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Navajo Country- Walking in Beauty

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Walking in Beauty: Closing Prayer from the Navajo Blessing Way Ceremony

In beauty I walk With beauty before me I walk With beauty behind me I walk With beauty above me I walk With beauty around me I walk It has become beauty again

Hózhóogo naasháa dooShitsijí’ hózhóogo naasháa dooShikéédéé hózhóogo naasháa dooShideigi hózhóogo naasháa dooT’áá altso shinaagóó hózhóogo naasháa dooHózhó náhásdlíí’Hózhó náhásdlíí’Hózhó náhásdlíí’Hózhó náhásdlíí’

Today I will walk out, today everything negative will leave me I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body. I will have a light body, I will be happy forever, nothing will hinder me. I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me. I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me. I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful.

In beauty all day long may I walk.

Through the returning seasons, may I walk. On the trail marked with pollen may I walk. With dew about my feet, may I walk. With beauty before me may I walk. With beauty behind me may I walk. With beauty below me may I walk. With beauty above me may I walk. With beauty all around me may I walk. In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk. In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk. My words will be beautiful…

I have always been enchanted by the Navajo people, their land, and their culture. One of the most thoughtful and spiritual of the native nations that I have had the chance to learn from and about. Maybe it was due to all the Tony Hillerman books that I devoured in college. Maybe it is the hauntingly beautiful area of the Southwest that they live in. It is easy to see why the Navajo would recognize that the beauty around them is one of the greatest blessings they have.

For years, I've skirted around the real Navajo country, more fascinated archeologically with the lost tribe of cliff-dwelling Anasazi that lived a thousand years ago in the Four Corner states like Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, Mesa Verde in Colorado, Sedona, Canyon de Chely in Arizona, and Anasazi Canyon in Utah. Of those, only Canyon de Chely is currently occupied by the Navajo who migrated south from Alaska 4-500 years ago, centuries after the Anasazi disappeared.

This year, I wanted to visit my niece in Phoenix who just had a beautiful new baby boy and took the opportunity to explore the legendary beautiful slot canyons and Monument Valley which are all located within the Navajo nation.

Of the many slot canyons in the land, the Upper Antelope Canyon and the Lower Antelope Canyon are the two most famous ones, with all these magnificent photographs made famous by Microsoft, Apple, and Mac screen wallpapers.

The canyons are accessible only by booking Navajo-guided tours weeks in advance. The cost of the Upper Antelope Canyon tour was more than Disneyland tickets and would have been worth it if I had a proper camera. The Lower Antelope Canyon tour cost half as much, was twice as long, and just as mesmerizing.

The weather and the time of day make a huge difference in how the light illuminates the canyon. For example, I found out that the most amazing phenomenon in the Upper Antelope Canyon occurs only 10 minutes a day between 10:30 and 11:00 in the morning when the light enters from the top just right to create this shot. So that time slot is often the first to be booked months in advance.

After visiting my niece, we drove north from Phoenix on the I-17 to get to Page, Arizona. We had to detour through Sedona because the I17 was closed south of Flagstaff due to ice. The cliffs around Sedona were hung with mist and the forest north of Sedona was covered in snow. The snow in the mountains turned to drizzle by the time we got to Page and the kids were happy to hang out around the fire at the hotel when we checked in.

The next morning, we stopped by Walmart to pick up some breakfast from the bakery before driving on to the Upper Antelope Canyon meeting site. Masks were still required on the tour. Our guide picked us up and drove us in an open but covered truck to a giant crack in the cliffs.

Inside the canyon, there were swirls and twists on every surface of the walls carved by the wind and the water as they danced their way through the canyon for centuries. Even with an ordinary cellphone camera, we were able to capture images like these.

After the cold ride back in the open truck, we searched all over town for a place to eat that had soup and found a Thai restaurant with tom yum, tom kha, curry, and multiple noodle soups for the very chilled gang. It started snowing as we were eating, so we headed back to Walmart to pick up gloves, hats, warm socks, and jackets in anticipation of a more snowy and cold excursion the next day.

The morning brought a layer of fresh white snow to the red rocks around the town of Page and all along our drive to Monument Valley.

We stopped at The Blue Coffee Pot Restaurant in the town of Kayenta for lunch and were pleased with all the good things they had on the menu. Besides the usual sandwiches like BLT, patty melts and french dip, they had some unusual offerings that the more adventurous in our group were able to try like a Navajo taco on fried bread, roasted muttons in flatbread, and even liver and onions.

You can take a self-guided driving tour through the 17-mile drive through Monument Valley, you just have to pay the entrance fee. But since we weren't sure that our van can make it through the snow and mud of the unpaved roads, we booked a tour with a resident of the valley who can get us into the restricted areas where the Dine or Navajo people live.

We met with the guide in the View hotel who took us through the Valley, stopped by some beautiful rock formations to take pictures, and showed us how his relatives live completely off the grid in their open top hogans. He told us of his parents, aunts, and grandparents, who all lived until 106, 109, and even 112 years old, surrounded by such clean air and gorgeous beauty.

Unlike most pictures of Monument Valley that were taken in brilliant light and clear blue sky, we rode through a valley shrouded in a high mist covering the tops of the buttes and mesas. and a sharp contrast between the red dirt and white snow on the ground. It was ethereal.

The next day, we visited Lower Antelope Canyon in the morning and Horseshoe Bend in the Colorado River in the afternoon. If you had to choose between the 2 canyons, I'd say go for the Lower Antelope Canyon. There was so much more to see and was much more organized, being run by more professional outfits. There were just as many, if not more, fantastical twists and whorls of the patterns on the walls, floors, and ceilings. And our guide seems to be better trained, teaching us all about the history of the Dine, their cultures, and current living conditions. When we finally left the canyon and looked back, we could hardly believe that we came from that small crack in the ground. I resolved to get a better camera after wandering through that spectacular hall of colored light.

We stopped by the Big Lake trading post for gas and souvenirs on the way back from the canyon and found a big flea market happening across the street. Turns out the parking lot there houses the Diné roadside food vendors Tóshchíín daily. We browsed and purchased some gorgeous hand-made ceramics and jewelry, then sat in the sunny car and ate the roasted mutton lunch and dumpling soup that we bought for lunch. Finished off with a blue corn sugar cookie and Navajo tea.

After a stop back to check out of the hotel and for a bathroom run, we drove to the Horseshoe Bend and walked a short distance from the parking lot.

There were so many tourists there climbing over the slippery sandstones that we had to look up the mortality at that park, and sure enough, every year a few people die falling over the cliffs there.

The Glen Canyon Dam visitor center was just further down the road. We couldn't help but notice how low the water level was compared to our previous houseboat trip to Lake Powell in the summer of 2019 which was already lower than the first trip in 2008.

Driving back to Los Angeles from Glen Canyon means passing through Las Vegas. No one in the family was interested in gambling so instead of going to the main drag, we stopped for dinner at a Chinese restaurant where we didn't need to make reservations. The Xiaolong Dumpling restaurant turns out to have excellent soup dumplings with very thin shell that houses a burst of soupy meat fillings. The crab and pork xiaolongbaos and the black truffle xiaolongbaos were delicious, and their fried green beans were so good, it was like eating candy. It was just perfect for New Year's Eve dinner.

May the year 2023 bring you and yours much love and happiness.

And may you walk in beauty, grace, and peace all year through.

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