After we dropped off the rim and out of the park we had a wonderful 33 miles of (mostly) downhill through a corner of the Kaibab National Forest and into the huge Navajo reservation. We rounded a corner where we were to overlook the canyon of the Little Colorado river, and we were stunned. Red on vermilion, cliffs and buttes and canyons, rimrock and alluvial fans, laid out from horizon to horizon all the way to Utah and Colorado, or so it seemed. Blue sky and white puffy clouds overlaid all this with jigsaw puzzle shadows moving slowly under wisps of evaporating rain.
We expected the Grand Canyon to be grand and wonderful and all those superlatives, but this must be Heaven, laid out before us and disguised as barren desert. The great white leaders of the last century must have thought this was worthless land, or they would not have given it to the Navajo, but oh how wrong they were.
The Navajo are a very rich people. There may be scattered run-down house-trailers and abandoned cars, some trash here and there, but there are also ancient looking hogans and stick corrals and painted ponies below the red rimrock.
This trip is revising my concept of beauty, at least as it pertains to the creations of man. A house-trailer sitting in a red desert under indigo sky, would have once appalled me. My Euro-sensibility would have insisted on an architect designed mega home in such a spot, all mechanical devices tastefully disguised behind garage doors, carefully designed plantings around a theme and nary a candy wrapper to be seen. That is the way cultivated people do things — properly. Having seen my country from the seat of a bicycle, I’m not so sure anymore, that it is the only way, or even the best way.
The most beautifully designed and executed house in the world cannot match the beauty of the natural meadow it replaces, so why do we kid ourselves? Perhaps the Navajo who lives in the crumbling hogan is showing us that. He sees not his neighbors hogan across the valley, but the eye pleasing red and rich blue of his rimrock horizon. He is blessed to hear the croak of raven soaring overhead, rather than his neighbor’s misplaced efforts to please him visually with growling lawnmower and stinking weed-eater. Beauty is in the eye…
After a night in Cameron, we had eighty-six miles of sublime Navajo lands. It just kept getting better and better. I didn’t even complain when our morning tailwind turned to a headwind 30 miles into the ride. We stopped to talk to some people at an overlook, including a Navajo woman selling jewelry. I told her how lucky she was to be living in such a beautiful place. She smiled sweetly, but said nothing. Just another jealous white man.
I would love to be able to live for a time like these people live, to better understand how they relate to their land and to the rest of us. I have noticed some of the roadside vendors fly an American flag with the image of a defeated warrior in the middle. They have not forgotten.