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Southwest Odyssey


“Don’t bring too much luggage” telephoned my friend the night before we were to leave on a summer trip to her home in New Mexico.  My friend Georgia had been the fifth grade teacher of my two daughters, and she and her husband had become close friends of ours.  Georgia was an Isleta Pueblo from New Mexico and her husband Emmett a Quinalt from the  State of Washington.  Both were educators, she an elementary school teacher and Emmett not only a teacher, but a commander in the U.S. Coast Guard.  They had met at Baconne, an Indian College in New Mexico, and then went on to University.  She at the University of New Mexico, and Emmett  at the University of  Redlands, in California.   We shared many interests and when Georgia asked me to join her in her trip, I jumped at the chance.  Road trips had never been my favorite thing to do, but since I was  traveling with a friend and with such a new and interesting destination, I was eager to begin.

.  The road leading east from Barstow is straight as a string, and the brilliant red sun was resting on the highway as we drove straight into it on the second morning of our trip was eerily suggestive.  An omen perhaps, but  for good or bad?   The second night out we camped at the Grand Canyon, side by side with the beginning summer tourists.  Since we planned to stay with Georgia’s family or friends, with very few motel stops in between, we brought no camping gear, and threw our sleeping bags on the ground where we had placed a few pine needles for a mattress.  We cooked a steak on a small camp fire, and ate an avacado we had brought  from home.   After dinner we gathered pine nuts and cracked them for dessert.  What a memorable feast!  I was put in charge of finances, as she was the  driver and we would share the cost of the gas.   We had decided to keep our expenses to a minimun, and use all the money we could afford on books, pots, and artwork.  Food would be a  secondary expenditure.   The following morning we drove over to the Canyon rim and looked down upon the view which has inspired countless generations of man to wax poetic.  Below us, the canyon surges with life; eagles fly and small drifts of morning fog are moving.  The air is clear and utterly fresh and sharp as if we are looking down from a plane; a disembodied feeling–this hillside is floating.

The next day we arrived in Laguna where we would stay withy Georgia’s two old aunts and their brother.   He and one aunt had been teachers and the other aunt was a nurse.    They lived not in the old village, but in an enormous house below the old village of Laguna.  Their father, an engineer from England, and two other engineers who each married Indian women, had come to survey the land for the United States.  The building, which was now in fine repair,  had been a deserted mission, and was large enough for each man to live in his own space and raise families of 10-11 children, most of whom still lived the the area.   Before dinner we walked up the hill to the old village.  The ancient stones which formed a stairway were worn with indentations from centuries of footprints.   My imagination traveled back in time to the countless women who wearily climbed to the top to haul water, or to find potholes which held water where they washed their hair before rubbing with yucca to give a beautiful shine to their black locks. The old church was deserted as was the village.  Everyone was inside their homes until after dinner.  When we had finished our own dinner, we too went outside, and as I was accustomed to a great deal of conversation, feeling that if there was a lull in communication it meant that someone was either bored or upset, I was at first uncomfortable with the silence.  We simply sat and enjoyed the evening silence.  Astonishing!   Now and then a small ripple of laughter came as someone shared the happenings of the day.  An old bedraggled grey  cat rubbed against my legs and seemed content to sit quietly at my feet. Above us the village was also quiet, without even the barking of the ubiquitous dogs.  The stars shine so brightly in the Southwestern sky, and it is understandable that ancient man was able to divine the paths of the constellations while studying the skies so intently.  We slowly drifted off to bed so that we might get an early start for exploring the old village and for Georgia to renew old acquaintances.

Laguna stairway

Emmett & Georgia                                                                                                                   

 

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One comment on “Southwest Odyssey

  1. In June 2009 the wife and I went to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. The travel agency had arranged a trip to the Grand Canyon National Park. Nice and touristey but we felt we did not really see the canyon. While there we overheard people speaking about the West Rim.
    Back at the Treasure Island we inquired about the West Rim and arranged a trip there. We then really saw the canyon. The Hualapai First Nation People who own that part of the canyon have done a wonderful job of organizing the site while preserving its authenticity. Well of course the is the Skywalk as a side show but it does not hog the place. There we really saw the canyon and the river. We also met fine people proud of their traditions and HONEST in their prices and the beautiful arts and crafts from their people and other neighbouring First Nations on sale at their sober boutique. We will, eventually, go back there. The tour is bit more expensive than the Park but so much more satisfying.

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