navajo

Solo Road Trip as Rite of Passage: Challenges + Reservations

Santa Fe sunrise

I hit the road late the next morning, taking the time to catch the sunrise and organize and inevitably run a little bit behind schedule. I also bled on the sheets and had to clean them although my rock star host was like, “sweetie, you’re not the first and you won’t be the last.” Rock on.

First stop was the New Mexico Public Lands Information Center to pick up a physical map I didn’t end up needing, but am glad I have. I had heard that navigation got kind of spotty in the reservations, but I no issues with it at all so take that hours of research!

KASHA KATWE TENT ROCKS

By 9:30 AM I was in the Cochiti Reservation in the eeriest fog I had seen yet. A few days away from Halloween / Samhain / Die de los Muertos, this very literal veil covering the landscape delighted me. I was en route to the  Kasha Katwe Tent Rocks and growing concerned about visibility. Maybe I should just turn around and head straight to Albuquerque, I thought as the mist thickened around me. But I was so close and it would be fun and cool regardless. I paid the $5 entrance fee and the young man at the gate assured me I’d have a cozy hike with minimal other humans. My favorite.

Equipped with my very cool person’s hiking poles, I’m off on my way. The tent rocks are these very cool rock formations formed over ancient vocation eruptions and trekking through the fog with them and these massive trees with exposed roots and ravens flying overhead felt like a weird Poe-esque western and I was about it, baby. I ran into a few families and couples on my way. There’s a really lovely greeting that happens between people at national parks. It’s like we all know we’re here to appreciate the fucking majesty of nature and so every exchange is infused with love and respect even if it’s just a simple “good morning.” I fucking love that.

Okay, so I’m moving along, climbing through little cave like bits and then up and up this steeper rock formation towards the end and the most amazing thing happens. As I get to the top, THE FUCKING FOG LIFTS to reveal a crystal clear blue sky. I lost my shit. I started singing “I See the Light” from Tangled. Like running late this morning was pushing me to get the timing on this just right. I miss that feeling. Of trusting and feeling in flow with what is outside of me. That is what I chase. It was incredible to have it that day. Like seeing all the threads of the tapestry connecting. Zooming out. Big Picture.

And what a picture it was. I mean, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Little tiny villages of big ass pointy tipped rocks. Layers and centuries and time and space interweaving and building infinitely. What a tiny speck a human life is compared to the enduring minerals entrenched here. Surprisingly, I caught some reception at the top and FaceTimed my mom who had tried reaching me earlier when I lost service. She was both puzzled, pleased and worried that I was at the top of a mountain alone.

Kasha Katwe Tent Rocks

The hike back down felt like a completely different place. The sunshine fed me, the trees and rocks spoke. I could listen. I could hear. I posted a poem about it, but a tree showed me the apocalypse. Where the humans were dead, and the mountains and trees remained. It reminded me of “All of Everything Erased.” I wondered if Kevine Devine spoke to trees, too. I realize this shit sounds crazy, and even more so since coming back and reintegrating into city life, but feeling self conscious and “othered” by these experiences and connections is fucking exhausting. In tarot, the Page of Cups calls us back to seeing the unseeable. It’s the child’s creative and connective spirit. I’m so afraid of appearing illogical, I sometime suffocate the parts of me that bring me the most joy. I’m so grateful to have found her in this place.

I stopped for tacos in Alburquerque. I didn’t have a ton of time since I wanted to make it to the last tour at Sky City at 3:30, but the few minutes I spent at the counter with my server, Annie, were delightful. How is it that every server in New Mexico made me feel so well taken care of?

ACOMA PUEBLO - SKY CITY

After a giant helping of speeding, I made it with 7 minutes to spare for the final tour of the Acoma Pueblo. The oldest continuously inhabited community in the United State (since 1150 ACE), Acoma is also know as “sky city” as it resides on the top of a 365 foot mesa. Our tour guide gave us detailed accounts of the communities history, the current supplemental residences in nearby towns, and was ever so patient when the middle aged white couple on the tour said things like, “but you don’t have to pay property taxes, right?” Responding oh so calmly, “no, we pay taxes just like every other US citizen.” 

As part of the tour, local artists has their pottery on display. For tours like this, it’s part of the deal to support the local economy. They’re graciously allowing tourists into their home. The least you can do is buy something straight from the source. I felt terrible being judgey about it, but I have to say it really bothered me that the white couple checked out every counter, and asked to take pictures, but didn’t buy a single item. (And it clearly wan’t a money thing because they were talking about buying property in Colorado.) I purchased a few things, but my favorite item that I kept for myself was a bear made with a horse hair technique that gives the piece intricate lined designs. Irvin Louis, the artist, held my hand and told me he hoped it would give me strength, power and courage. It now lives on my besides altar.

Throughout the pueblo, white ladders lean against buildings, granting men entrance to the kivas, rooms used for religious purposes. (The kivas are the only property owned by men, as the Acoma are a matrilineal people). The ladders allow access to the kivas and symbolize the connection between worlds. Some of them seemed to absorb the brightness of the sun. The perfection and power of the connection lies in its simplicity. It’s a beautiful thing. 

As stunning as the ladders were, the most powerful presence for me was a single cottonwood tree beside a small water source. I walked over and placed a hand on the soft bark and instantly felt a surge of energy. Like every part of me was being filled with thought and history and feeling. Like this tree was willingly giving me the centuries of love, heartbreak, death, destruction and resilience it had witnessed. I let go and walked away feeling kind of nuts. As the feeling faded, I turned back and watched the leaves shimmer. I heard them rattle as if saying, try again if you don’t believe it. I did and the same current moved through me, opening my heart and the eye that sees beyond this plane. I walked back to join my group and met eyes with one of the artists. “That tree is… powerful,” I managed to spit out. “Mmm hmm,” she replied with a knowing look.

At the end of the tour, we were taken to the cemetery and church. I’m still reeling from the tree like a very normal fairy person, but something about the dead makes me stop in my tracks. Something about structures of worship. The things we make sacred. I don’t have words for this, only feelings. Feelings I had to sob out of me int the car before I could continue driving. As we parted, my guide assured us we were invited to join her family on the two feast days the pueblo opens to the public. That kind of open hearted generosity floored me and continues to as I type this.

In the early evening hours, I literally drove into the sunset. After darkness fell, I drove past an oil refinery and nearly screamed it so vividly reminded me of the Mako Reactors from Final Fantasy VII. Eventually, I made it to Gallup where I showered, slept and awoke before dawn to make it to a 9AM tour of Monument Valley four hours away.

NAVAJO NATION

Before I hit the highway, I wanted to pick up some things in the Walgreens, but I had been warned to keep my eyes peeled in this part of town and a car followed me into the parking lot so I got the FUCK out of there, resigning myself to waiting until I passed a gas station that was better lit. I know that I drove past Window Rock, but it was still pitch black so I didn’t get to see it. Eventually, the sun did rise, on my right as the full moon glowed on my left. In yogic traditions, the right side is the sun / masculine energy and the left is the moon / feminine and I was flipping the fuck out at this perfect beautiful coincidence.

Monument Valley

Since so many westerns and space films have been shot out here, driving into Monument Valley feels like moving through another planet. So different, but so familiar. The red sand and structures held this ancient energy. Like you could feel mama earth in every speck of dust. Using words to describe it feels so lame. It’s such a feeling. Like a coming home, because it’s impossible to hear this clearly anywhere else. It felt like the ranch in Loveland or the Tent Rocks. 

I arrived with a few minutes to spare, but had a hard time finding my crew which led to many jokes between my mom (who I was on the phone with) and the tour guide at my expense. A textbook Capricorn, but sense of humor is not always the most fun in this department, but in this head space it was easy to see the kindness behind it. And besides, my tour guide, Larson (with Navajo Spirit Tours), was a next level G. So knowledgeable and kind and just next level buena gente. In between stories and myths and movie set sites, I grabbed some fry bread and sat in the dirt soaking in sun and wind and history. We stops at a few sites, but our last location was next level. We laid against a massive slab of rock while Larson played the Navajo flute and another guide we met up with sang this song about beauty. It sounded like an invitation back home. I was in tears by the end of it. 

Canyon de Chelly

Afterwards, I drove down towards Canyon de Chelly stopped at a grocery store to disinfect a cut and grab lunch, split a sandwich with a man asking for food, stopped to use the bathroom at Burger King and acquired some chicken tenders in the process (these would prove useful later, like acquiring key items in a video game). This was the first time driving started to feel difficult. I wandered into this out of body trance while listening to Led Zeppelin and had to switch to hardcore dubstep to keep myself focused and awake. Yeesh. One of my new friends in Santa Fe had recommended I book a horseback ride in Canyon de Chelly so I made my way to the stables by the Cottonwood Canyon more tired than I wanted to be, but hey, it’s a road trip and it’s still daylight. 

My guide was running behind, but here is where the tenders came in handy. I met the cutest, most adorable little pup and he went nuts for some morsels of chicken. He was so skinny and sweet and we snuggled until my guide, who was a very thin Navajo teen who very casually told me about his hobbies of riding bareback and bucking broncos. He had a very nonchalant attitude about his several concussions and broken bones and tons of stories about scaling the rocks along the canyon since his family has lived on either side of the canyon. We then got into his personal life and I did my best to crack his lone wolf attitude to little avail, but I did get him to smile a bit. Teenagers are awesome and weird. I do not miss being one.

Outside of Many Farms

That night I stayed in a hogon, a ceremonial hut that folks rent out when the structures aren’t being used for ritual, off an unnamed dirt road just north of Many Farms. My host had to leave town last minute so I stayed in the middle of nowhere alone. Very gracefully. Not freaking out at all. It was an adventure and I had peace, quiet, 360 sunset and sunrise, two lovely guard dogs to keep me company, some horses and I even saw a coyote. Every moment of fear was worth it to feel all that. I tell this part of the story really well in detail in person. Ask me about it ;)

Antelope Canyon

The next morning, I hit Antelope Canyon which was a really jarring contrast to everything so far. The two and a half hour drive included one stop to pee at the side of the road which I was very proud of myself for accomplishing without incident. You know you are truly alive and in a higher state of consciousness when going for a pee is exciting. After a gas station hot dog, (my options were limited and honestly it was way better than I expected) I met my guide and the most touristy group of tourist I had encountered so far. 

The Antelope Canyon tour is essentially a photography tour, which made it less magical than a lot of my experiences so far, until I started bonding with Oscar, my guide. I the only solo traveler in our group and comparatively extremely chill about getting these pictures taken despite whipping out the DSLR for the occasion. So, we got to chatting and brought up the rear on the way back to the truck. The canyon itself was gorgeous, and other worldly, but hanging with Oscar and learning to pronounce a few Navajo words properly was my favorite part of the trip. 

On the way back we exchanged info and he suggested a lunch spot so after picking up my companion for the rest of the trip at the the Paige airport, we popped on over for some bar food before continuing on for a long afternoon drive.

Check out part 5: Get Your Kicks, Grand Canyon + Route 66

Go back to part 3: Celestial Surprises in the Land of Enchantment