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 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.

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.

For more on our adventures, hiking, primitive skills, and desert gear, visit the Desert Explorer website.

Utah and Arizona- March 2011

21 April 2011

Nicolai and I left Colorado on 15 March and headed for our usual special camp just across the border in Utah. We expected- or at least hoped for- warm weather through the trip. We ended up with cool weather, some rain, some snow, and wind nearly every day. Knowing that this can happen in the early spring of the desert, we were prepared with plenty of winter clothing, our Sorrel boots, and goggles for the sand storms. And plenty of fire wood.

Poison Spring Canyon
We began our trip by spending 4 days down Poison Spring Canyon south of Hanksville. We tried our hand at gold panning, did some exploring up side canyons, drove down to the ford at the Dirty Devil, looked at some rock art, and made a tamarisk bow and willow arrows for Nicolai. Both of these materials worked well for his purposes. We rounded the arrow shafts the best we could and straightened them on the fire. Our next step will be to make a shaft straightener and get them really straight.

Nicolai trying out his tamarisk bow and willow arrow.

There was a lot of activity in the area while we were there. It seemed that quite a few groups were floating the river, or at least trying to, around that same time. As we understand it, some people opted out in the end, others pushed on, even while on the verge of hypothermia, and another group had to cache their equipment, hike out, and return to finish the float a couple of weeks later. We are looking forward to hearing more about everyone’s trips.

Shield figures fighting, Poison Spring canyon, petroglyph

Shield figures fighting, Poison Spring canyon.

A Drive Down to Arizona- Canyon de Chelly
After our time in the Hanksville area we headed south towards Arizona. We made our usual stops around Moki Dugway for a night, and in Mexican Hat at the San Juan Inn for breakfast. Next we 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.

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.

Navajo Code Talker memorial, Window Rock, Arizona.

Exped SynMat 7 Sleeping Pad
After Window Rock we headed back north for some camping and exploring in Cross Canyon, near Hovenweep National Monument, and further north around Blanding and Monticello and then to Moab. As we didn’t plan much in the way of backpacking for this trip, knowing it would be more of a road trip with plenty of tent nights, I finally took the plunge and invested in a new sleeping pad.

Eped SynMat 7

The Eped SynMat 7

The SynMat 7 by Exped is one of my favorite new pieces of gear in years. It has an integral pump that is operated by placing your hands over valves in the pump. I opted for the size medium-72 inch long, 20 inch wide, synthetic version. It comes in a down-filled version- the SynMat 9 Deluxe, giving a higher R value, and both are avail able in various widths and lengths. The SynMat 7 can be inflated in a couple of minutes without much effort. I had some of the best sleep I’ve had on the ground with this pad, and while it is not something I would carry in my backpack due to the weight (just under 2 pounds) and size, I will not sleep on anything else if I am at my truck or on a river trip. If you are in the market for a new pad make sure you take a look at this one.

For more gear recommendations and reviews, visit the Desert Explorer Gear Shop pages.

I am off to the Escalante in just under 3 weeks. I will be in the bush for 12 days or so, on a solo from Moody Canyon down to Coyote Gulch and back out. Check back for a trip report towards the end of May.

In the meantime, for more on our adventures, the Dirty Devil, primitive skills, and recommended gear, visit the Desert Explorer website.