Tag Archives: Navajo Reservation

Counting the Hogans Leads Us to Learning More About The Navajo People

28 Mar

As part of our Road Scholar trip we were often on the road in a bus going from one place to another.   I need activity.  I remember when my children were young finding something to count along the way: water towers, yellow cars, different license plates, helped.   Soon I found myself counting the hogans.  Joining me was my partner in anxious inactivity, we traveled with another couple, and the husband and I share this trait.  We sat by the windows and started counting.  I must say that I was better at discerning the shape of hogans better than he.

What is a hogan and why count them, you might ask?  I am glad to explain.

A hogan is a Navajo hut/home.  Originally there were two types.  The simple, smaller, tipi style Hogan was called a male hogan. They are made of wood covered in mud. These were usually used and lived in by single men.  But anyone could live in them.  It is not gender assigned in that sense.

A beautiful stone Hogan on the grounds of the Hubbell Trading Post.

The other, female hogan is much larger.  It is often multi-sided ranging from 6 to 9 sides, with differing explanations why. But one guide told us a nine-sided hogan is to represent the nine months of pregnancy.   Both males and females can live in a hogan.

The opening of a hogan always faces east to welcome the morning sun.

Although many Navajo families still have a hogan on their property for ceremonial reasons, most no longer live in hogans.  However, that is not an absolute.  They are inhabited as well.  They can also look different now.  No longer are they just mud-covered beams of tree trunks and branches, they can be made of brick, stone, wood, shingles and siding.   We saw it all.  Some have had additions put on to make them bigger.  Others stand alone and silent, somewhat decaying.  Others have had windows installed — no longer with just an opening in the east and on the ceiling to let the smoke from the stove or fire vent.

We saw our first hogan in the Heard Museum in Phoenix.  The guide explained to use how they were built and why they were used.  Being that it was inside and enclosed in the museum, it did not face the elements ,and you really could not tell that it was facing east.  But it was interesting to see.

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Hogan at Canyon De Chelly

The second hogan we entered was at the entrance to the Canyon De Chelly National Monument on the grounds of the Welcome Center. This hogan was outside.  Our guide told us stories about his family and what his grandmother told him about the meaning in parts of the hogan.  Much we had heard from our guide at the museum, but his tellings were more authentic.  Our Road Scholar guide explained later that different families have slightly different opinions. And she did correct one bit of information he gave us.  Thank you Azalia!

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Agathla Peak or El Capitan 

Our third entrance to a hogan was at a rest stop near El Capitan.  First the beauty of the surrounding area as we drew closer to Monument Canyon was stunning.  Seeing El Capitan, or Agathla Peak, an ancient volcanic plug in the horizon was amazing.  We eventually got much closer to it.  So at first I did not notice the hogans, but there they were with some information about them.

The rest stop featured two hogans, both the male and the female.  Thus for the first time we could enter the smaller one and see how it was made. I loved seeing how the interlocking forked branches and tree trunks formed the top of the male hogan.  To be honest, it was quite small, and I can see why it has gone out of use.  Unless you are camping or living off by yourself, there is not much room but to sleep and take shelter, so it is not a great living situation.

The female hogan is much better for families or daily living. The way the logs were formed for these is much more intricate, with layers of logs forming a design in the ceiling.  Some female hogans have the side logs layered horizontally. Other are formed by longs standing upright, vertically around the exterior.

So why count hogans? Well as we drove through the Navajo reservation, we had plenty of time on the bus.  And although much of the scenery was breathtaking, there were also many areas where we drove through empty dessert, except every so often we would see a group of homes where a family had its compound.  And there, among the more modern homes was often an original or remodeled hogan.   So we did what any child would do on a long trip, we found something to count and to discuss.  We counted 15 hogans.  They were a variety of colors, symmetry, materials, and shapes as we saw several connected to other additions.

Counting hogans led us to discuss what we were seeing.  How do people live out here in the middle of nowhere?  We found that solar panels have helped with electricity.   That water has to be brought in.   That addresses are basically non-existent.  Residents of these isolated compounds tell visitors to go to a certain highway marker and turn either left or right and follow a dirt road to get to their homes.

I am glad we started counting hogans because this led us to learn more about the Navajo people and their life on the reservation.

 

 

Canyon De Chelly, The Most Lovely Grand Canyon

18 Mar

Visiting Canyons seems to be my newest craze.  I have written about seeing three grand canyons in the blog below.  This past week I visited what I think is one of the loveliest canyons: Canyon De Chelly, a National Monument and National Historic Place, located in Arizona on the Navajo Reservation.

Covering over 131 square miles in three canyons that merge together, Canyon De Chelly has been the home of the Navajo people, or Dine, for hundreds of years.  The Canyon itself ranges from 30 feet deep, where you can enter it near the town of Chinle, to over 1000 feet deep.  Its red sandstone cliffs are amazing to see.  The ancient pueblo homes of the original inhabitants can be viewed from the top of the Canyon as well as some by tours to the bottom.

There is more than just beautiful scenery and astonishing sites to be seen, there is the history of the Navajo to be learned.

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Spider Rock

We visited the rim alongside Spider Rock, where the Navajo believe that the Dine emerged into this world. She helped her people learn skills and protected them.  The Spider Rock is an amazing natural stone structure. To see its reach to the sky from the bottom of the canyon helps to envision the Navajo legends about the Spider Woman who lived there.  How else could one get up there?  It is just majestic as it reaches over 800 feet from the bottom.

Pueblo dwellers also lived in the Canyon.  You can still see the remains of their structures at White House and the Mummy Cave, as well as at other spots.  We viewed these two sites.  And they are amazing that so many centuries later the buildings are still recognizable and seem to exist outside of time.

But it is not only the formations and the ancient pueblos that make Canyon De Chelly special, it is also the history.  Navajo peoples have lived in the valley for centuries. It is here that they had their orchards and their farms.  It is here that Kt Carson, under the auspices of the US government, invaded the canyon to remove the Navajo. He used a scorched earth policy to destroy and starve the people in the Canyon. In an act of terror and misguided desire to cleanse the canyon of its native peoples, thousands were killed and rounded up for a long and treacherous march to New Mexico in 1864, where the Dine were kept prisoner at Fort Sumner for four years.

Finally, in 1868, the Navajo people were allowed to return home to their Canyon and try to rebuild their lives on what was now a protected Reservation. They were not returned to all their lands, but part of them.  This beautiful site still carries the memories of those who did not survive.  Some families still have claim to the land in the canyon’s valley. They still farm there and live there in the summer months.  To learn what happened to the Navajo/Dine people was depressing.  To see how harsh the US was on the first peoples made me want to cringe. But I felt some lightness of spirit to see that the canyon has been returned.

We visited the Canyon in March, where it was not supposed to be snowing, on a Road Scholar educational program.  It was informative and wonderful.  I must say the snow enhanced the beauty of the stone and the canyon.  Although we were unable to go to tour the bottom of the canyon as planned, due to the water and mud, seeing what we did was more than enough to make us deem this the loveliest of the Canyon’s we had seen.

I am glad that we decided to not just go to the Canyon De Chelly, but to have two excellent guides, one Navajo and one Hopi, from the Road Scholar program, who guided us through the two reservations and explained the history of their peoples as well as the magical and beautiful places we visited.

https://zicharonot.com/2018/08/15/my-third-grand-canyon-waimea-canyon-kauai/

 

Monument Valley Invokes Images Of My Dad

16 Mar

Monument Valley straddles Utah and Arizona, but for me it straddles my childhood and adulthood. I often watched old John Ford movies with my Dad, who was a major John Wayne fan. My job was to iron on the weekends, exactly when these old movies were on television. It gave me something to watch as I suffered through this chore and created a bonding time with my Dad.

Dad loved any John Wayne movie, military, westerns, Irish themed. I was more picky. There were three I loved. “The Quiet Man,” “The Searchers” and my favorite of all, “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.” The last was filmed in Monument Valley, so I knew that one day I would make the trek to see this spectacular site. Finally I made it. It was more than I anticipated.

The visit came on the last touring day of a weeklong Roads Scholar program learning about the Hopi and Navajo Peoples and visiting their reservations. Monument Valley is located in the Navajo Reservation. It was worth the wait. Usually I write about my trips in order. But the emotional impact forced my mind to focus on this experience.

We arrived soon before lunch at the Goulding’s Trading Post, where we had time to visit some of the sites before we had lunch and continued into the valley. The movie crew used some of the outside of the buildings for the movie, including a storage building that became the office of Captain Nathan Brittles. Of course that was my first stop. John Wayne played this character in the movie. And although it is a small space lined with movie memorabilia, it touched a nerve in me. I started to cry as I exited the building, just missing my Dad.

The after lunch experience created moments of awe. As we toured the valley, stopping at many vistas along the way, including John Ford Point, and seeing sites that were visible in the movie, I kept thinking about my Dad. He would have LOVED seeing Monument Valley! He would have told me about every scene with a bit of Goulding’s or the Valley were in.

Dad would have relished the beauty of the valley. The bright red sand stone and majestic buttes would have inspired him as they inspired me. There are no words. Majestic is too small! Unbelievable is too trite! Incredible is ridiculous! Photos do not do it justice. Traveling along the 17 mile loop and listening to the young Navajo guide tell you the names given to the buttes and why they were named is a little surreal.

John Ford’s Point.

These buttes do not need names. They need appreciation! Each one still a work in process as the cold and water still invade the sandstone and split through the crevices causes giant portions of stone to fall and then crumble at the base.

I really felt Dad was with me in Monument Valley. Another woman on my trip was also on a pilgrimage in tribute of her husband who had passed away. He also loved old John Wayne movies. We decided that they were up there together watching us as we toured this site. And at the final stop on our tour of the Valley, she played her flute for the group. Her haunting melody swept across the silence, its lament echoed the sadness in my heart that my Dad never made it here. But at the same time the echoes of the music, the unbelievable, majestic and fantastic vistas brought me joy. Because I was there and in remembering my Dad I keep him alive.

I am so fortunate to have found the perfect educational program, great guides and wonderful experience to remember my Dad.