Tuesday, August 14, 2012

American Southwest Vacation (Part 4 of 4) All Because Of One Ring

This is a 'one-thing-leads-to-another' story where timing, circumstance, and serendipity all work together to create a beautiful outcome.

Pueblo of Santo Domingo, New Mexico

When we first arrived in Santa Fe, I e-mailed our daughters and asked them what kind of turquoise jewelry they'd like us to bring home for them.  Paige requested a necklace and Molly wanted a 'big and funky' ring.

We thought both of these requests would be easy to fill as there is enough turquoise jewelry in the American Southwest to sink a ship!  Joe and I looked through dozens of jewellery stores trying to find the perfect pieces for our daughters.  In the end, we decided to buy directly from the Navajo who sold their wares from the covered walkway of the Palace of Governors in the Santa Fe plaza.

We spotted Paige's necklace almost immediately.  We bought it instantly.  Done!

But as we walked down the line of vendors, we started to realize that finding a big and funky ring would be more difficult than we originally thought.  And what exactly did 'big and funky' mean anyway?  Really, what would I know about funky?

We reached the very last vendor in the row and my eyes spied a large, oval turquoise ring.  The colour of the stone was gorgeous.  It was certainly big.  But did it qualify as funky?  I hadn't a clue.

I bent down to take a closer look.  "Try it on," the vendor said.  I quickly explained the ring wasn't for me, but for one of our daughters.  Molly's fingers are about the same size as mine and my heart sank as I tried to slide the ring on my finger and it stopped at my knuckle.  I was so disappointed.

I was about to put it back down on the blanket when Sheldon (the vendor) quickly offered to phone his Dad (the jeweler) to see if he could re-size the ring for us.  We told him we were leaving Santa Fe the next day.  "He could re-size it overnight?" we asked, thinking that was near impossible.  "I'll ask him," Sheldon replied.  A call was made and Sheldon reported that his Dad was willing to do it for us.  His Dad required we pay a 50% deposit.  We handed over a wad of cash, exchanged phone numbers and agreed to meet up with his parents the next day.

As we walked away from the transaction, I said to Joe, "I'm keeping my fingers crossed this whole thing works out."  Little did I know how well 'this whole thing' was going to unfold.

We phoned Sheldon's dad the next afternoon.  Yes, he re-sized the ring.  Not only that, he and his wife would make the 45 minute drive to Santa Fe to deliver it to us.  We agreed on a meeting place.  At 2:00pm Sammy and Mavis walked towards us as we stood on the sidewalk in front of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.

We introduced ourselves.  The rest of the money exchanged hands and Sammy presented us with the ring.  I tried it on and it was a perfect fit.  It was beautiful.  Sammy told us he stayed up late working on it.  I told him, "I may not give it to my daughter but keep it for myself instead."

We chatted for a bit.  We told them we were from Canada.  They told us they lived on the Santo Domingo Pueblo.

We were about to say good-bye when they invited us to their pueblo's upcoming feast day on August 4th.  "You should come," they enthused.  "But make sure you arrive early.  Thousands of people come to the pueblo that day."  "How early is early?" we asked.  "The mass is at 7:00am and right afterwards St. Dominic is carried through the streets of the pueblo.  The corn dance ceremony starts mid-morning.  The celebration goes late into the night."


We told them we were heading to Arizona that evening but would be back in New Mexico a week later.  We mentioned that our flight wasn't leaving Albuquerque until 5:00pm on August 4th and we would do our best to make it.

When we returned to New Mexico at the end of our vacation, both Joe and I agreed we were going to do our utmost to attend the Santo Domingo Feast Day the next morning.

We set our alarm clock for 6:00am on August 4th.  We packed our luggage, checked out of our hotel and drove north to the pueblo.  We had no idea what to expect.

We were stopped at the entrance and were handed a pamphlet on etiquette and rules while on the pueblo.  No alcohol or drugs.  No cell phones or cameras.  The dancing and singing were sacred ceremonies, not performances.  There would be no clapping.

We parked our car in an empty, dusty field.  I think we were the 7th and 8th people to arrive on the pueblo.  The amusement park was silently waiting for riders.  Groups of vendors were setting up their booths in hopes of making some sales later in the day.  All was quiet.  I felt a wee bit conspicuous as we walked around searching for the church.

Santo domingo Church (Photo found on the internet.)

We were warmly welcomed into the church and quickly found a seat in a back row pew.  When mass ended, the statue of Saint Dominic was lifted onto a litter and carried on the shoulders of four men.  Two men with shotguns led the way.  The congregation filed out of the church and followed St. Dominic down the dusty paths of the pueblo.  "Should we follow too?" we asked each other.  "Why not?" we both said at once.

We tagged along and followed the small crowd through the alleyways of the pueblo.  Every member of each household stood quietly on their porches and watched Saint Dominic (and us) go by.  The silence was shattered every once in a while by blasts from the guns.  It made me jump every single time.

The parade ended in the plaza and St. Dominic was given his place of honour in a wooden shrine in front of the kiva (a room for religious rituals and spiritual ceremonies).

By this time of the morning, the pueblo was filling up with visitors.  Throngs of people were pouring in.

Joe and I remembered that Sammy told us that the first dances would be in front of the church, so we walked back and parked ourselves on a shady patch of dirt.  "I wonder if we'll run into Sammy and Mavis in this huge crowd?" I asked Joe.  Our buttocks were aching within minutes so Joe got up and went for a stretch.  "Guess who I ran into?" he said when he returned.  "Sammy!  He told us to meet him by the kiva after the first set of dances are over."

We heard the sound of drums and men's voices getting louder when suddenly hundreds and hundreds of dancers filed in.  Men and women, grandmothers and grandfathers, children and toddlers.  All dressed in their regalia of jewelry, feathers, furs, mocassins, bells, shells, headdresses, rattles, bare feet, and evergreen branches.  Interspersed between the dancers were clowns in body paint, loincloths and cornstalk headdresses.  It was a sight to see! What an experience.

Santo Domingo Corn Dance painting by J. D. Roybal 1961

When the first dances were over, we navigated our way through the massive crowds towards the kiva.  There was Sammy waiting for us.  "You made it!"  he shouted as he hugged us.  "Come on!  Follow me.  I'm taking you to my mother's house!"

Joe and I turned to stare at each other in disbelief.  The stunned looks on our faces said, "WOW!  Can you believe it?  We're being invited into his mother's house!?"

We entered her home and Sammy's voice boomed, "These are my customers from Canada!"  We were introduced to sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.  Women and children leaped into action.  They showed us to a place at a large table laden with food.  "Sit!  Eat!" Sammy's relatives insisted.  Well, they didn't have to ask us twice.  We threw our legs over the wooden bench and helped ourselves to pork and chili stew, yeast bread, cucumber and corn salad, desserts.  Little children shyly placed bottles of water beside us.

I was wearing Molly's ring and proudly showed it to everyone.

We only stayed about 20 minutes as we knew they were going to be feeding friends and family all day and well into the night. Sammy told us he was one of the singers and had to go back for the next set of dances.  "Meet me at noon by the kiva and I'll take you to my place."

We watched the next set of dances at the plaza.  It was 95 degrees in the shade.  We figured there must have been 700 dancers.  They danced for over an hour.  Incredible.

We spotted Sammy in the middle of the singer's circle and he saw us.  He slowly backed his way out of the group, grabbed our arms and said, "Now to my house!  Mavis has been cooking for weeks!"

Again, we were given a primo place at the kitchen table.  We met more of Sammy's family.  We chatted with his daughters, sons, grandchildren.  Soups, stews, and sandwiches were passed around.  We heaped our plates with everything that came our way.  All of it was delicious.  A deep glass dish layered with cake and whipped cream was brought out and set in front of Joe.  "You'll never get rid of us now!"  I said.  Everyone laughed.

All too soon it was time for us to say good-bye.  We still had to drive back to Albuquerque to return our rental car and then catch our flight to Denver, Colorado.

We hugged each member of Sammy's family and thanked them profusely for their hospitality.  Mavis ran outside to her traditional clay oven and grabbed us a loaf of freshly baked yeast bread to take with us.

The last person I hugged was Sammy.  Through tears I told him how honoured we were to be included in his family's celebrations and that we would never forget him or this day.  With a smile on his face he said, "Now, you call us when you get home so we know you arrived safely."  I promised him we would.

As we walked back to the car I said to Joe, "Isn't it fascinating how things work out?  How one thing leads to another?  If that ring had fit my finger when I first tried it on in Santa Fe, none of this would have happened."  Joe agreed it was all pretty amazing.

All because of one ring.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

American Southwest Vacation (Part 3 of 4) Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly photo by Edward S. Curtis 1904

A Squamish friend recommended Joe and I visit the Canyon de Chelly (pronounced 'de Shay') in the northeastern corner of Arizona.  Melissa said she enjoyed this canyon even more than the Grand Canyon.  We said, "Let's do it!"

We left the glowing red rocks of Sedona for the flat lands and open skies of Navajo Territory.

We ran into some powerful rain storms on our way north.  Our windshield wipers couldn't take the water away fast enough.  We pretty much had to stop the car until the rain storm passed overhead.

We arrived in the town of Chinle and booked ourselves into a Best Western Motel.  Joe said, "Go look out the bathroom window.  Things are a little different here than they were in Sedona."  We definitely were not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

We saw a flyer in the motel lobby advertising a moonlight walk in the canyon that night from 7:00pm - 10:00pm.  Perfect timing!  We quickly grabbed a sandwich from Subway and made our way to the designated meeting place.

We met our guide, Kelvin, and a brother/sister duo from Austria.  We all hopped into Kelvin's truck and he drove us to Tunnel Lookout.  (To hike down to the bottom of the canyon, one must be with an accredited guide.  There is only one hike, White House Trail, that people can travel unescorted.)

I was so busy taking pictures I had a hard time keeping up with the group.

Kelvin was an excellent guide.  He told us many interesting things about the canyon and its history.  Kelvin is one of 85 families who own land on the canyon floor and many people continue to live there today.

Being the only ones on the canyon floor while the sun set was truly magical.  Kelvin talked about the healing powers of the canyon and told us that many Navajo come to this sacred place to pray.

We walked along the muddy river bed.  It felt as if we were walking on the beach at the ocean.

Kelvin pointed out petroglyphs along the way.  This rock carving of the flute player, Kokopelli, dates back well over 1,000 years (except the graffiti in the bottom right hand corner) and was done by the cave-dwelling Anasazi people.  We were so close we could touch them, but didn't.

More petroglyphs

We found ourselves a spot on the fine, white sand and waited for the moon to rise.  As we sat, Kelvin told us many Navajo stories and legends.  It was incredibly relaxing to listen to Kelvin's voice, clicking bats, chirping birds, buzzing insects and croaking frogs.  Nature's lullaby!

The moon finally rose around 9:30pm.  We sat and basked in her light until it got too cold and buggy to sit any longer.  We strolled out of the canyon to our vehicles, bid our new Austrian friends good night, and drove Kelvin back to his truck.  What a special, special night.

Early the next morning, we jumped in the car and drove back to the canyon.  Our first stop was the White House Trail.  Again, its beauty was astounding.

White House ruins

After an hour of walking, we reached the canyon floor and the 1,000 year old 'White House' ruins of the Anasazi.  Simply amazing.

On the return hike to the canyon rim, I was very proud of how we marched back up the trail without stopping.  Such fitness freaks.

The rest of the morning was spent stopping at each of the 8 lookouts and marvelling at the views below.

We stood for quite a while at this lookout and watched the eagle soar on the thermal updrafts.  It was so eerily quiet that I felt like I was in some sort of a vacuum.  We could not hear a thing.  Nothing.  There was only profound silence.

Spider Rock

I loved this.

See the little houses and the farm way down at the bottom?

More cave dwellings

When we were in Sedona we learned about the local vortexes.  Here is what they are according to an official website: 

"Vortexes are created, not by wind or water, but from spiralling spiritual energy. The vortexes are believed to be spiritual locations where the energy is right to facilitate prayer, meditation and healing. Vortex sites are believed to be locations having energy flow that exists on multiple dimensions. The energy of the vortexes interacts with a person’s inner self. It is not easily explained. Obviously it must be experienced."

So of course we were always asking each other as we hiked in Sedona, "Do you feel anything yet?"  "Nope.  Do you?"  "Nope."  "Do you think we will?"  "Nope."

Fast forward to the Canyon de Chelly.  

At one of the lookouts (shown above) Joe had gone on ahead.  And I, as usual, was lagging behind taking pictures.  I had just finished taking my millionth photo and was walking across a big expanse of flat rock when all of a sudden I felt incredibly serene.  I thought to myself, "Man, this vacation is really good for me.  I feel so relaxed."  But it began to feel more than just being relaxed.  I felt a wave of peacefulness wash over me.

I looked to where Joe was standing at the retaining wall.  As I walked toward him I actually felt as if I were floating.  I said, "You are going to think this is really weird, but I am feeling something here."  And then, seemingly from out of nowhere, a surge of emotion started in my belly, moved up through my chest and came pouring out of my eyes.  I cried like a baby.

Joe wrapped me in his arms until my tears subsided.  All I could say was, "Wow.  I have never, in my life, experienced anything like that."

Thank you, Melissa, for the recommendation to visit Canyon de Chelly.  We, too, enjoyed it far more than the Grand Canyon.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

American Southwest Vacation (Part 2 of 4) Grand Canyon and Sedona, Arizona

WARNING:  This blog post contains an inordinate number of geological photographs.  Viewer discretion is advised.

As we left New Mexico, a huge thunderstorm welcomed us to Arizona.  Forked lightning lit up the evening sky and raindrops obliterated our view out the windshield.  We wisely decided to pull over and spend the night in Holbrook.  Another fading town on Route 66.

We asked the girl at the front desk to recommend a restaurant for dinner.  By this time it was 9:00pm and I was starving.  I mean, I hadn't eaten a chili relleno for at least 24 hours! She told us we had to eat at the El Rancho Hotel.  When we found the hotel we were a little apprehensive.  The neon sign was flickering badly, the restaurant's decor and orange naugahyde upholstered booths looked like they hadn't been cleaned or updated since 1937.

We did not know the treat that was in store for us!  The food was delectable and the waitresses were falling over themselves making sure we knew all there was to see and do in their fair state.  One of them kept running out to the lobby to pick up pamphlets on balloon rides, the nearby meteor crater and whitewater rafting on the Colorado River.  The helpfulness and friendliness factors were off the charts.

We woke up the next morning to sunny skies.  We continued to drive west through tiny towns on Route 66.  We saw many abandoned cafes, gas stations, and motels.  I saw a weather-beaten old sign on the side of the road that read "LOTS FOR SALE!  ONLY $295 AN ACRE!"  I'm sure that sign had been there for eons.  

We headed north towards the Grand Canyon.  The terrain had changed yet again.  The views out the car window almost looked like a moonscape.

We drove for a few more hours until we finally reached the GRAND CANYON!

The Grand Canyon defies description.  It is so big, so colourful, so vast, so deep, so old, so mind-boggling.  Words do not even begin to do it justice.  It was difficult to get my brain around the magnificence of it.  Even after we watched a short film in the visitor's centre about how the Grand Canyon was formed millions of years ago, I still couldn't understand it.  And I probably never will.

We left the wonder of the Grand Canyon and headed south for Sedona.  We had heard great things about this town and were anxious to experience it for ourselves.

Again the terrain abruptly changed and we found ourselves travelling through thick pine forests.  Not what I had expected to find in Arizona.  We wound our way down a long, steep mountainous road.

We got to the bottom of the mountain, curved around the last corner and BAM!  There was Sedona in all her red rock glory.  I shrieked!  Nothing had prepared me for the sight that greeted us.  The red rocks in the setting sun looked as if they were glowing from within.  I took photos from our speeding car.  We fell instantly in love with the town.

We booked ourselves in to the Amara Resort for 3 nights.  How I wished it had been for longer!  Oh well, next time.

The view from our room.

The bed was big enough for a family of five.  The comfy mattress was a huge improvement over the kidney-killing murphy bed in Santa Fe.

We hiked every morning we were in Sedona.  It is a walker's paradise.  There are so many hiking trails fanning out from the middle of town.  The hikes range from easy to moderate to difficult.  We picked a few moderate hikes and set out each morning at 7:00am with our hats, water, map, and snacks.


Driving to the trail head in the early morning.

We crossed Oak Creek 13 different times during this hike.

After hiking 6.5 miles on the West Fork Trail, we were ready for some serious down time at the pool.  We lounged around for a good 4 hours; swimming, napping and reading.  We left the pool at 6:00pm.  At 6:15pm, the weather had changed considerably.



We had some good meals in Sedona, but the best one by far was at the Elote Cafe.  (They had pretty good margaritas too.)

I couldn't shovel this elote (corn) appetizer into my mouth fast enough.

Slow roasted pork shoulder served with green chili corn fritters.

My beloved.

Out-of-the-oven corn cake served with raspberry jam and sweet corn ice-cream.


The next morning we hiked 8.5 miles on the Boynton Canyon Trail.  We hiked all the way to the apex of the canyon and back.  Again, a beautiful way to spend a morning.

Signing the trail register.

The happy wanderers

The beginning of Boynton Canyon.

As we were hiking out of the canyon we saw a man sitting on top of the rocks playing a flute.  We clapped when he was finished playing and he clambered down to talk with us.

After dinner that evening we went in search of a sunset.  We didn't have to go far.

Not only did we get to see the sun set, we also got to see the moon rise.


On our third and final morning, we hiked 4.5 miles to Devil's Bridge and back.

I told Joe his shadow looked like Gumby.

All too soon, our time in Sedona came to an end.  

The view of the Amara Resort from the elevator.

I can hardly wait to return.