- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2004

MONUMENT VALLEY, Ariz. — Squint just a little against the noonday sun, and you can see them riding through the valley between the orange-red sandstone buttes thrusting up toward the bright sky: the 7th Cavalry in hot pursuit of Apache warriors and the ghost of John Ford, standing tall. Monument Valley has been the scene of countless movies, and it is small wonder that the beautiful, moonlike landscape has attracted filmmakers for decades. It’s wild, lonely, silent and indescribably beautiful.

The actual name of the valley is Navajo Nation’s Monument Valley Tribal Park. The Navajo Nation occupies most of northeastern Arizona, from the Canon de Chelly in the east, north to Monument Valley and west to Marble Canyon and the Painted Desert.

Archaeologists say this area of Arizona was first populated about 11,000 years ago. Beginning about 100 B.C., the Hisatsinom (“people of long ago,” also called the Anasazi and Sinagua people), the predecessors of the Hopi, Zuni and other Southwestern puebloan cultures, built communal dwellings in shallow natural caves in cliffs or under cliff overhangs on the Colorado Plateau. The “ancient ones” disappeared by about 1300.

The Navajo and Apache tribes migrated to the area from Alaska between A.D. 1000 and 1400. From the pueblo people, the Navajo learned how to farm; they acquired cattle, sheep and horses from the Spanish. Most of the 200,000 Navajo living in the area work outside the tribal lands.

The Hopi mesas and villages are encompassed within the Navajo reservation. A 17-mile self-guided tour runs through Monument Valley, past the strange rock formations rising from the valley floor. They bear names like the Mittens, the Elephant and the King’s Throne because of their resemblance to such subjects. They rise in solitary splendor, scattered like huge jacks in a game played by unearthly giants.

Monument Valley is the highlight of a trip consisting of an assortment of travel writers and photographers, guests of the State of Arizona and the several towns we visit. Ten of us travel in two supercomfortable vans of DeTour Co. Our drivers are superb chauffeurs and guides, never forgetting to replenish the water supply on board, relief from the relentless Arizona sun.

HEARD MUSEUM

The trip begins in Phoenix with a visit to the Heard Museum and the Mystery Castle. The Heard, named for Dwight and Maie Heard (of the True-Value hardware stores fortune), has one of the most important collections of American Indian art in the country. The bulk of the collection is not on exhibit, as the museum is undergoing major renovations, but there is always something to see and certainly something to buy in the gift shop. The shop, with its beautiful, authentic folk art and jewelry is almost like a collection itself; there’s a whole wall of figures called kachinas, the “holy people.”

The Mystery Castle is a bizarre, 18-room stone house on the South Mountain foothills overlooking the city of Phoenix shimmering below in the heat. The landscape looks barren, but cactuses grow there, as do creosote bushes, said to be the oldest plant in the world.

The castle was built by Boyce Gulley, who came from Seattle to Phoenix for health reasons. The house is now occupied by Gulley’s daughter, Mary Lou, who leads tours of her dwelling, which is chockablock with bric-a-brac, paintings, odd contemporary furniture, Southwestern antiques, living and dead cactuses, ceramics and just about anything else you could imagine, including Pancho Villa’s headboard.

APACHE TRAIL

From Phoenix, we drive past Superstition Mountain along part of the Apache Trail, a loop of two historic Old West highways. It’s a beautiful, somewhat treacherous road through wild canyons filled with exotic desert plants and saguaro cactuses — and several decaying vehicles that have plunged over the side of the winding road.

Teddy Roosevelt called the 150-mile drive “the most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful panorama nature has ever created.” The trail, which once was an old Indian path, follows the route carved through the wilderness in 1906 to construct the Roosevelt Dam, which lies at the northernmost part of the Apache Trail loop.

We stop for a quick cup of coffee and bowl of chili at Tortilla Flat (neither flat nor serving tortillas), a funky country store and restaurant in a hamlet (population 6) once a stagecoach stop in the middle of the trail. Chili is a specialty of the house and is highly recommended.

In the 19th century, gold was discovered in the Superstition Mountains. Jacob Waltz, a German immigrant who died in 1892, is said to have hidden a stash of gold in the mountains. People have been looking for Waltz’s Lost Dutchman Mine and the hidden gold ever since. The mine appears to be as legendary as the gold.

A gorgeous Arizona sunset outside the Mining Camp restaurant at the base of the mountain ends our first day. Sissie Young runs the family-style restaurant and makes sure patrons are well-supplied with platters of ribs, roast chicken, roast beef and sweet cactus jelly. Her husband, Roger, a genuine working cowboy, sings the songs that are his family heritage.

The next morning, we ride through the pine forests of Oak Canyon to Sedona, speeding past Montezuma’s Castle, the five-story, 20-room cliff dwelling built by the Sinagua Indians 100 feet above the valley floor in the 12th century. It is one of the oldest and best-preserved prehistoric ruins in North America.

SEDONA SPRAWL

Sedona isn’t really a town but a sprawling community perched amid the magnificent red rocks of Slide Rock State Park and surrounded by the Coconino National Forest. Once famous for its apple orchards, Sedona has become an art center with more than 40 galleries, and it attracts New Age settlers seeking healing and emotional rejuvenation in a beautiful landscape thought to have magical emanations.

Cosmic Concierges, the “directory of professional healers, practitioners and metaphysical services” lists clairvoyants, shamanic astrology, sound healing, goddess journeys, “holographic repatterning,” “cosmic cuts,” past-life regression, digestive wellness and vortex tours among services offered.

Our group splits into the adventurous, who go on a somewhat terrifying Jeep ride through the red canyons surrounding Sedona, and the more timid, who take a tour of the vortex sites and later join Rahelio, a young man versed in many of the ancient Indian traditions, in an Indian sweat-lodge experience. Rahelio chants, plays his flute and drum and tells us the origins and purpose of the sweat lodge, considered a sacred place representing the origins of life.

On a more prosaic level, Sedona has Tlaquepaque, a charming Mexican-style village of shops and restaurants where first-class crafts, art and jewelry are for sale. Sedona has some delightful inns, including the Canyon Villa Inn, where you can sit in the pretty little garden and watch the sun set the towering rocks aglow with fiery light.

Next morning, it is back into the vans for the trip to Williams, a dusty little town on what’s left of famous old Route 66, located in a ponderosa pine forest at an elevation of 6,700 feet. The town was founded in the late 1800s by ranchers, railroadmen and lumbermen; it is named for mountain man Bill Williams, a trapper, marksman and horse thief also described as “preacher of profane sermons.”

DAILY SHOOTOUT

The saloons, bordellos and opium dens are gone; all that is left of a colorful past is the faux (as they would never say in Arizona) “shootout” that takes place every afternoon at different locations on the town’s one main street. A rather sinister “Sheriff B. Goodmore” (“be good or be gone”) and a couple of Western bar girls wander around adding a touch of color. It’s hokey, but it has a certain charm.

The town’s other attraction is the daily 5:30 p.m. arrival of the Grand Canyon Railway, back from its trip to the Grand Canyon. The Williams 5th Regimental Cavalry Band, in Civil War costumes, greets the returning train with appropriate lively tunes.

For travelers seeking the nostalgia of “the Mother Road” of song and legend, Williams retains some of the gas stations, diners, curio shops and tourist courts, but the train to the Grand Canyon is the main reason to stop in Williams. The first passengers arrived at the Grand Canyon’s south rim Sept. 17, 1901, aboard a steam engine of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Passenger service was discontinued in 1968 but started again Sept. 17, 1998; steam engines are still used in summer, diesel in winter.

The 65-mile ride takes a little more than two hours and goes through changing scenery, from the high plains of the Colorado Plateau, by volcanic cinder cones, through pinion forests with the snowcapped San Francisco peaks in the distance. The train stops at the Grand Canyon for about three hours and then returns to Williams.

The ride is fun. The food and drink in our coach helps us while away the time. Strolling musicians entertain the passengers with cowboy songs, and Sheriff Goodmore is on hand to chat with the pretty girls. In the coach ahead of ours, 20 or so members of a family, all dressed in bright turquoise T-shirts, are celebrating a family reunion. There’s a train robbery on the return trip, but luckily, the sheriff is on hand, still wearing his very-real-looking pistols.

At the canyon — almost too magnificent, awesome and grandiose to describe — we are met by Jim Peshlakai, a Navajo who has dedicated his life to the preservation of the Navajo culture. He joins us for a picnic.

Mr. Peshlakai is a teacher, an artist in residence at Northern Arizona University and a medicine man; he takes students on full-moon weekends to his sheep ranch, where the students learn to live as the Indians do. Mr. Peshlakai also is the founder of the Peshlakai Dancers, a Navajo dance troupe that performs throughout the United States.

We spend a brief hour at the Grand Canyon. This giant cleft in the earth is so vast that it’s difficult to appreciate the wonder of it without at least a short hike into the canyon, a national park since 1919. At the bottom are stone ruins in the cliffs that hold archaeological secrets dating back 8,000 to 10,000 years.

On the way north toward Page, we stop at an authentic Navajo hogan, where Mr. Peshlakai plays several Navajo musical instruments and chants for us. He has brought his whole family along, and his older grandchildren perform traditional dances. A hogan, an eight-sided domed Navajo dwelling usually made of mud and wood, is used today primarily for ceremonial gatherings.

We reach Wahweap Lodge, five miles north of the imposing Glen Canyon Dam, just in time to board a paddle-wheeler for a sunset dinner cruise on Lake Powell. The dock is a good 50 feet below the lodge because of the lake’s receding water. When the dam, built in 1963, is at full elevation, the lake runs to a depth of 560 feet.

Our dinner cruise is relaxing, the salad and roast beef tasty and the boulders lining the shores splendid in the evening light. Five-hour cruises go to Horseshoe Bend, where the river circles a huge rock, and to Rainbow Bridge, an imposing sandstone arch that straddles one of the lake’s coves. For visitors who wish to stay longer on the lake, houseboats are available for rent.

In the morning, we return to Page for a brief visit to the John Wesley Powell Memorial Museum. Powell led the first expeditions down the Green River and the Colorado through the Grand Canyon between 1869 and 1872. The little museum has exhibits of Indian pottery, river history and geology and many interesting photographs and artifacts.

Four miles east of Page on the Navajo reservation lies Antelope Canyon, a narrow red sandstone slot canyon with corkscrewlike rock formations.

On our way to Monument Valley, we stop for coffee in Kayenta, a tiny town with a handful of hotels and fast-food restaurants. The Burger King has a fascinating exhibit on the code talkers of World War II, the Navajo Marines who devised a code based on the Navajo language that frustrated and was never deciphered by the Japanese army. The father of the owner of the restaurant was a code talker, and the exhibit is in his honor.

Before arriving in Flagstaff, we stop at the Wupatki National Monument, once home to the farmers and traders of the Anasazi and Sinagua people but now a series of ruined pueblos. Built in the open, Wupatki was a 12th-century pueblo home rather than a cliff dwelling. The mud-and-stone pueblo stood three stories high, with roofs constructed of large cross-laid timbers. The ball court, similar to those typical in Mexican pre-Columbian sites, is at the end of one of the ruins.

Today, the silent cactuses and ruins cast long shadows in the late-afternoon sun; a strong wind sends the tumbleweeds skittering across the plain. The plain is a wild, isolated place, haunted by the people who once lived here and mysteriously moved on.

FLAGSTAFF

We make our last overnight stop at Flagstaff. Our visit begins on a high note with a delicious dinner at Josephine’s, which serves very nouvelle American cuisine, with fabulous tuna sashimi. Flagstaff is a charming university town of about 60,000 people 7,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by ponderosa pines with the majestic San Francisco Mountains in the distance.

Flagstaff began as a logging and mining settlement and is named for a lone pine that served as a trail marker for westbound wagon trains and on which a flag-flying ceremony was held on July 4, 1876, in observance of the nation’s centennial.

Flagstaff’s old downtown retains many of the charming Old West-style two-story buildings. The many antiques shops and stores sell fine Indian jewelry and pottery as well as contemporary paintings.

Patrons of the reportedly haunted Monte Vista Hotel and Hotel Weatherford swear they hear and see strange things in certain rooms.

Flagstaff is home to the Lowell Observatory, where the planet Pluto was discovered. The observatory offers guided tours and telescope stargazing.

The Museum of Northern Arizona, built of stone and wood 75 years ago, has an outstanding collection of Indian art and a superb museum shop. It is a repository for state, federal and tribal artifacts, and the museum’s collections may be viewed on one of the monthly free docent tours.

HERITAGE PROGRAMS

Throughout the summer, the museum holds its annual Native American Heritage program featuring Hopi, Navajo, Zuni and Pai marketplaces, which include working craftspeople and dance programs. Each marketplace lasts two days and features a different tribe.

Down the road at the Coconino Center for the Arts, the Dry Creek Arts Fellowship each summer presents Trappings of the American West, a three-week celebration of folk festivals, cowboy poetry, a professional rodeo, concerts and an exhibition and sale of beautiful objects relating to the American cowboy.

For a recent festival, 86 artists from 13 Western states and Canada were chosen to exhibit their work. The quality of the work, which includes such objects as musical instruments, guns, knives, jewelry, cowboy hats, saddles and some sensational boots, is outstanding.

Flagstaff is well-located as a base for visiting many of Arizona’s scenic places: The Grand Canyon is 80 miles north and Phoenix 137 miles south; Sedona is a short distance away; and the Hopi Indian mesas can be reached in about 11/2 hours.

We cover hundreds of miles in a week and meet neither rattlesnake nor scorpion, but we do see a black-tailed jack rabbit and a roadrunner or two (called “chaparral chicks” by the locals) but not Wile E. Coyote. We do hear the coyotes howl at night.

Arizona offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the world as well as some charming, old-fashioned towns and unique archaeological sites. There are many artists working in both traditional and contemporary media and design.

Skiing is available in the snowcapped mountains, swimming and boating in the dammed lakes, and hiking in the canyons.

One of the Hopi versions of the creation of mankind holds that when the Hisatsinom emerged via a ladder of reeds from the underworld through a hole in the earth’s surface, the various clans began migrating in all directions in order to fulfill a spiritual covenant to set their footprints on the land. The prehistoric pueblo sites still existing and the petroglyphs are such footprints, but the covenant continues in today’s Navajo, Hopi and the other tribes in the region. The West, in spirit and reality, is alive and well.

Hotels, restaurants; fly nonstop to Phoenix

United Airlines and America West fly nonstop to Phoenix from Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International airports, and Southwest Airlines flies from Baltimore Washington International Airport.

ACCOMMODATIONS

• Arizona Biltmore, 2400 E. Missouri, Phoenix, AZ 85016; phone 602/995-6600; fax, 602/381-7600. The Arizona Biltmore is a stunning hotel in a beautiful garden inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, the consulting architect. The original design, including gold-leaf ceilings, copper porte-cocheres and a dome supported by a phalanx of 40-ton copper filigree beams, has been carefully preserved. The hotel has a spa and fitness center, several swimming pools, tennis courts, children’s programs and old movies at the swimming pool in which guests can float, drink in hand, to watch the dive-in films.

• Canyon Villa Inn, 125 Canyon Circle Drive, Sedona, AZ 86351; 520/284-2114; reservations, 800/453-1166.

• Legacies, 450 S. 11th St., Williams, AZ 86046; 866/370-2288 or 928/635-4880. The owners of this delightful bed-and-breakfast inn are Washington-area natives Ron and Linda Dixon.

• The Inn at 410, 410 N. Leroux, Flagstaff, AZ 86001; 800/774-2008 or 928/774-0088. A charming bed-and-breakfast within walking distance of downtown Flagstaff.

RESTAURANTS

• Mining Camp Restaurant & Trading Post, Apache Junction, Ariz.; 480/982-9302 or 480/982-3181

• Oaxaca, 321 Highway 89A, Sedona, AZ 86330; 928/282-6291; fax, 928/282-2537. Good Mexican restaurant in the center of Sedona.

• Josephine’s. 503 N. Humphreys St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001; 928/779-3400.

TRANSPORTATION

• Detours, 615 W. Portobello Ave., Mesa, AZ 85210;

480/633-9013 or 866/438-6877;

fax, 480/633-8687; [email protected]

The company will organize tours in its comfortable vans all over Arizona; its drivers are well-informed, competent and pleasant as tour guides and chauffeurs. Highly recommended.

• Grand Canyon Railway, 233 N. Grand Canyon Blvd., Williams, AZ 86046; 800/843-8724; www.thetrain.com.

• Totem Pole Tours, PO Box 360579, Monument Valley, UT 84536; Tel. 435/727-3313 or 800/345-8687; fax, 435/727-3315. The company takes visitors on jeep tours of Monument Valley and other places in the area as well as on trail rides and hiking tours.

MUSEUMS

• Heard Museum, 2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85004; www.heard.org.

• Mystery Castle, 800 E. Mineral Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040; 602/268-1581.

• John Wesley Powell Memorial Museum, 6 N. Lake Powell Blvd., PO Box 547, Page, AZ 86040; 928/645-9496; fax, 928/645-3412.

• Museum of Northern Arizona, 3101 N. Fort Valley Road, Flagstaff, AZ 86001; 928/774-5213.


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