Navajo Country: Notes on Fry Bread, Stew, and Home

Agathla Peak

Red earth country surrounded by a panorama of blue sky and wispy cumulus clouds filled the view from the cab of my Peterbilt. The view hung like a painting framed in my windshield. I was on the Navajo Nation—eleven hours away from home, north of Flagstaff, south of Monument Valley, east of the Grand Canyon and west of Four Corners. I was immersed in the reckless wandering feeling one gets while traveling in remote locations, especially in such an iconic region as northwest Arizona.

Along highway 89, north from Flagstaff, the typography turns from the Ponderosa pine-covered terrain of the San Francisco Peaks to the grassy plateau of mesas, buttes, spires, washes and canyons. I had a load of D10 dozer parts going to Black Mesa, south of Kayenta. Navajo vendors took shelter from the heat in the shade of wood framed stalls along the road side, where painted plywood fold-up signs advertised Navajo-made jewelry and woven blankets, with foods such as mutton stew, grilled meats, and Navajo tacos ( a delicious concoction of fry bread with taco fixings) also for sale for the hungry traveler.

Stew and Fry Bread

I am a meat and potatoes guy. Check that, I am a meat, potatoes, and then-some guy. I am happy with foods that haven’t been served to French kings, but I am not generally picky. In fact, since I am giving food a central focus of this post, I will mention the above foods are not exotic. My wife makes fry bread (and Indian tacos), lamb, mutton, or beef stew, as well as other ethnic-specific foods, and I take joy in devouring her blessed cookery. In life, simplicity is a virtue often overlooked, in finding delight in panoramic vistas as well is in culinary choices.

I have much to write about staying overnight in the Navajo Nation. I have an aching feeling, attached with all kinds of emotions, from seeing Monument Valley from afar, seeing the tops of the buttes and pillars but not being able to roam and appropriately take in their grandeur. Passing by small homesteads, with pinion pine corrals and stucco hogans with t.v. dishes mounted on the exteriors, I took in every mesa and eroded sandstone formation I could, and enjoyed seeing how and where other people live. Seeing others’ homes placed a greater yearning for my own home. The sound of tires humming over asphalt is a lonely one. Travel is inherent to the makeup of man’s soul. Bob Dylan said in It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), “he not busy being born is busy dying.” With no intention of taking that lyric out of the context of the song, there’s a lot of road in between.