Years ago, for my first teaching job, I taught in the Navajo Nation. This teaching location was good for me to get outdoors, as the four corners region of our country offers a host of cool outdoor places to explore. There was the usual touristy type stuff; visiting the various national parks and monuments featuring the Anasazi culture (Mesa Verde, Hovenweep, Aztec....), places to hike (Canyonlands NP and the very cool Grand Gulch), and a river to raft (the San Juan).
One weekend, I set out from the school compound on my mountain bike to explore the neighborhood around the school. A couple of miles away, was a "unimproved" road that connected rural living Navajo families with paved roads. I decided to do a loop trip, and it was very interesting. The "unimproved" road passed through some exposed sedimentary rock outcrop. In this outcrop was a small alcove that contained a wealth of Anasazi pottery shards. For those of you knowing about Anasazi ceramics, they were a combination of Mesa Verde black and white and Kayenta black on red. No, I didn't scoop up a bunch of these shards.....that is not legal (Antiquities Act of 1906). There parts of this large outcrop that featured hills that were loads of fun to slowly ride up, then speedily zig-zag down. The sound of the tires on the sandstone was really cool.
Also in this area, was another "unimproved" dirt road that headed off to the west. I rode down this road for a bit, finding a natural arch, a sorinkling of pinon pines, a spring, a larger alcove featuring numerous stones where the Anasazi ground their corn (there were even pieces of old corn cobs scattered among the rocks in front of this alcove) and a small cliff dwelling! I was a bit frustrated at discovering this small cliff dwelling as I couldn't get up to it. I couldn't find any of the stone steps the Anasazi often carved into the cliff face to help ascend to their cliff homes, so I guess they used ladders or had a means of descent from the cliff top. But it was so cool to find this place.
Heading back eastward, I passed a windmill and water tank. Many of the rural families living in the Navajo Nation used these as the source of their water. They load up the back of their pickup with blue plastic 50-gallon barrels, fill them with water, then take them home to use. The route home also passed by a small Anasazi site that I called "Oil Change Rock", it is the ruins of a small storage room with small pottery shards scattered around, and just below it, is a large exposed slab of sandstone where, judging from the stains and slew of used oil filters, some of the locals apparently used as a place to change their vehicle oil.
Over the next few days, I mentioned to several other teachers about the places I'd discovered the past weekend. No one I spoke to had ever been out there or heard that such places were nearby. Several did express an interest in seeing it, so I took them out there. They were amazed at such things being so close to the school compound and no one really knowing much about it.
The Navajo reaction to my adventure was interesting. IIRC, "Anasazi" is a Navajo word for "Ancient Enemies" Traditional Navajo stay away from any ruins or obivious places where they lived, believing it is best not to distrub the spirits of the dead. A person could become contaminated by exposure to these spirits, and have to undergo a cleansing ceremony. It was interesting to me how many of my students were eager to tell me about such places near where ever it was that they lived. There seemed to be a divide between the traditional Navajo and those who did not follow or believe in the old ways.
IS there a message here ? Yes. It is one that I have noted in my blog before.....you new teachers, don't hesitate to accept a teaching job in some rural, out-of-the-way place. And while you are there, learn about where you are.....get out and explore!
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