountain Lion (Lower Antelope Canyon)

The lower canyon  area can be reached only by a short dirt road. The tour offices are visible from the paved road, but it is easy to miss the turn. The coal power plant is an excellent landmark. The track goes off the road opposite the power plant. The power plant itself is easily identifiable with its three smoking chimneys. The marina is straight down the power plant road. Before you reach the marina, you will pass a statue of a bucking bull on the side of the road that the power plant is. If you are going to the marina, keep going straight. If you were headed to the canyon, turn around. Occasionally one can see a coyote crossing this road.

Interestingly, the Lower Antelope Canyon was brought to public notice by the construction workers building the power plant. This area used to be  their labour camp site.

By the time we got the booking office, the first tour had already left, a few moments of discussion cost us a place on the second tour as well, but it is hard to refuse the girl with a big band-aid on her head so with some  minimal pleading  we got on to the tour. This canyon is below ground and is accessed through a series of ladders. Some ladders can be steep and few are missing handrails,  also in some places the canyon gets really narrow but it is not at all hard to go through.

The Howling Wind (Lower Antelope Canyon)

The Howling Wind (Lower Antelope Canyon)

The beauty of the canyons is such that it now haunts me wherever I go.A little bit of imagination will reveal a whole new world to you.

As light moves in the canyon, the walls change from red to orange to gold to every imaginable shade of pink. Run your hands along the walls and read the stories that water has carved into them. At every turn, wondrous shapes leap out, like pictures in a book. Read if you can the story the mountain lion or the thief or the eagle.  The grumpy troll, the howling wind, the river goddess.. the stories weave seamlessly into each other and  possibilities are endless. The fabulous shapes and spectacular colors turn the canyon from a mass of rock to a book of worship filled with extraordinary tales of sins and retributions. We walk around slack jawed and wonderstruck.

We made it back to the tour office well in time for our upper canyon tour. The tour guide drives you down to the canyon with the rest of your group. If you are in one of the open vehicles, make sure to hold onto your hats. Our guide told us this was an excellent spot to pick up hats, because they keep flying off from the heads of tourists. A good part of the route is on bumpy sand,  and on very dry hot days it is not unusual to see vehicles stuck in the it. It was not that hot when we went, but it was a hot day and for once in my life I was weather appropriately dressed in a pair of shorts, a tank top, a hat and sunglasses.

Light Beam

The Messenger (Upper Antelope Canyon)

The rich hues that we saw in the Lower Canyon were not as prominent in the Upper Canyon.The draw of this canyon are the shafts of light that pierce through like messengers from another world. The imposing walls give it the appearance of  a magnificent cathedral. An exalted place where spirits convene. No man-made structure can match it in grace. The little flecks of dust dancing in the beams add just the touch of reality to this surreal scene.

Heart of the Canyon (Upper Antelope Canyon)

Heart of the Canyon (Upper Antelope Canyon)

Even so, if  you have to choose between visiting the two, and are reasonably fit, make sure you do the Lower one. There are other less known and therefore hopefully less crowded canyons to explore like the Owl Canyon, Canyon X and the Rattlesnake Canyon . There are 6 canyons open to public here. Our Navajo guide assured us that the gorgeous colours and dancing light beams could be seen in other canyons as well, they are just not as popular because they are harder to access.



Antelope Canyons

Antelope Canyons

The Antelope Canyons were named for the antelope that used to roam freely in this area before human settlement and activity pushed them out. Great horned owls and rattlesnakes still populate these canyons. That is how those canyons got their names. It is not uncommon to see owls in the Upper Antelope Canyon. We were not so lucky, but we did see their nests.

We went with the Dixie Ellis  company for the Lower Antelope Canyon tour and with Overland tours for the Upper Antelope Canyon tour. Both companies were very  accommodating and both tour guides were wonderful. The guides also help you with setting up your camera and composing  your pictures.

We were informed by our tour operator that we could not have chosen a worse time to visit. Summer is not just hot, it is also thunderstorm season. Since the canyons are prone to flash flooding, whenever a flood warning is issued, the canyons are shut down for the day. This happens when it rains not just in this area but also if it rains heavily upstream. Summer is also peak tourist season. The best season to visit, in all respects would be spring. Another thing, if you are visiting during daylight savings period, please note Arizona does not participate in daylight savings but the Navajo Reservation is on Daylight Savings Time. Sometimes your phone or car clock may not grasp this automatically, so every time you cross the reservation border reset your watch, or keep it in mind. It gets more complicated because the Hopi Reservation, which is surrounded by the Navajo reservation, stays on Arizona (Non-Daylight Savings) time.


Size does matter

I am not sure if you can do a guided tour of the Navajo reservation, but you can do one of the Hopi reservation.  These tours are not very expensive and would give you an insight to the lives and customs of Native American/American Indian tribes. I didn’t known about this, or we would have definitely tried to squeeze it into our trip. You do however get to interact with the Navajo people as entry into the Canyons is not permitted without a Navajo guide, not even to Navajos. The Canyons are on reservation land.

Another thing we didn’t do was go to Bearizona. Our waiter at Dennys told us about it. It sure looks like fun. If you are wondering where Dennys came in, we stopped at a Dennys for dinner, on the way from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon.

Page is probably the best place to be if you want to disconnect from the world. The whole time we were there, our phones had very patchy reception. Mine worse than the husband’s. I have an iphone5 and we are both on AT&T, so this could also be a phone and service provider issue. I had a similar problem at the Grand Canyon as well, only there I had some internet connectivity and zero phone signal. The husband had both phone and internet connectivity there. He has a Samsung Galaxy S3.

More photographs here and here

The Roadtrip from Phoenix to San Diego-Day 2

Day 2 – The Grand Canyon and the Antelope Canyons – What can go wrong –  part deux.

The next morning we had to be up by 4:30 am in order to catch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon. Having already missed the cheat option of watching the sunset, we just had to do the sunrise. Surprisingly, we managed to wake up, drive down to the canyon and walk up the South Rim trail well in time for sunrise. After logistical confusion killed the idea of camping on the Desert View campground, we booked ourselves into the Grand Canyon Inn, a comparatively inexpensive motel a 20 minute drive away from the South Rim. The room we got had comfortable beds and a clean bathroom. They also have free wi-fi.

As much as we would have loved to explore the less touristy North Rim, our tightly packed schedule allowed us very limited time at the canyon, so we settled on the more popular South Rim. We did a small portion of the Rim trail. On our way to the canyon, we saw signs that warned of natural fires ahead. We assumed the lightening storm last night had  started forest fires. Later someone we met at the end of the trail told us that the authorities were carrying our control burns. We got on on the trail right behind the El-Tovar hotel. When we started walking, we were only people on the trail, and the first people to reach the end.  The walk is quite easy, but if you don’t want to do it there is a fantastic view point right at the beginning.

The Fantastic View Point

The Fantastic View Point

I had heard and read from several sources that the sight of the first rays of the sun hitting the red rocks of the canyon was magical. That glorious glow of redness as the darkness suddenly lifts, has been described as  mystical. Grand as the Grand Canyon looked that early morning, the smoke and the looming thunderstorm ruined the sunrise experience for us.

At the crack of Dawn

At the crack of Dawn

The dining room of the EL Tovar  is a great place to grab breakfast after doing the trail.

If you ask me to describe the Grand Canyon,I would say it looks like a number of magnificent temples dedicated to the great Gods of the old. Over millions of years wind and water have carved the mountain face to create beauty fit for worship.

Castle Rock

Castle Rock

After breakfast we started the next leg of our trip. We were going to Page, to photograph the Antelope Canyons and catch the sunset at the Horseshoe Bend.  On the way we stopped by at the Desert View point. This is just another vista point for the Grand Canyon. On the Rim Trail, a couple who have done multiple hikes in the Canyon told us that there is a trial that leads to the bottom and there is a waterfall there. Something we would definitely like to do on our next trip here.

The route from the Grand Canyon to Page is very scenic and is dotted with a number of distractions. There is the  overlook on Little Colorado, the  Cameron  trading post, the Echo Cliffs, the painted desert and the Vermilion Cliffs. On the way there is a little side road (US89A) in Bitter Springs that takes you to the  Navajo Bridges,Marble Canyon and Lees Ferry. On the way to Lees ferry are some remarkable rocks like the Mushroom rock and Balanced Rock. This information has been gleaned from Trip Adviser and we really didn’t have time for most of it. We did stop though, at one of the Navajo (pronounced Naa-va-Ho) stalls and picked up some pretty jewelry. If you plan to include the Vermilion Cliffs in your itinerary, there is a parking lot with Navajo stalls that has great views of Vermilion Cliffs. This information is again from Trip Adviser.

 Navajo Jewelry - Turquoise and Coral for the blue skies and the red rocks, butterfly for grace and wings for freedom

Navajo Jewelry – Turquoise and Coral for the blue skies and the red rocks, butterfly for grace and wings for freedom

We knew we would be cutting it too close for our reservations on the Upper Antelope Canyon Tour so we called the tour operator and had them shift it to the next morning, so we would do just the Lower Canyon and the Horseshoe Bend today. As we got into Page, the hot summer sun was sudden blocked out by ominous dark clouds. Just our luck!! By the time got to the Lower Canyon tour office, the rain had stopped, but the damage had been done. Both the Upper and Lower Canyons are prone to flash floods and once it rains they are closed for the day.

Since there were a couple of hours left before sunset, we decided to take a boat ride on Lake Powell. It is a pleasant way to pass time. I thought the boat would go all the way to the Navajo bridges, but they only take you as far as the Lower Canyon. Do it by all means if you have some time and money to spare, or have just been having a rough time like us.

Boat ride on Lake Powell

Boat ride on Lake Powell

From the Antelope Point Marina we drove down to the Horseshoe Bend well in time for the sunset.