April 1 Sedona, AZ

We drove down 89A from Holbrook; I had been to Sedona a few times over thirty years ago when I lived in Scottsdale, but never came down through Flagstaff route. We had beautiful weather as we meandered through the stunning red rocks that make you feel as though you down in the Grand Canyon, but lush with blue-green junipers, pine, brush and unspoiled alpine air.  The red rocks enhance the springtime flora; the lantana and cactus were blooming giving the land a deep sense of renewal.  It was so nice to be warm, but not hot.

We arrived at the Rancho Sedona RV Park that sits on Oak Creek with views of the surrounding buttes.  The park was emaculate with large sycamore trees that gave our surroundings an ethereal feel.  A heron flew by adding to my increasing sense of euphoria; they were nesting in a nearby tree.

The best RV park ever!

We were walking distance to the galleries and also to trailheads that sent us a bit off the beaten track.  It was quiet as we were pushed out just enough from the main hub with the creek displacing any road noise.

Sedona certainly is not the laid back town I remember, but like so much “progress,” they too are being hammered with tourists; the traffic was thick and I was glad we didn’t have to park anywhere to visit the galleries. 

We lucked out at the Creekside Restaurant with a seat outside and a lovely view of the surrounding buttes.

Lucky lunch spot – we couldn’t have scored a better seat!

The town has kept it’s beauty and you actually sense they fight for it – there aren’t really any big box stores here with most of the popular lines being curated by the local mom and pop shops – I love that.  The gas stations and grocery stores etc. are on the main drag out of town so as not do disrupt the center. 

Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping Village was especially lovely with the rustic southwestern-style shops built around the giant sycamores and skirting Oak Creek.  The weather was in the 70’s – it was simply bucolic.  Despite the surge of humanity it felt well-kept and restrained.  

We saw the new age proprietors around town but they weren’t as pronounced as the galleries and boutiques.  I suppose I can understand the new age thing as the ether of this place has a very meditative quality to it; but simply embracing it is enough for me – I don’t need a psychic reading to appreciate my surroundings and life is a mystery to explore anyway.  

We had the added pleasure of catching up with the several Leisure Travel Van owners that had congregated creating our own vortex!  We bonded, drank wine, swapped stories, experiences and suggestions.  It was great to meet fellow nomads who just maybe will also visit us in France😍.

We curated art from some of the galleries, glad to find pieces within our budget as some of the art was well out of our range – it will be fun to unpack these gems in France and find them a permanent home.  

Wish we could have afforded this – I couldn’t stop drooling

Goodbye Sedona, you masterpiece on so many different levels. We are up early to Indian Cove Campground in Joshua Tree National Park – 350 some odd miles!   

Mar 30 Petrified Forest and Painted Desert

This is actually a two for one since the petrified wood is scattered all over the Painted Desert. The area is a vast and diverse geological pocket located in dinosaur territory – hence the large scale models of dino’s at the tourist stops along Route 66.  

It’s mind boggling to think this forest dates back 217 million years; dinosaurs roamed these woods and became part of the archeological landscape in the same manner as the trees.  Now desert, you see broken and shattered fragments all over the park in what was once a dense forest teaming with gargantuan wildlife.  

Even more intriguing is the beauty of the buttes and hills where the tree fragments are now on display.  Mother Nature, I guess, decided that she needed a more dramatic backdrop as part of her “preservation diorama.” 

We parked up by the TeePee mountains and discovered a trail that wasn’t marked on the map – and what a lucky find that was!   It was unspoiled with only a few other adventurous souls on their way back to the parking lot. 

The sun was at our back while the storm boiled in front of us with the wind kicking up – all of this making the hike more intense.  As we walked along the top of these hills, varying landscapes revealed themselves at every turn. 

We meandered through layers of oranges and blues that looked like they had been deposited by machines in some quarry, with eruptions of occasional hoodoos balanced by smooth clamshell-like formations.

The storms looming on the horizon added to the drama; we were really hoping we wouldn’t get drenched on our hike since hail had been part of the earlier downpours.

We left unscathed by the weather and stopped by the ancient ruins of long-abandoned villages and explored the many petroglyphs dotted throughout the park. 

Newspaper Rock

When we reached Blue Mesa the wind kicked up and we started getting pelted by hail.  It was so intense I had real difficulty getting the passenger door to close and the inside of BigB was getting drenched.  Though we didn’t really get to hike the Blue Mesa, which is lovingly paved by the National Park Service, we certainly got a dose of it on our earlier hike.  I felt bad for the people that were on the trail getting blasted with high winds and hail – it stung the bare skin.  

The squall eventually dissipated as we left to explore the rest of the park and BigB got a good wash and dry in the process!  Days of bug scum melted off the windshield.  

We ended the day picking up a piece of polished petrified wood to use as a bookend. This is a reminder of where we fit in the grand scheme of things; touching the smooth surface of an artifact that is over two hundred million years old. It’s hard to wrap your mind around it as we go through our daily lives. 

Mar 18 Canyon de Chelly

We arrived at the Cottonwood Campground outside of Canyon de Chelly – it was seriously windy when we left Farmington – gusts up to 55 miles per hour and then came the dust storms.  This we endured for about two hours and when we turned south in Arizona the winds died down and we entered a landscape much like Monument Valley meets the Canyonlands.  We stopped in Rock Point, still in Navajo territory, to get something to drink. As we drove through we were amazed at the formations in this otherwise nondescript area.  I suppose because it was still the Navajo Nation and they respectfully and quietly walk in beauty in their surroundings not wanting invaders to disrupt the balance.  Many of the homes are built in the traditional hogan shape – octagonal, some with modern doors on them – in honor of their traditions while flexing to modernization. There are no McMansions here, mostly converted double wides, some with corrals and livestock. 

We entered Chinle as the wind picked up again and stopped at Basha Dine’ – the Navajo version of Safeway – there are no grocery chain stores here – just the usual fast food joints.  

We arrived at the nearly deserted campground and found a sunny site.  After so many days of getting up early and hiking to catch the sunrises it was nice that we were going to be stationary for a few days.  

It’s still considered winter here and the trees are bare and I’m sure it’s prettier in the spring and summer as we are surrounded by cottonwoods.  The campground has flush toilets and sinks which is very convenient for a campground.   

As the day went on the campground started to fill up – another Leisure Travel Unity arrived and we had a nice chat!  The first one we’ve encountered at a site.  

The next day we had a leisurely day walking up to the Visitor Center and talking to the local ranger who gave us tour of the hogan they have on site.  It was great to be in one that was made out of traditional materials with its east facing entrance.  

Traditional Navajo Hogan

We booked a Jeep tour of the canyon (tsegi in Navajo) with Bobbie VanWinkle who was born in Spider Rock since you can only go into the canyon proper with a guide.  

Despite the Dutch name, Bobbie is Navajo and explained there are many mixed race families who live there, but you have to be married within a clan to reside in the valley. The ride was definitely four wheel drive terrain; through washes and up muddy inclines.  The towering rock faces did not disappoint – they looked as though they had been cut out by a carving knife; they were so sheer and flat with reds and maroon veins washing down the sides.  The floor is peppered with cottonwoods though they are not indigenous and the canyon should be populated by pinion and juniper much like the canyonlands.  

We quickly came across the petroglyph and paintings that were done in some cases a thousand years ago by the Pueblo tribes.  They are now Hopi and what the Navajo refer to as the Anasazi – the Ancient Ones.  

Kiva recessed in the cliffs

We stood witness to these ancient impressions that had survived the elements for centuries.  Then the ruins surfaced on the cliff sides – the kivas and food storage with more rock paintings protected by the sheer mesa cliffs. These dwellings are scattered throughout the canyon, most inaccessible except for the archeologists who frequent the area.  The canyon itself has worn away leaving the dwellings out of climbing distance.  The most accessible are the White House and Antelope ruins that are closer to the valley floor and fenced off to keep the usual miscreants from vandalizing the sites.  The White House ruins are named due to the white plaster that reflects the sun.  We noticed graffiti carved into the face of the ruins and upon closer inspection, one of the carvings was dated 1873!  So it was the earlier settlers defacing the ruins….

As we meandered our way through the mesa, I pondered the generations of seedlings now germinating, the shifting landscape providing glimpses into lifestyles still farmed by the Navajo in the same manner they have been doing for hundreds of years; wool still spun from weathered hands that tend the sheep.  The tribes could exist now as they had a millennia ago – clinging to the lost art of the land.  

The canyon remains a pristine outback not easily disabused by modernization – the vendor at the Antelope Ruins has no cell service and works on faith that you will Venmo her the money for the pottery you just bought. 

Stubborn to evolve or worried they could lose the thread of culture and place they have fought so hard to preserve?

A perfect day mingling with the ancients – under the same blue skies and mesas they embraced so long ago.  

Monument Valley Mar 9-12

The weather system that continued to blow through the Southwest followed us to Monument Valley and we found ourselves snowed in the first day with the visitor center closed; it was basically a white out and we were stuck indoors with limited wi fi.  It’s rare thing to see Monument Valley in the snow; we had been here before nearly ten years ago, though seeing it again after so long brought the grandeur of the place back into the mind’s eye. 

By late morning, the buttes were hugged by cloud cover that dissipated as the day went on, releasing blue sky that encouraged the melt.  As soon as the roads became passable we decided to visit the Goulding Trading Post and the flurries picked up again as we made our way back to the RV park.  We extended our stay an extra day as we had a horseback ride booked but that wasn’t going to happen so we rescheduled. 

Based on weather forecasts during our planning phase, we hadn’t planned to be in such frigid temps.  We had picked up antifreeze in Page as a backup plan and were certainly were glad we did.  We poured antifreeze in the tanks and set a warming lamp by the fresh water and water pump but despite our efforts, including running faucets in the middle of the night, our pipes feeding the freshwater froze; the temperatures plunged into the teens. In the morning we turned the rig around to get the now blazing sun against the water intake side to heat things up.  

We eventually ventured to the MV Visitor Center which was virtually deserted and poked around the shop and picked up a Navajo medicine man carving, our standard magnet, and a book on the Dine’ as I am forever fascinated by the culture.  

When we got back to BigB we coaxed the water through the pipes and were relieved when they started flowing again.  

We decided to drive up to Mexican Hat and encountered the site immortalized by Forrest Gump – the scene where he’s running through Monument Valley and decided he didn’t want to run anymore; people were standing in the road trying to get selfies, even though you’re not supposed to stop in the road they of course slowed down traffic.  It was the wrong time of day to get a photograph anyway.  

We decided to lunch in Mexican Hat at the same restaurant we ate at nearly ten years before.  Another Navajo Taco..

We got back for our scheduled horseback ride.  It had gotten up into the low forties and was sunny.  The KOA (a chain of RV parks) we were staying at had a horse stable attached to it.  We met Guy who was the older Navajo gentleman in charge along with Priscilla and Harrison.  Harrison was set to be our guide for the day.  He was 26 years old and his family owned a large chunk of land in the valley.  He was a mechanic who also specialized in training horses.  

We set out to ride along the mesa that skirted the buttes.  

It was great having a conversation with Harrison – I was more interested in what he had to say than the ride as the day was getting increasingly cold and was starting to chill my bones.  

The struggle with the younger Navajo generation as they want to see progress but the elders are concerned that they will go the “white man” way. Meaning they would lose their balance, and when this happens they suffer afflications that need to be healed by their medicine men and ceremonies.  I had noticed the large branches stacked up like tee pees and suspect those were the sweat lodges they used for purification and healing.  

There is also a conundrum of availability of basic staples closer to them instead of having to drive all the way to Page to get their shopping done at reasonable prices.  If they shop at Goulding they are paying exhorbinant prices for basic goods.  

Navajo country is such a spiritual and profound place and it could easily be overrun with opportunistic developers destroying what is dearly sacred (they have already experienced this creep with the Uranium mining). We rode through the ancient mesas, their recesses still covered in spits of snow.  

We finished the day feeding the horses carrots and I was glad to stretch my aching knees and looking forward to a glass of wine. Fortunately BigB wasn’t far away, set in the backdrop of the valley.  

I’m obviously feeling the bite from the cold

As I watched the day fade, the pink hues of twilight softened the deep magenta sandstone, the brushstokes of evening blended with the landscape growing deeper as the stars began to rise.  

It’s fascinating to think that this place used to be oceanic and these buttes were part of a watery underworld.  With the way things are going it might once again reclaim that heritage.  

This landscape is not a national park, it is part of the Navajo Nation. The massive red buttes stand guard in a sacred bond; a testimony to the endurance and beauty of the the Dine’. 

Mar 9 Slot Canyons, Antelope Valley

The warm and welcoming curvatures of Antelope Valley’s Slot Canyons inspire you with a sensuality molded through centuries of monsoonal heat and floods.  The Navajo refer to the formations in the region as Navajo Sandstone; the reddish-orange volcanic sand mixed with water and baked by the sun is what they Navajo also use to build their tradition homes known as hogans.  

While part of the Navajo Nation, these canyons were never inhabited by the tribe due to the violent flash floods; species such as snakes and scorpions are some of the unfortunate victims that get swept into the slots.  Local guides collect them as they clear the canyons of the debris; diamond backs that have been stranded in the upper reaches have been known known to drop onto the canyon floor.  

One of the more striking formations is the “Lady in the Wind.”  She is nature’s version of Michaelangelo’s Slaves; figures emerging from the marble that are housed at the entrance of the Academia in Florence where his famous statue of David resides. But the Lady in the Wind is not part of any human construct; she is force of nature, forged from elemental earth and water: The Lady becomes one with the storm.  

The Lady in the Wind

The fluctuating light plays with the sloping crescents and arches throwing shades of red, yellow, orange while refracting hints of bluish black on some of the sharper edges.  

The Navajo insist on wearing masks; the tribe took a terrible hit during the pandemic so no smiling faces in the photo which is a minor sacrifice in respect for the Dine’.