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Chapter #106: The Four Corners States - Part 4 - December 29, 2008


The "Mexican Hat", at the north entrance to Monument Valley, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 

The Magic Gate - Part 4

The Navajo Indian Reservation - Its Art and Culture

Monument Valley

Leaving Moab, we drove our Ford south to Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona.  After viewing the area made famous by Henry Fonda in the movie Fort Apache and John Wayne in Stagecoach, we stopped at Goulding’s, an historic trading post and tourist lodge.  While there, the manager showed us a hand-wrought silver and turquoise belt buckle, recently pawned by a Navajo elder.  Mistaking our disinterest for a desire to bargain, he dropped the price to one hundred dollars, which barely covered the value of the silver and turquoise.  To us, that was a lot of money, so rather than buying the belt buckle, for about the same price we purchased two hand-loomed Navajo rugs.
 
 
U.S. Hwy. 161 South, approaching Monument Valley, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Later, we turned off the highway, stopping at the end of an unmarked dirt road.  There, we photographed our two new rugs against the red soil of Monument Valley.  Soon, we realized that we had parked near a Navajo homestead.  In front of the ancient, traditional hogan, we saw a Navajo woman weaving a rug on a large outdoor loom.  Embarrassed that we had invaded her privacy, we placed our store-bought rugs in the car and quietly drove away.  Not once did she turn to look at us.  It was as if she had appeared from some timeless other place.  We could see her, creating her art in that place, but she either could not or preferred not to see us.

Kayenta, Arizona

Beyond the southern end of Monument Valley is the town of Kayenta, Arizona.  In the 1960s, Kayenta was desolate, forlorn and seemed forgotten by all except its Navajo residents, who represent ninety-four percent of the town's population.  Today, as Kayenta's population approaches 9000, the city features a McDonald’s, a Burger King and a supermarket.  As a sign of the times, the local high school recently installed the only video message board within one hundred miles. 
In all of its colorful splendor, Monument Valley, Utah, near Goulding's Lodge - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
Here is my alternate memory regarding our stop in Monument Valley.  I wonder which version is true?

The Corn People

Jim knew a little about Navajo rugs; for instance, what made one more valuable than another.  When he entered the trading post that morning, he spotted a treasure right away.  It was a handmade Navajo rug, featuring corn people on a white background, with a black border.  Although the rug was small, the tightness of its weave and the depth of its colors made it stand out from the others.  Casually fingering the price tag, Jim’s eyes widened when he saw $1000 hand lettered on the tag.
 
Abandoned Navajo roadside jewelry stand, built in the traditional, or ancient Navajo hogan style, Monument Valley, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)After a quick trip out to see Paul, waiting in the car, both Paul and Jim entered the trading post, then headed in opposite directions.  From that moment, events unfolded quickly.  Paul proceeded to the self-service coffee bar, where he accidentally dropped a full pot of decaf on the floor, shattering the glass carafe in the process.
 
As a knot of employees formed around the scene of coffee chaos, Jim rolled up the prized rug, tucked it under his arm and walked out the door.  An hour later and half a mile away, the two friends united.  With high-fives and sincere congratulation, they celebrated their victory over the tyranny of the trading post system. 
 
"Our Lady of Monument Valley" Stone pinnacle overlooking the southern end of Monument Valley, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillic.com)“The weaver probably got $200 for this rug.  What a rip off of Native Americans”, Jim said. 
 
As Jim steered the car into the parking lot of their dusty motel in Kayenta, Paul added, “I am proud to have taken part in the liberation of such a fine rug”.  Dropping Paul at the motel, Jim turned north on Highway 163, leading back into Monument Valley.
 
As he turned off the highway and on to a dusty track, Jim mumbled, “The Indian got paid for this rug long ago, so hitting that predatory trading post where it hurts means I am doing something on behalf of all the Indian nations, not just the Navajos”.
 
Close up of a hand loomed Navajo rug, with white background, corn motif and brown border - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Rolling to a stop in front of a barren hillock, he proceeded to lay out his treasured rug on the face of that brick-red hill.  Waiting for the sun to sink lower in the sky, Jim sat there entranced for an unknown time.  Then, when the light was right, he stood and clicked many pictures of the rug.
 
When he finished his photography, the sun was fading fast.  As the light changed and he shifted his focus, he saw before him a Navajo woman, working at her loom.  With a traditional hogan as a backdrop, slowly and steadily she sent the shuttle across the loom.  After each long stroke, she paused to tamp down the woolen threads.  Staring at this scene, Jim felt a shiver go up his spine.  He felt like he had been photographing the details of a bedroom, only to find that someone occupied the bed.
 
Kodak Ektachrome image of a Navajo Indian needle and loom rug with corn motif, Monument Valley, Utah in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)After quietly removing the rug from its place on the hill, he gently opened the car door and sat down inside.  After red dust poured from the rug to his lap, he dumped it on to the empty passenger seat.  Closing the door so softly that the latch did not fully engage, Jim started the engine and slipped the shifter into gear.  Then, he idled the car away, toward the highway.
 
Not once in all this time had the Navajo woman looked in his direction or acknowledged his existence.  As his car crested a small hill in fading light, he glanced back in the rear view mirror.  The woman had vanished, but hanging there on her loom was a half-finished rug, depicting corn people, on a white background, with a black border.
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