Navajo Nation—the Locals' Way
Robbie Rubly-Burggraff moved to Navajo Nation 18 months ago, but she still hadn't explored its northwest—so she enlisted the help of a Navajo friend.
After a long walk, we return to the lodge. The restaurant looks like the kind of place outdoorsmen would enjoy—duck decoys and wooden fish carvings hang on the pine walls, and the backs of the booths are shaped like fish. Behind the bar, more than 100 types of beer are on display. Shirley orders ribs that hang over the edges of her plate and a Singletrack Copper Ale, while I opt for beer-battered cod and an Oak Creek Amber Ale. We round out the evening later with some stargazing on the patio. This is such a dark, remote area that the stars are among the most vivid I've ever seen.
- Lees Ferry LodgeMilepost 541.5, Hwy. 89A, Marble Canyon, 928/355-2231, leesferrylodge.com, from $60
- Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Hwy. 89A, Marble Canyon, 928/608-6404, nps.gov/glca, $15 per car
- Vermilion Cliffs National Monument Hwy. 89A, Marble Canyon, 435/688-3246, blm.gov/az/vermilion/vermilion.htm
We're up early for bacon, fried potatoes, and pancakes at the lodge, and then we're on the road, heading north for a tour ofAntelope Canyon. In the morning light, the layers of stone in the winding walls of the gorges glow in beautiful shades of pink and orange. We admire the high stone arches and twisting passageways in the rock. Bathed in this extraordinary light, the canyon is as spiritual as any cathedral.
The Shonto area southeast of Antelope Canyon is famous for Navajo pottery, but we didn't expect to find so many artists represented at theShonto Trading Post. A bit out of the way in a canyon, the post is still a place where artists can trade their wares for food and other goods. Shirley and I ooh and aah at the exquisite pots, baskets, and woven jugs before Shirley buys a $120 Navajo wedding basket.
By the time we arrive, theAnasazi Inn Café, just outside Kayenta, is packed with the local lunch crowd. Shirley has a delicious mutton stew, and I eat the beef soup—made that morning—and we share an order of Navajo fry bread, a puffy dough that is fried in oil. I eat so much of the bread on the trip, I probably put on about 10 pounds.
Reenergized by our lunch, we drive to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, near the Utah border. We've arranged to meet a Navajo guide, Richard Frank, for a tour of Monument Valley organized by his company, Simpson's Trailhandler Tours. Visitors can take a self-guided drive around the valley—best known as the setting for many John Wayne movies and Marlboro commercials—but Richard shows us the restricted area that outsiders can only visit with a Navajo guide. He points to a sacred alcove where he sometimes chants and plays his flute, and he tells us stories about his childhood.
After several hours, Richard takes us to meet his brother, Harold Simpson, at his family's hogan, a traditional Navajo house with eight sides that's built out of logs and packed with mud on the outside. The brothers rent out theirNavajo Traditional Hoganto visitors for the night. Richard and Harold make a fire for us and cook Navajo tacos, a delicious take on the Mexican dish that substitutes fry bread for the tortillas. As the moon rises, Harold starts chanting and drumming, and another man, Byron, surprises us by coming out of the hogan dressed in powwow regalia. He invites me to dance with him by the fire, and even though I don't know the steps, I almost feel Native American. Shirley is giggling so much, she forgets to take my picture!
Richard helps us get set up in the hogan, stoking the woodstove while we spread mats and sleeping bags on the sand floor. Lying on my back in the firelight, I look up at the logs framing the inside of the structure and think about building one. I'm envious of Shirley—she has her own hogan, which her family uses for special occasions.
- Navajo Traditional Hogan,Monument Valley, 435/727-3362, trailhandlertours.com, $155 per person
- Anasazi Inn CaféHwy. 160, 10 miles west of Kayenta, 928/697-3793, anasaziinn.com, mutton stew $6
- Antelope Canyon Tours 22 S. Lake Powell Blvd., Page, 928/645-9102, antelopecanyon.com, $32
- Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park Rte. 42, four miles east of Hwy. 163, 435/727-5874, navajonationparks.org/htm/monumentvalley.htm, $5
- Simpson's Trailhandler ToursMonument Valley, 435/727-3362, trailhandlertours.com, $86