On Wednesday [Damóo dóó tágíjí] morning ['abíní] we had an early breakfast [abínígo da'adánígíí] in Grants [Naatooh sik'ai'í] and started down I-40 in the direction of Albuquerque [Bee'eldííldahsinil]. We got our first view of Mount Taylor [Tsoodzi to our north [náhook-s] and the Malpais on both sides of the highway near Grants [Naatooh sik'ai'í]. For the Navajo, the hardened lava flows from Mount Taylor [Tsoodzi are the blood [di of the monster Yé'iitsoh who was slain by Changing Woman's twin sons, Monster Slayer [Naayéé' Neezghání] and Born for Water [Tó'bájíshchíní]. We drove for many miles along I-40 with the physical evidence of this battle on both sides of us!
At McCarty's we left the high speed travellers behind and took the road through Acoma country to the Acoma visitor center. We now had a much quieter drive, as well as the chance to stop shortly before reaching our destination to take in an overview of the landscape from the top of a mesa. The silence was a relief after driving on I-40, and the view was spectacular. Again just another average winter morning in the high country! We could see "Sky City" on its mesa top in the midst of a broad valley with the Enchanted Mesa beyond. We glided down the steep mesa slope and drove the last few miles to the visitor center and bought bus tickets for the tour of the old pueblo city. While we waited for the bus to leave, we walked from booth to booth outside to see the pottery for sale and visit with the potters. One of the things most strongly associated with Acoma is the incredible pottery made by the people of the pueblo. Their traditional pottery is exquisite with complex geometric designs painted with yucca brushes on extremely thin walled pots or stylized birds and animals painted on these same thin walled pots. There are also potters taking the old skills into new directions, producing square boxes, pyramids, owls and other new pottery styles.
The small bus took us on the five minute drive to the top of the mesa and left our group of 6 tourists with the guide for an hour within the village. It was a cold and blustery January morning and few of the tables placed outside of the houses were occupied. The mesa top was almost deserted. In fact, few people still live atop the mesa all year. They have moved to McCartys and Acomita where the amenities of life are more certainly provided. We were taken first to the San Esteban del Rey Mission, a massive adobe structure overlooking the valley and a small graveyard. The far side of the graveyard is supported by a rock wall that has held it up from collapse onto the valley floor for centuries. The interior of the mission was a complete surprise -- there were no seats anywhere! This and the high ceiling contributed to the feeling of great openness here. The stations of the cross were painted on the side walls; the confessional was in back, beside the doors. The altar was simple. A high window on the south side let in the winter light of the desert sun. The emptiness of the room seemed to make it an integral part of the surrounding landscape instead of something foreign imposed upon it.
When we went back outside, we again took in the view of the valley, looking east from the edge of the mesa. We noticed that several of the tables were now occupied by women setting out their pots for sale. Our presence had been noted. It was certainly no day to sit outside and wait for customers! At the first table there were several small seed pots having intricate geometric designs. I had great difficulty making a decision but finally decided upon the pot with the Kokopelli playing his flute and dancing up the side. After looking at the other tables, both Lori and I decided that I had made the right decision. I also noticed a man selling piñon nuts from a booth near his house and obtained a pound for use during the rest of our trip.
We walked around the rest of the pueblo, looking at handmade Christmas ornaments leftover from the holiday season and other small pots. Near the end of our tour we came to a house where, despite the weather, two small children were playing outside in shorts. We could not pass up the offerings at this table; on this cold and windy January morning, freshly made pineapple cookies were available at an outdoor table in front of a stone house on top of a mesa in the middle of a desert valley. This monument to the flexibility of the human race was irresistible. Lori and I bought a small ziplock bag to share and they were delicious.
Just as we were walking on, a man in a light jacket walked out of one of the houses, put his arm around Lori's shoulder and asked how she could be so cold while wearing that much down. He looked at her red ears and commented that they looked like they might fall off!
At this point the tour was over. We had a choice of climbing down the path down the side of the mesa or going back to a heated room and waiting for the bus. Lori and one other member of our group elected to climb down the path. Those of us carrying pottery elected to wait for the bus with the guide and two others. As we rode down, we passed Lori and her friend only 5 minutes away from the visitor center (by foot).
At the visitor center, we toured the museum, which had many artifacts of the last century of life at Acoma, and visited their shop. Strangely, they did not carry much pottery from the local potters there, perhaps not to compete with the booths outside. They did have the largest and most varied supply of T-shirts that I had seen. I chose T-shirts for all of the grandchildren and picked up a few special ones for myself.
We had managed to spend most of the morning already, and it was getting close to time to meet Lori's sister, Royallynn, in Casa Blanca. We drove the 12 miles back to I-40 and the Casa Blanca Shopping Center, near the Laguna Pueblo. When we got there, we saw that Lori's sister had not yet arrived so we went into the grocery/general store. I headed immediately for the small crafts shop in the rear where I had once found a miniature kachina from my favorite carver, JJ. There were none there today and no ribbon shirts in my size. However, here was a large supply of fireworks in stock. Lori and I were trying to decide whether to buy the large Gemini assortment pack to leave as an anonymous gift for the Gemini Project, when Royallynn walked up. We broke off our consideration of the fireworks to allow Lori and Royallynn to embrace and assess the changes in each other since they last saw each other. We went outside where I talked them into a visit to the Blue-Eyed Indian Bookstore before we went our separate ways. The Blue-Eyed Indian Bookstore is owned and operated by Lee Marmon, the Laguna photographer who made the famous "White Man's Moccasins" photograph that can be found on posters, T-shirts and book covers. He is also the father of Leslie Marmon Silko, the Laguna author of poetry, short stories and novels, as well as co-author of a book of letters between the poet James Wright and herself.
The bookstore is split into two parts, one stuffed with books, mostly used, and the other a gallery of photographs, many of Laguna elders, taken by Lee Marmon. This shop also carries a substantial selection of literary cariacture T-shirts, posters and contemporary Native American literature. He was temporarily out of Neon Pow-Wow but I bought a poster for a conference on Women Who Rode Away New Lives in the Southwest - featuring a photograph of Georgia O'Keefe seated on the back of a motorcycle ready to ride off into the desert. While we were there a young father and his two children picked out some "new" books to take home to read after active debate over the merits of various books.
We still had to move Lori's belongings (all that laundry!) to Royallynn's truck and to decide what of her recent collections she would leave with me to continue their travels and what to take to Albuquerque. She gave Royallynn her choice of the petrified wood pieces which she had collected in the mudhills near Nazlini. Lori lost her cottonwood leaf shaker that rattled so beautifully in the breeze at White House Ruins in Canyon de Chelly when Royallynn fell in love with it. Since the sand collection needed more extensive examination, it also moved to the truck.
While the examination of artifacts and decision making was going on, the Cookie Monster was causing another stir in the parking lot. Lots of smiles and waves were exchanged with shy Acoma and Laguna children and their mothers. The truck headed east [ha'a'aah] past the Laguna pueblo to Albuquerque. I drove the van west ['e'e'aah] again on I-40 past Grants [Naatooh sik'ai'í] to Thoreau [Dló'áyázhí]. There I turned off the interstate and toured the town of Thoreau [Dló'áyázhí] looking for the Navajo Crafts Cooperative there. Unfortunately it was closed when I found it, so I headed north over the cuestra of Mesa Verde sandstone to Crownpoint [T'iists'óóz nídeeshgiizh] to check out the Navajo run community college, Crownpoint Institute of Technology, which had advertised some job openings in the Navajo Times. There are several large old stone homes, showing classic Morman [Gáamalii] stonework, under the shade of large, old cottonwood trees not far from the new campus. I spent some time driving around the town, cruising the shopping mall and the back streets. I had hoped to see some sign that I had happened on one of the monthly Crownpoint [T'iists'óóz nídeeshgiizh] rug auctions, but I saw none. I decided that it was time to move on and turned on to the road out of town. I hoped to end today by finding the trail to the bat [jaa'abaní] cave in plenty of time to make the hike tonight, so I had to plan my time carefully, an uncharacteristic mode of travel for me.
After driving for 15 minutes or so away from Crownpoint [T'iists'óóz nídeeshgiizh] I began to feel that I might not be on the right road. This was not a part of the Navajo reservation that I knew well. I had thought that I would be traveling north toward Bisti, but the landscape did not appear to be trending toward those land forms. I dismissed my concerns at first because these were not roads that were a part of my soul as are the roads in the Kayenta [Todineeshzhee] -- Chinle[Ch'ínlí] - Round Rock [Bis doot['izh deez'áhí] area have become.
I began to pass towns that I knew I should not be passing - Standing Rock [Tsé'íí'áhí], Coyote Canyon [M['iitééhyít2izhí] - so I pulled over and got out my atlas of New Mexico [Yootó Hahoodzo]. (It had not been easy to reach for consultation because I had not yet reorganized the car [chidí] for convenient use as the sole occupant.) The map confirmed the fact that the sun would still set in the west ['e'e'aah], the earth had not quietly tilted on its axis today. I had forgotten that Crownpoint [T'iists'óóz nídeeshgiizh] lay at the intersection of two main roads in northwestern New Mexico [Yootó Hahoodzo], and I had gotten on the "other" road by mistake. It was now late enough that my only choice was to return to Crownpoint [T'iists'óóz nídeeshgiizh], drive back to Thoreau [Dló'áyázhí], take I-40 to Grants [Naatooh sik'ai'í] and NM 53 south to the trailhead. With any luck, I would have time to take the hike.
So, with the sun dropping at my back, I retraced my steps. At Grants [Naatooh sik'ai'í] I turned my back on Mount Taylor [Tsoodzi and drove along the edge of the Malpais to the El Calderon trailhead. I grabbed my hiking stick and headed out rapidly over the lava field, past Junction Cave and between the two fractured lava tubes, across the high desert valley in the twilight to a hoped for rendevous with the bat [jaa'abaní] colony as they left their cave for a night of food gathering. I made it to the cave entrance in plenty of time to read the small marker placed there. The bats [jaa'abaní] are only summer [sh3 sh98go] residents of this cave, spending their winters [haigo] in Mexico! Of course, this made sense in retrospect, and it is hard to begrudge a beautiful evening hike across the high desert in utterly splendid isolation. So feeling only slightly stupid, I took a more leisurely hike back to the van, remembering the pleasure and excitement of taking this same hike with Steve, Suzan and 8 year old Ryan on a spectacular August [Bini'anit'22ts'ózí] night, surrounded by thunderstorms, sure we would be soaked any minute, and watching thousands of bats [jaa'abaní] spiral out of the cave and spread across the New Mexico [Yootó Hahoodzo] landscape. After returning to the parking lot that night, we stayed so Ryan could watch the spectacular lightning show for at least another half hour. When you get to see the gods come down from the heavens for your first time, special dispensation is easy to obtain.
This night I returned to Grants
[Naatooh sik'ai'í] to
get a good night's sleep for tomorrow I want to hike in the De-Na-Zin
and Bisti Wilderness area. Darkness having already preceded me into
Grants [Naatooh sik'ai'í],
a quick motel search, a
spartan motel tonight, and a fast dinner were sought. Since there was
no one to talk with for the next few days, my poetry books would
return as my companions at meals and before sleep.
I will begin with my first serious reading of Luci Tapahonso's new book of
poems Sáanii Dahataa[
Are Singing. My special poem for this evening is They are Silent and Quick.
Recommend this website to a friend!
Navajo Spaceships, Star Mountain and Rez Memories, An Online Writing Journal, Prose & Poetry by John Rustywire, Navajo
An aerial view of the Acoma Pueblo from the National Aerial Photography Program of the USGS is available.
An early photograph, a cyanotype, of Acoma Pueblo, may be seen at the Detroit Publishing Company exhibit in the American Memory section of the Library of Congress WWW site.
A ca. 1920 picture of the Mission of San Estevan at Acoma, before its restoration can be found at the Special Collections and Archives Department at Cline Library, Northern Arizona University.
A ca. 1920 picture of the Acoma Pueblo is also found in the Cline Library Archives.
A dozen photographs of Laguna Pueblo, ca. 1920, are found in the Special Collections and Archives Department at Cline Library, Northern Arizona University.
A page on bats and bat houses is available from Jim Buzbee.
Subscribe to American Indian Art Magazine
New Mexico Magazine
Books by Luci Tapahonso
Books on Native American Pottery
Books on Kachinas
Visit The Sonoran Desert 5000 square miles of silence.
© 1994 - 2003 Karen M. Strom
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