Sunday, June 23, 2013

Where You’ll Fear to Tread

They say that the core of the Navajo spirituality is balance. Balance with nature. Balance within the soul. In everything they do, the Navajos strive to restore balance and harmony.

I am still fuzzy on who chose who first: the Navajo nation – the Utah/Arizona/New Mexico land? Or the other way around? You may travel there and you may never get to speak to a native, but when you look at their surroundings, savor their food, marvel at their art work, you’ll see the spirit of harmony in everything around them. And it slowly seeps into your own soul.

We took a trip around Utah, yet again, a couple of weeks back. This time, we included the Monument Valley area, which we had never seen before. We were travelling with some friends, all huddled in a car, all chatting about our boring lives and travails. The chatter came to a sudden stop as we approached the Monument Valley Tribal Park. We all subconsciously felt like something beyond our imagination or understanding was about to happen.

We paid our fee (similar to a state park fee), we parked our car, we walked into the hotel to check in, and there – beyond the lobby windows, the vast valley opened up. It was so majestic, so splendid, so beyond words … we were afraid to breathe. We felt like we were in a temple, and we were afraid we’ll disturb other people’s prayer time. 

The iconic trio: West, East Mittens and Merrick Butte, right outside our hotel - before sun setting 

The View Hotel is perched atop the mountain that borders The Valley to the West (I think). Its view, from every room, is the whole display of beauty and rocky majestic-ness that this natural park offers. There are small, uninteresting windows opening to the West in this hotel. Every room, every common area (restaurant, store, lobby) open to the East, so that you can take in the beautiful scenery. 

A room with a view: The View Hotel, hanging off the cliff, above Monument Valley Park 

I will not pretend that I have even an iota of the talent that would be able to render in words what beauty was before my eyes in this place! I will just tell you that this is one of the very few places on Earth that moved me to my core, and left me completely helpless and empty. 

The Mittens, while the sun still lathers everything in light 

In face of such grandeur and beauty one feels small and unimportant. All my fears, personal daily dramas and ambitions are insignificant and futile. I am not sure what it is that had such an effect on me. The territory is vast and red desert. The vastness is again understated. As far as your eye can see and beyond, there is nothing but flat red rock. Very little vegetation, almost not worth mentioning. Then, scattered on this plateau, there are the giant rock formations, some springing over a thousand feet off the floor of the valley – true altars for various gods, it seems.

Their shape is one thing to marvel about, their colors in the various lights of the sun is another. The stark contrast between the nothingness of the valley and the somethingness of the mesas and buttes is what is surprising and amazing at the same time. 

The road towards Elephant Butte and the Camel Buttes 

You go to Greece and Italy and you visit the ruins of ancient temples, with nothing but their columns still sticking up into the world. It’s the same thing here, only here, God and nature built them, to begin with. That’s where the humility and smallness you feel come from, I guess, too.

We got there around sunset. We drove a bit on the dirt road of the park, that takes you closer to the rock formations, but we turned around, in a thick cloud of red dust, after a mile or so of very harsh and bumpy driving. The bumps and rocks we drove over were completely worth it, though! You can take a Navajo guide to drive you the entire length of the road (17 miles), or you can do most of it yourself. However, you not only need a 4 wheel drive car (which we had), but you need lots of clearance underneath.

Elephant Butte in the eerie light of the sunset 

After the drive, we gathered on our room patio, with drinks and cameras, to take in the view and watch as the sun was setting behind us, casting unreal shades on the formations before our eyes. The whole valley went from burning red orange to muted mustard yellow to dark brown in an hour or so. Every five minutes, the valley looked different, and grew short lived shades that were coming and going with no explanation whatsoever. 

Looking at the sun setting through the Three Sisters formation 

If there is one word that could describe the whole view while all these changes were happening, that word would be “harmony”. Nothing, not an air bubble, not a fleeting doom, not a pebble, not a wall, not even a shade of a color was out of place. It all sang beautifully in unison, in the grand opera theater of Monument Valley, beyond our railings.     

Mitchell Mesa casting an enormous shadow over the valley floor, towards Elephant Butte 

We were all in awe! The hand of God at work, right before our eyes! I cannot explain why a set of rocks in the sunset light is breathtaking and life changing. But it just is. You’ll just have to travel the roads and see for yourselves.

Millions of years were passing before my brain’s eyes, as I was watching the spectacle: how these rocks came to be, alone and resolute in the middle of nothingness, standing stubbornly for millions of years and facing the same sun. Then, a closer history, of the American Natives – how they found this land and how it spoke to them. How they figured, as I figure now, that some of these mountains are sacred and they belong to a higher being they ask for protection and balance. The long years of pain the Navajos went through, all looking at this beauty and praying on each rock that tomorrow will bring something better. All of these thoughts moved the last fiber inside of me, with shivers of piety and respect.

And today, I am witness. I thanked not only God and nature for all this beauty. I thanked the Navajos and even the White Man for preserving it and keeping it whole. I thanked my parents for giving me life and for sending me into the world to explore such beauty. I thanked my husband for driving me there. And thanked God once again for giving me the brain and the heart to understand and appreciate it all.

After the sun set, the valley looked just like a stage after the performance closed: the décor was all there, untouched, deserted and dusty. The spotlights were off. The players went home. The silence was heavy and overwhelming. That’s the thing about the desert: there are no sounds. There are no trees to swish, no stream to gurgle nearby. It’s silence and you. And you have to figure out what you’re going to do with yourself now, all alone and lost. 

 The Mittens and Merick Butte, right before the sun set - last glimpses of light ...

The people who inhabit this area are just as surprising and interesting as the world around them. The food they cook is deliciously home made and so deep in flavor and rich in ingredients. My husband is not a fan of hominy, but if you’re going to find good hominy, you’ve got to let the Indians make it for you – he loved it, here. The green chili chicken stew with blue corn tortilla is absolutely to die for – best comfort food I have ever had! 

 Navajo coziness: our room at The View Hotel and the green chilli and chicken stew at The View Restaurant

Everyone was so nice and laid back, always willing to please in small and unintruding ways. They all have a wisdom about them, carved sharply in their features. They look at the world with different, mature and astute eyes, deepened in thought and insight not accessible to us, regular humans. They have a seriousness that’s not in the least off-putting, but rather calming and soothing about their gaze.

On our way out of the reservation, we stopped at a small hut where a Navajo girl and her grandfather were selling jewelry made by hand right here, in the park. The Navajos are renowned silversmiths, we have learned. It’s the first time I saw silver beads threaded on silver thread – no fishing line there, no cotton thread. It gives the jewelry more firmness, while it preserves the fragile look about it. 

The girl apologized that the jewelry looks dirty with what might be perceived as dust. She explained that it’s not dust, but that they blessed it with corn pollen, for good luck, as many people ask them to bless their “gifts”. I didn’t find it dirty at all – the pollen was left behind and what I brought home was beautiful, shiny, clean silver.

The grandfather talked to us, too. He wore a huge silver buckle, with a giant turquoise stone in the middle, to hold up his Levi’s jeans. He wore a straw cowboy hat, too. He told us he was tired. He had gotten back from Flagstaff (Arizona), where he has a grandson that graduated from high school – so he went there to witness that with the boy’s family. Times have changed, I guess. Old and new live happily here, as well. 

The crafts hut, inside the Tribal Park - check out the flag. 

Driving away from it, I felt like leaving a church. I had left all my prayers and deeper thoughts locked in that place, entrusted them with God and those people who will make sure they reach Him. 

"When the music's over: turn out the lights..." 
(click on the picture for a complete album of the pictures of all the magical places we saw on this trip)

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