We wake with first light, get up and walk to the end of the mesa we’re camped on. Standing there surrounded on 300 degrees by river gorge walls leading down to the San Juan River. It’s an amazing feeling, standing on a little rock point with half mile deep and three-quarter mile wide gorge filling all of peripheral vision. Sherman too is standing still, looking around at the view. We soak in it… We walk along the edge back to the van. The river gorge goes down in steps. The river is about 2000 feet below us. But the dropoff from the cliff we’re walking on is only 20-30 feet to the next layer.
We drive past the Garden of the Gods road. I almost turn in. I’ve heard of this place. It has the same red sandstone monument feel as Monument Valley. I drive past. I discover later that it’s also an area we could have camped in.
We get to the park. This is a Navaho Park in the Navaho Reservation and there’s a toll booth to pay the $20 per car with 1 person. Dogs free. I drive up to the Visitors Center and am having an odd feeling. As I’m exploring it, I get a call from a friend. I answer and she asks what’s up? I sound disturbed. I say this isn’t what I expected. It’s very commercialized. I want to spend time in the vastness. Not in a crowd of noisy tourists. I feel it and watch it all pass. I’m here. The landscape is spectacular. Hike your own hike… There is a road of about 10 miles that meanders around what have become some of the most photographed landscapes in the world.
What follows are photos taken along this road. To go off into the desert or hike around the monuments, one has to make an appointment for a Navaho guide.
After the drive, I pull into the Visitor’s Center lot and the odd feeling comes again. I get out to at least go in and see what there is to see. The gift shop is not of much interest. I find a historical room where there are very few people. That’s of interest. Photos and stories of the people of this area from their tribal histories, through the European expansion and wars. Being taken to a reservation off their land, and then being returned to their land, and then the reservation being greatly expanded. Then the Navaho Code Talkers of the 1st and 2nd World Wars. And into today, where they are focused on being as green as possible. As renewable as possible with water and power. Owning their own resources again.
We head for Canyon de Chelly National Monument. It’s about 2 hours away. We arrive in late afternoon. Again, the campground is less that half full. We find a spot. Walk. Eat. Sleep.