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Visiting Arizona

(Re-posted from 21 and 23 April, 2011 blog posts)

Utah and Arizona- March 2011
21 April 2011

A Drive Down to Arizona- Canyon de Chelly
On our recent trip to the Four Corners region we headed a bit further south and visited Chinle and Canyon de Chelly. This is an amazing canyon, full of history and prehistory, being occupied for over 5000 years. The canyon was the final stronghold of the Diné people against forced relocation by Kit Carson and his troops in 1864. This was known as “the Long Walk” to the Diné, as they were marched to Fort Sumner in New Mexico over 300 miles away.

view south, monument valley off in the distance
Monument Valley off in the distance, on the drive south to Chinle.

The canyon is worth a visit even for a quick look if you are traveling through the area. There are driving tours on both the north and south sides of the canyon with viewing overlooks into the canyon along the way. There is only one location where you an enter the canyon without a guide, and that is to see the White House ruin. You can visit other places in the canyon by hiking or driving, even backpack there, but a guide must accompany you on the trip. Guides can be found in Chinle, and complete information can be found at the Canyon de Chelly visitor’s center.

The Hubbell Trading Post
Our drive took us on towards Ganado and the Hubbell Trading Post, where we spent and afternoon, an inadequate amount of time for a place so rich in history. While nothing can make up for the Long Walk and forced relocation, John Lorenzo Hubbell did more to help the Diné than anyone in his day. He is largely responsible for making the Navajo weaver known to the world. He helped create the craft at least in a commercial sense through the design and marketing of the “Ganado Red” rug, the quintessential style of Navajo textile.

Hubbell was a friend to the Navajo and to the artist as well. His house is full of drawings, paintings, weavings, baskets, and collections of art bought by him and given to him by many a famous artist. You can tour the house, and will find it in exactly the state lived in by the Hubbell family- it was sold to the Park Service by the Hubbell family in the 1960′s as is. Some clothes were packed up, the door was locked- this is how you will find it. The trading post itself is still in operation. You can buy supplies there, as well as contemporary weavings, baskets and other works of art. I have to mention that Teddy Roosevelt visited the place, and we saw the room and very bed where he slept- Nicolai was fascinated by this, as he is a big fan of Roosevelt.

Window Rock and the Navajo Nation Museum
We stayed the night in the Navajo Nation capital, Window Rock. There we visited the arch which gives the town its name, saw the veteran’s memorial and Code Talker memorial under Window Rock, stopped by KTNN, the nation’s radio station, for stickers, and toured the Navajo Nation museum. The museum is not to be glossed over. It is in new, modern structure whose form is after the hogan, the traditional Navajo dwelling, and of course it is entered from the east, as the hogan is.  The museum houses displays of contemporary Navajo art, historic and prehistoric artifacts, and a number of weavings of the “chief’s blanket” style that shouldn’t be missed. The museum is another “must see” if you are in the area.


Navajo Code Talker memorial, Window Rock, Arizona.

A Few Days in Southern Arizona
23 April 2011

We had the chance to head south for the week in mid-April for a few days of business and a few of exploring. While we really didn’t make it out for any hikes in the bush, we did visit two museums worth writing about.

Navajo Weavings
In Phoenix we visited the Heard Museum, spending the morning learning about the Native American boarding school experience, enjoying the Heard’s stellar collection of Hopi Katsinas, and looking at still more Navajo textiles.

The current exhibit of weavings is titled A Turning Point: Navajo Weaving in the Late 20th Century. This exhibit is on display through May 22nd. It features contemporary weavings and highlights the change taking place in Navajo weaving- what was once considered a craft is now being viewed by the weavers themselves as an art form. Until relatively recently a rug was woven, sold to a trading post or gallery, and that would be the end of the weaver’s connection to their work. Navajo weavers are now proudly taking credit for their creations, even naming them.

Today many weavings even come with a photo and name and location of the weaver attached along with the price tag. Here in Colorado we are fortunate to have lectures about Navajo textiles at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and we have attended the fund-raising rug auctions arranged by the Toh-Atin Gallery in Durango for the university’s Henderson Museum. The auction takes place every fall with the proceeds supporting the care and maintenance of the extensive collection of weavings at the Henderson Museum. One of our recent acquisitions at the auction came complete with the photo and info about the weaver who we hope to meet in our travels one day.


A Ganado Red weaving in the Heard Museum by the Navajo artist Genevieve Shirley.

The next exhibit of textiles at the Heard Museum is titled Navajo Textiles: 100 Years of Weaving and opens June 11th. It will feature weavings from the Heard’s own collection dating from the late 19th century to the present day.

And finally, if you happen to fly into Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, you must see the collection of Two Grey Hills weavings on display there. There are four cases highlighting the work of a number of weaving families. The rugs, with their rich earth tones, are a welcome and grounding sight after a morning of air travel.

The Katsinas
One of the Heard’s permanent exhibits is titled Home: Native People in the Southwest, and features artifacts from prehistoric times through the present. It covers the local indigenous cultures as well as other cultures throughout the southwest. The highlight of the exhibit for us was the collection of Katsinas, also called “Kachinas”, although the Hopi language apparently has no “ch” in it, and Katsina is the correct term. Two large cases are filled with figures, some older, but many newer. Many of them came from private collections with a wide range of figures done by individual artists. Nicolai’s  favorites by far were the Koshare or clown Katsinas, one of which is represented having fallen on his stomach and reaching out for a rooster he is chasing.

Boarding Schools
If you plan to visit the Heard any time soon- I am not sure how long the exhibit runs- be sure to see Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience. Walking through this exhibit takes you along on the journey of the reservation child to the assimilated, “productive member of society” that the boarding school was meant to create. There are many recorded reminiscences of experiences, photographs, and recreated dorm and school rooms where you will get a feel for the drab, militaristic experience the children were forced to endure. This period in our country seems largely unknown to many people. Many know that it happened in Australia for example, as presented in the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence, but most people are unaware that the same thing happened here as well.

Tucson- the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a singular reason to visit Arizona. Although the brochure says to allow 2 hours for a visit, I feel you can make a weekend trip out of a visit there. We spent about 4 hours there and it felt rushed. We did not even step inside any of the museum buildings- all our time was outside. The museum is nothing short of incredible, covering 21 acres where you will see over 1200 native plants and 300 animal species. The trails through the grounds are 2 miles in length with interpretive signs, covered exhibits, and volunteers answering questions and offering information on various topics along the way.

If you are a birder you will definitely enjoy a visit. One of my favorite birds found in the area is the Pyrrhuloxia, a very gregarious, brightly-colored bird with a loud voice. For a complete list of birds in the Sonoran desert, along with photos of most of them, visit the Cabeza Prieta Natural History Association website.

sonoran desert landscape, near tucson, arizona
View of the Sonoran Desert landscape.

Since the museum is largely outdoors, come prepared with water, hat, sunscreen, and so on, and try to visit in the cooler months. There are plenty of shady places to sit and enjoy the views or spend time identifying Sonoran desert flora, and of course indoor galleries and gift shop as well.

See also the Desert Explorer Navajo National Monument web page.

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