You may have been there.
Our off the Beaten Path reporters Patti & Tom Burkett visited the 4 Corners Region and the special plaque.
This is their report:
The little parking lot that surrounds the plaque is ringed by stands where Native American women and children offer a variety of handmade goods for sale.
The 4 Corners Region is a strikingly beautiful area of rocky desert that encompasses nearly thirty thousand square miles in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.
I (Tom) felt at least a little at home when we arrived here because I’d read all of Tony Hillerman’s books, some of them two or three times. Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, two Navajo Tribal police officers, spent the book series investigating crimes all across Navajo country, so place names and the geography felt like old friends as we drove across the desert.
The 4 Corners Region is a vast and beautiful landscape
It is also the place where some of the earliest civilizations on the North American continent flourished.
In the Coconino National Forest, the V Bar V Heritage site protects a thousand-year-old astronomical calendar that native peoples used to successfully practice agriculture here, no mean feat when the annual rainfall is less than twenty inches a year.
You can help out by buying a Red Rock Pass, which grants access to sites not covered by a National Parks Pass and funds conservation efforts.
We’ll be spending a lot more time in this area, and I’m sure they’ll be much more to tell, but this trip was our chance to visit Canyon de Chelly.
The name of the monument is a Spanish corruption of the Navajo word tsegi, which means rock canyon, so the Parks name is really canyon of canyons, one of those odd naming things that don’t make much sense. Despite its national monument status, this is Navajo tribal land.
There are drives with overlooks along both the north and south rims, and one public hiking trail, but if you want to really get to know the land and its stories, you’ll sign up with one of the Native tour companies.
We pulled into the welcome area and signed up on the spot. Very soon, Hosteen Daniel arrived in his four-wheel drive to begin our tour.
The floor of the canyon has banks of various widths along a small river. We crossed several side streams, and Daniel told us the water level rises and falls during the year. The river was quite shallow, and we saw a number of folks riding their horses down the river itself as we passed along the sides.
On the banks and up the side canyons were many traditional Navajo hogans.
“I grew up in the canyon,” Daniel told us, “but nobody does anymore. No TV, too hard to get the children out to school, and no jobs.”
Up and up the canyon we went, past farm plots and herds of sheep, stopping to look at petroglyphs and cliff houses similar to the ones at Mesa Verde.
Eventually, we arrived at a towering column of rock. Hosteen Daniel pulled his jeep off to the side where we had a good view and could sit in the beautiful warm sun of the day, and he told us a story.
“This is Spider Rock,” he began. He went on to tell about Spider Woman, the Hero Twins, White Shell Woman, and how the Navajos learned the sacred patterns woven into their traditional blankets.
His voice rose and fell, and at times his eyes glistened with tears as he told the history of his people. We sat, quiet, for who knows how long until he was finished, then we just sat and looked and listened to the birds.
The light was failing when we four-wheeled our way back down the canyon, feeling the weight of that history as we looked at things we were seeing for a second time that day.
It is a deep and intimate experience to hear someone’s personal story. And you’ll find plenty of folks willing to tell if you’re willing to take the time to listen, out here off the beaten path.
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