The only purpose we have is the purpose we give it.
Some things are just hard to write about. It’s hard to tell what you feel or what you take away. Canyon de Chelly is like that. You see, I thought this road trip would be about four-wheeling through the floor of the canyon.
I thought photographing the sandstone cliffs along with visits to the iconic White House Ruins and Spider Rock on the south rim trail would be highlights. Instead, I find the sculptured beauty of the canyon walls cradling ruins with a living past.
Thanks to Ben.
Canyon de Chelly ( de shay) is located in northeastern Arizona on the Navajo Nation. It is here where there is an unexplained connection to nature and spirituality. It is here where these canyon walls have been home to it’s inhabitants for thousands of years and where it’s people let it speak.
To visit inside the canyon a Navajo guide is required. That is where we met Ben of Antelope House Tours. He was a quiet, elderly man and I hoped he could keep up with my curiosities and my stop here moments. I had to stifle my smile when he dropped the clutch on the Jeep, couldn’t find reverse, and let us know he hadn’t driven a Jeep in awhile. I imagined our final selfie would be of the Jeep, up to the windows, in quicksand, and wind kisses to those who know what they mean.
But…always choose adventure, right?
At Kokopelli Caves he told of the Navajo farming community that still exists today and of the message told by the nearby petroglyphs. He bent down and drew a story in the sand, telling of the ceremony of the snake dancers and their significance to the Navajo. Their calling and preparation is passed down from ancestors, and he mimicked the movements of the dancers. Tradition would take them toward a vat of live snakes where they would taunt them and chant for one reason, rain. A mission paramount for survival.
The glimmer of light in his eyes when he told his stories prompted questions about his relationship to the canyon. We learned he was 80 and this was his home. He had grown up here and the next stop was the property where his family still lives and where he was born.
He talked of scurrying up to caves as a boy with bare feet and he laughed thinking he didn’t know how they climbed back down. They were just kids doing what kids do, and in a more serious tone, he talked of his grandfather’s words. We would see a lot of ruins on this day, but entering ruins of ancient people was forbidden as the Navajo consider it disrespectful, so today 1000’s of years later, the ruins, some with pottery and tools left by its inhabitants, are untouched.
He talked of The Long Walk, the heroism of the Code Talkers, and the irony of the two events. And most important he addressed his pride at knowing six of the Code Talkers who came from Canyon de Chelly.
He talked of new generations living in modernized hogans and how they continue to farm today. Corn, peaches, tomatoes, and cherries are local favorites.
So what do I take away from this sacred place. How do I tell the story of someone with more wisdom then I will carry in a lifetime. I am convinced that the colored lines on the canyon walls are inspiration for Navajo weavings, and it is humbling to know about the soul in this ancient place. I want to say I take away an understanding of how generations lived before us and yet there is a greater understanding, an awakening of why it’s people stay. There is a realization of how insignificant we are in this blink of a moment and the importance of legacy.
Ben returned us to our hotel and insisted on an overnight tour on our next visit. I sensed his story was not done and maybe there was that glimmer of hope that we too, will learn to tell it.
Be still and the earth will speak to you.
Thank you Ben.