Bandelier, Canyon de Chelley, Petrified Forest

Trip Start Mar 26, 2006
Trip End Oct 20, 2006

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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Sunday, April 16, 2006

We've covered some territory since my last entry and strangely I'm not much in the mood today for a surface-level account of our travels here and there. There's juicy stuff surfacing, and though this is technically a "travel blog," I'm starting to realize that "the journey" has less to do with where I've been and more to do with something much more personal and internal. The defensive, vulnerable part of myself quickly writes this off as "thinking" and tells me to just jot down a few safe, witty travel remarks, but my heart says otherwise. Maybe I'll just get on with writing this and leave the judgment and "thinking" for later - a written meditation of sorts.

To start, since quitting my job two months ago (two months!) with National Geographic, I've hardly slept a night that hasn't been interrupted by an incredibly vivid dream. This might be normal for some, but I seldom if ever remembered a dream until leaving my job.

One night I dreamed that I was a woman on a boat in the ocean and fishing for sharks. I was very afraid as I reeled in an enormous shark I had caught, lost my balance, and plunged into the water next to the shark. The (male) shark began speaking to me, explaining that I, too, was a shark and I didn't believe him until he touched the gills on my face and I realized that I was breathing underwater.

In another dream, I confronted my best friend from high school about the unspeakable things he did to someone very important to me which didn't come into the open until much later. As I calmly challenged him, he burst into tears, apologizing profusely. A wave of calm acceptance washed over me and I told him that I forgave him. I awoke from the dream feeling quiet and at peace.

The release from the tension and frustration of trying to somehow etch out a creative space for myself at National Geographic seems to have somehow freed something within me. I'm grateful for having had the opportunity there, and I'm grateful for having had the freedom to leave. Life is mystery.

After the dreams, the second thing that's been on my mind is the nature of Travel itself, which is like an ongoing reminder of post-meditation. For anyone not familiar with this idea, "post-meditation" is essentially the idea that though one gets up from their cushion when they've finished a period of meditation, there's actually no difference between the state you're in while on the cushion versus off. The fact that I sit down on a cushion and say, "Ok - NOW I'm meditating," is just a mental construct. In essence, we're actually meditating all the time.

In my case, where I've sold my house and quit my job, there's not really anywhere to call "home." The closest thing I have to "home" at this point is the circle of friends and family, Todd, and our beautiful Sophie Dog, who are actually scattered all over the country. Home no longer has a geographic coordinate that I can call my own.

This makes travel feel very intimate. Since I have no home to go back to, home is wherever I am right now. So then throw into the mix the fact that while on the road I'm studying for a Buddhist Sutrayana seminary this summer - little ideas like "impermanence" and "egolessness" - and I can't help but just throw my arms into the air and throw myself (whatever that is) into the travel. So there you have it.

So now that all that's out of the way, I can dish out a few travel details for the sake of cyber-posterity.

Oooooohh - one more somewhat gross "life" detail. My allergies have absolutely exploded in the Southwest and my nose decided to reincarnate as Niagara Falls. I am forever indebted to Ms. Betsy Cullen, the boddhisattvic and eccentrically talkative Nurse Practitioner in Santa Fe who agreed to save me from my nose for a reduced fee since I currently have no health insurance. (Yes - still "negotiating" with good ol' Blue Cross Blue Shield to get coverage. I am fully aware that traveling under these circumstances is highly irresponsible and writing about this puts a knot in my stomach. On the flip side - what's a guy to do? Should I sit around Boulder waiting for the man behind the curtain at Blue Cross to pull the right lever, at which time I can click my heels three times and prance off down the yellow brick road?)

Ok, ok...some travel details.

Bandelier was an interesting one day stop. This began the "high places" part of our journey, which is entertaining since Ranger Todd is uncomfortable with - no downright horrified of - heights. He did very well as we climbed further and further up near-vertical rough-hewn wooden ladders to reach Ceremonial Cave, where there was once an Indian dwelling and kiva. Now there's a reconstructed kiva that we climbed down into. The hawks soaring overhead against the clear blue sky were a nice touch.

We also discovered a new interest in learning about how the earlier peoples used the various thorny and spiky plants - diapers made from juniper bark, soap made from the roots of yucca, cold and cough medicine made from Mormon tea (a substance used in today's cough medicine called "Ephedra"). And for all of you conservative anti-environmentalists out there, a statistic that even I, a self-respecting Liberal, found surprising. Half of all pharmaceuticals produced today are derived from substances found in nature. So though you may not like to go into those protected woods to bang on bongo drums with a bunch of other naked men to find your inner self, keep this in mind next time you go to pick up your prescription. Or cast your next ballot. Touche!

After a night at the dusty, uninspiring campground at Bandelier, we drove through Gallup, New Mexico, visited the Eagle, a restaurant recommended by our "Road Food" book (thanks Bill!!!) for their super tender but super grease-o-rama lamb stew, and checked out the beautiful but - wow! - expensive handcrafted Indian silver and turquoise jewelry at Richardson's Trading Post next door. (Sorry, Mom, but I'm going to have to find your Christmas present somewhere else. Or lower my standards. Or both. But oooh - it's for Mom!)

We made our way through beautiful but drought-stricken Navajo reservation lands, asking ourselves along the way what people do for work here, to Canyon de Chelley National Park, which sits right in the center of the Navajo Reservation. This is as close to modern indigenous culture as it gets. At the base of the canyon's thousand-foot walls are farms and hogans of Navajo families who live here during the summer and work the earth with metal hoes. Not a tractor or electrical pole in site. And the only way to visit the canyon's impressive cliff dwelling ruins, perched on natural rock shelves high up on the canyon walls, is to hire a guide.

Our guide was lighthearted and friendly and humbly comfortable with himself. He didn't flinch when describing the massacre of his people just over 140 years ago, and he wasn't vindictive or apologetic when he said that the man who'd led the massacre was eventually tracked down and killed by an Apache Indian whose tribe had also been decimated.

I'm a little relieved to learn that the encroaching U.S. troops were eventually so disgusted by their own treatment of the people here that they finally released the few remaining Navajo prisoners and allowed them to reclaim this canyon, though I still feel a little twinge of guilt for coming here at all to fulfill my curiosity about this culture and its beliefs. There's so much to learn about the cultures and religions here in the Southwest and I haven't found the time or motivation to pick up a book and read about them. Yet. Instead I'm looking for the quick tourist fix that will package everything in a to-go bag for me to digest as I'm driving to the next stop.

The canyon is beautiful, the open-topped jeep ride is bouncy, and i take delight in subversively calming my fellow passengers with not-so-subtle one liners like, "Isn't the canyon gorgeous?" and, "The sky is so blue here" when they start to freak out after our jeep breaks down halfway out of the canyon and the guide's radio isn't working. One couple finds a nearby rock overhang to inhabit as we wait for another jeep to rescue us, and soon we're cheesily welcoming the other passengers to join us in our cliff dwelling. I think I'm funny when I apologize to the newcomers for not finishing the walls before inviting them over.

Todd and I take in all of the overlooks of both the South and North rim drives, spend the night in the FREE park campground, lightly sponge off our now three-day-unshowered selves, then pack up camp the next morning.

Next stop is Petrified Forest National Park, which is a forest, that's petrified. No surprises there, eh? Lots of downed logs that got covered with volcanic ash and silica-laden water and slowly turned to stone in the slime and the muck 250 million years ago. The bluish-purplish clay that cradles the wood is particularly eye-catching, as are the multi-colored layers of sediment and conglomerate that are eroding away to expose the logs. The most impressive statistic about this park is that ONE TON of petrified wood is "borrowed" (stolen) by visitors here every month. Goodbye natural wonder - hello dry barren fields! I'm content to leave with just a few pictures.

We aimlessly wander/drive our car to an undeveloped campsite tucked away in a national forest just outside Flagstaff. The tall ponderosa pines, crisp air, and snow-blanketed mountain peaks reflecting in the nearby lake remind me of Colorado, and during the night, camped out in the back of our SUV, we listen to the sound of rainfall tapping gently on the roof. The next morning, wisps of clouds hovering above the peaks in the early morning light make me cheerful.

Flagstaff's higher elevation and cooler temperatures take us by surprise, so different from the arid desert country we've started to acclimate to. The casual fleece and jeans-wearing crowd downtown makes us feel like we've been transported back to Boulder, and in the afternoon I meet a cool, well-seasoned world traveler, Evan, who makes his current home in Sedona but thinks he's "done his time" in the U.S. and is contemplating a permanent move to India where he has visited/lived/experimented with various substances and spiritual practices and teachers before. His straight, longish gray hair is the scientist's right out of Back to the Future. We stand in the funky world-instrument/spiritual store, Sacred Rites, talking spirituality and religion for over an hour, surrounded by sitars, and gongs, and flutes, and spiritual implements from every corner of the world.

This afternoon, we've landed in the funkiest place of our trip yet - Macy's - a lively bohemian coffee joint with a ratty klezmer band playing outside on the sidewalk. Excellent! Todd just arm-wrestled the barrista and received a free coffee drink when she called a tie. The staff was impressed. She's a firefighter and doesn't lose to customers often. I could hang here for awhile - this is the place to be.

Enough for now - time to go dance in the sidewalk to klezmer.

Sending you all much love.

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