Greetings from the Cottonwood AZ Public Library, where I am grateful for its Wifi. We are Bajada Bill and Cactus Kate. This week represents the halfway point in our three-month travel through the Southwest. From Sunday Oct. 22 through Thursday Oct. 25 we stayed on the Navajo Reservation, which is about the size of West Virginia. All photos by Kate Poss, unless otherwise noted.
We felt the community spirit at the Red Rock Park, considered the ‘crown jewel’ of Gallup’s parks and recreation. With rodeo grounds, a museum and campgrounds. Gallup’s track team practiced at sunset. Camp neighbors are friendly.
We wanted to visit Canyon de Chelly National Monument and camped the following night at Tseyi’ Dine’ Heritage Area – Cottonwood Campground near the entrance of Canyon de Chelly. This is the only campground we’ve been in so far, where campers are advised to lock their valuables. At once we noticed how poor the area was with numerous tarpaper homes, a forlorn juvenile detention facility next to the school, a sense of desperate hopelessness among many of the locals, except for the folks at the National Monument visitor center. There are three hotels to house the tourists who come to visit the canyon, and they stand in stark contrast to the rest of the town. At the nearby Basha’s Grocery, a man approached us as soon as we stepped out of the car. He had been walking for days and was hungry. Men who looked drunk or on drugs attempted to sell us trinkets in the parking lot. Dogs lay around the parking lot, listless and skinny. The hungry man walked with us to the deli, where he picked up a package of roast chicken and ordered a large soda. After I paid for his food, he disappeared.
At sunset we drove along the southern rim of Canyon de Chelly, chatting with Andrea Bonisoli Alquati, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Cal. State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He told us he was an ornithologist studying vultures and was on sabbatical. After we visited, a Navajo boy hiking in the sandstone above us, called to us and said he found a Kokopelli etching. Bill and I scrambled up and sure enough, there was Kokopelli. The boy’s relative, who took photos of the art, said it was probably newly made by a friend of his. Later, Bill and I drove along the rim. When we exited, we saw a couple of men selling paintings of Indian art on flat stones. One poor fellow was either very drunk or stoned. His windshield and doors were held together with duct tape and flapping sheets of plastic in the late afternoon breeze. That evening we were visited by loud cracks of thunder, bolts of lightning, and pouring rain. Though we had paid for two nights at the campsite, we thought it was better to move on. We fed a couple of visiting rez dogs, females who were starving, before we left.
Bears Ears National Monument
We recalled that a couple we met camping near Aspen had mentioned how much they liked Sand Island, a BLM campground, and decided to drive about 90 minutes to that area. It is a popular destination for folks who like river rafting and kayaking along the San Juan River. We arrived to find an available campsite for $7.50 a night with our federal lands senior discount, below a sandstone bluff filled with ancient petroglyphs dating from 300 to 3,000 years ago. We visited the nearby town of Bluff, where we admired the fine Navajo rugs and jewelry at the Twin Rocks Trading Post.
From there we picked up picnic fare at Clarke’s Grocery in nearby Blanding, before driving along Hwy 191 into the Bears Ears National Monument. Established by former President Obama in 2016, the monument protected more than 1.3 million acres of incredible geology, ancient ruins, and sacred Native American sites. Former President Trump reduced the protected area by 85 percent the following year. President Joe Biden restored the monument to its original size in 2021.
From Bluff UT, we drove west toward Monument Valley, where Bill had made a reservation at $65 a night for a water/electric site at Goulding’s Resort & RV Campground.
After our arrival at camp, we rushed up to the nearby Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park entrance station to pay an $8 fee each to enter the red dirt roads surrounding Monument Valley’s iconic mesas and formations. The gate closes at 2:30 PM, although private tours in open air trams continue until sunset. It was a popular site that Wednesday afternoon. Visitors are directed to park in designated areas to photograph famous mesas. Its route follows a dusty road and the outhouses provided in places are filled to the brim by the many visitors they receive. Our favorite icon is the West Mitten. Bill’s grandparents, John and Maree Poss, loved visiting here. Maree told us this is where she would reunite with Grandad after she passed on. Grandad died in 1986, and Maree in 1992. Bill and I recalled their love for us and their spirit of adventure when we posed in front of the Mitten Lady. We were both choked by tears when a visitor took this photo.
That evening, Bill and I talked about our reaction while in Navajo Country. We have not traveled much in places where we have seen widespread poverty. We experienced many emotions–awe at the scenery and its history. Admiration for the craftsmanship of the Navajo rugs, jewelry and pottery. Frustration and fear at being approached by down and out men, some who became angry if we did not give them handouts. I Googled solutions to Navajo poverty and found this link which describes the lack of grocery stores in the Navajo Nation and promotes providing free hydroponic systems to grow fresh vegetables.
The blog’s author, Breanna Lameman, Chair Board & Diné Researcher, writes:
“The Navajo Nation Reservation is a rural area classified as a food desert by the United States Department of Agriculture. There are only 13 grocery stores that offer fresh fruit, vegetables and basic supplies in the Navajo Nation. These grocery stores are only in high population areas in the Reserve. Compared to off-reservation stores, the products sold here are poorer quality and cost more. Then there are trading posts, convenience stores, and gas stations across the Nation that offer highly processed, canned, dry, and unhealthy foods. The Navajo Nation experiences limited access to affordable healthy foods which contributes to increased obesity and diabetes prevalence among the Navajo people.
“Within the Navajo Nation, the food insecurity rate is 76.7%, which is the highest reported rate in the United States due to structural challenges, high unemployment, geographic barriers, and the limited varieties and quantities of fruits and vegetables along with difficulty to access food due to high poverty rates. Historically, Navajo people have sustained their food security through their connection to the land, water, and all living entities. Colonization and displacement have increased Native people’s likelihood of experiencing health disparities like diabetes. Colonialism changed the traditional diets of the Navajo people, which caused a change in lifestyle and created social and economic inequalities that contribute to food insecurity. Numerous issues with the Navajo people’s health, land, and water due to capitalist and colonial practices have limited the Navajo people’s availability to grow their traditional foods and to address their health issues.”
Sobered by our four days in Navajo Country, we found an embarrassment of riches at the Whole Foods store in Flagstaff AZ. I wonder at the contrast between the haves and have nots.
That’s all for now. This is Cactus Kate signing off before the library closes. Our next report will cover Sedona, Mesa and Phoenix.