Elephant Feet on the Navajo Nation

Elephant Feet_Navajo Nation

I revisited my fond feelings towards the Navajo Nation and all the beauty found there. I didn’t sketch this while I was there last August, but I referenced a photo I took on my way back from Kayenta and the Black Mesa (south of the ever-popular Monument Valley). I threw off the shackles of the blank page and sat on my couch and went at it for a few minutes earlier this week. I waged a good battle trying to figure out how to get our scanner to work the rest of this week. Many thanks to my wife for helping me to prevail against the Hewlett-Packard beast!

Missing in this sketch, the Navajo craft vendors with their lovely wares. When I stopped to admire these sandstone formations beside the highway, a few Native women were  setting up their folding tables, laying out table cloth and setting up their chairs under awnings which were also methodically assembled. There is so much to see and discover there in Navajo country. It’s little curiosities, like the subject of this sketch, which so often catch my attention.

Perhaps I may take my family back next time, making Monument Valley a priority on the trip. Of course, I’d have to take them to see the Elephant Feet at some juncture; a sign pointing travelers towards real fossilized dinosaur tracks near Tuba City also grabbed my fancy. Now, if only my job allowed the highway wanderer in me to run rampant.




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.

Grandpa Elvis, Interstate 40, and England Swings

Silver wings shining in the sunlight,
roaring engines headed somewhere in flight.
                                         Merle Haggard
I remember traveling around with my grandpa across the country shortly after I graduated high school ten years ago. Going through the red dirt vistas of Arizona through the Texas panhandle, the rolling hills of Oklahoma, and meandering though sleepy hollers (no, they are not called “hollows”) of Eastern Kentucky, he’d sing whatever he pleased.
Off-the-cuff lyricism
Some times he would make something up completely. For instance, traveling through Tucumcari, New Mexico brought with it many extemporaneous verses, involving fireworks stands and American Indian references. Even if it sounds racially offensive, it wasn’t; it was funny. “I laughed until I stopped.” That was my grandpa.
Classic Americana
On other occasions, and with his usual near pitch-perfect baritone, he’d almost exhaust all the old country classics from his era. Elvis, Johnny Horton, Ricky Nelson, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Ernest Tubb, Charlie Pride- and on the list would go. One of my favorites he would sing went like this:
Now, if you huff and puff and you finally save enough money
Up to take your family on a trip across the sea
Take a tip before you take your trip
Let me tell you where to go, go to England, ohEngland swings like a pendulum do
Bobbies on bicycles, two by two
Westminster Abbey the tower of Big Ben
The rosy red cheeks of the little children

Roger Miller, known for hits such as King of the Road and Kansas City Star, penned and sang that song. Grandpa just picked it up and made it his own. As a grandkid who thought highly of his grandpappy, I ate it up. He was like a human juke box, and I enjoyed listening to him for free.
On the road, singing, and talking Elvis
We spent many hours and days on the road together that summer after high school. Many hours and days of talking, telling stories and singing; generally, I did most of the listening, and I am more than glad that I did. Whenever I listen to the old stuff, the good stuff, I remember my grandpa. Somewhere around that time, my friends and I would take to calling him Grandpa Elvis. He played along. He was an Elvis fan after all. A Pre-G.I.-Blues Elvis fan to be precise.
“After he started making movies, his music suffered a bit,” grandpa would say, in a voice he generally used when he was making some sort of social commentary.
I took such commentary as a given at the time, but since I’ve grown up a bit, I would have to agree with his sentiment regarding Elvis. Not everyone will, but I have come to.