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Indian Country

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Picture of Canyon de Chelly cliff dwelling The Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “d’SHAY”) in Arizona is a confluence of nature and Indian heritage. It’s in the Navajo Nation, and has both Anasazi cliff-dwelling ruins and Navajo residents. The only way to visit the canyon is on a tour with Navajo guides. Their distinctive turquoise trucks have high clearance to travel on rutted dirt roads and to cross the flooded washes. The guides and drivers speak Navajo over the radio. Sometimes they need to summon help if a truck gets mired.

Photograph of Canyon de Chelly floor Picture of Canyon de Chelly floor On the floor of the canyon are sheer cliffs, hoodoos, and mesas.
 
Picture of Canyon de Chelly floor

Picture of Spider Rock at sunset

Visible from an overlook on the rim of the canyon is Spider Rock, over 244 meters high and particularly striking at sunset. In Navajo mythology, Spider Rock is the home of Spider Woman, the deity who taught the Navajo weaving and saved them from monsters.



Picture of the Grand Canyon The best-known destination in Indian Country has to be the Grand Canyon, in northern Arizona. It’s one of the great shrines of American Family Summer Vacation pilgrimage, with nearly five million visitors per year piled into SUVs, campers, and minivans. Because all those vehicles were turning the scenic road along the South Rim into an unreasonable facsimile of a Los Angeles freeway at rush hour, the National Park Service has closed the road to private vehicles from March through November. If you’re not hiking, free shuttle buses are now the only way to visit the viewpoints along the rim.

Photograph of the Grand Canyon There is good reason for the popularity. For one thing, the canyon really lives up to its name. It’s 446 kilometers long, over 16 kilometers wide, and more than 1500 meters deep. Carved over millions of years by the Colorado River, the canyon’s layers of sediment form an array of shapes that change color throughout the day. The numbers alone don’t tell the story, though. Seeing it in person is really the only way to appreciate the majestic immensity of the canyon. It’s maddeningly difficult to convey any of it in a photograph. Of the 100 or so pictures I took during my visit, these two are the only ones that come close to satisfying.


Picture of a petrified log

An easy recipe for petrified logs: Bury a tree in the right combination of water, volcanic ash, and minerals. Wait 225 million years for the silica in the ash, along with colored minerals, to dissolve and replace the cellulose in the wood, literally turning it to stone. When mountain building and erosion expose the petrified wood, you get Petrified Forest National Park in eastern Arizona.


The red rock Echo Amphitheater is north of Espanola, New Mexico.

Picture of Echo Amphitheater


Picture of artist's house in Madrid, NM Picture of mailbox in Madrid, NM Indian country isn’t entirely scenery and adobe. The town of Madrid, New Mexico is an artists’ colony with colorful old houses and studios. Even the mailboxes are eccentric.
 

Photo of Hubbell Trading Post The Hubbell Trading Post on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona is still an active trading post, although it now caters mostly to the tourist trade.

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