Lair of the Spider Woman

Leander, our Navajo (Diné) guide, took us through Canyon de Chelly (pronounced ‘shay’) in his 4×4 Montero (VERY necessary to make it through the muddy/sandy canyon lands).











Canyon de Chelly is considered sacred land to the Diné people and thus it is impermissable to travel through the canyon without a native Diné guide.

Note: the Navajo people are in the midst of an effort to reclaim their own naming.  They were originally named, they believe, by the Spaniards who came to the land looking for the 3 G’s (Gold, God and Girls).  When they encounted the Navajo people they noticed that the arrowheads they attached to the tip of their arrows were sharper than their cutting knives – an object which, pronounced in Spanish, comes out very close to ‘navajo.’  They were, thus, branded as sharp and fearsome and aggressive by the Spaniards.  In looking back on their own history, they want to be named and referenced by a name that does not have the enmity or fear interjected by a conquering group.  They prefer the name Ni’hookaa Diyan Diné given to them by their creators. It means “Holy Earth People”. Navajos today simply call themselves “Diné”, meaning “The People”.  This is the reasoning why you will start seeing it more and more in future references to recorded history and current publications.

IMG_3672.JPG Traditional stories from Diné elders were told to teach and entertain the children and grandchildren. They contain legends of the holy people like Spider Woman. Spider Woman was the first to weave her web of the universe and taught Diné (Navajo) to create beauty in their own life and spread the “Beauty Way” teaching of balance within the mind, body, & soul.

In the creation stories of my Diné elders, there are four worlds (some say 5 or 6). Diné of today live in the fourth world, known as the “Glittering World”. The first world was black, where only land, air, water, and language existed. First the spirit holy ones were created and than the holy people, this creation was the most important event, which took place in the first world.

The second world was known as the blue world of water, air, and land mammals were created. The holy ones gave life to Spider Woman & Spider Man. Only their inner spirits or souls were made. Their physical bodies were made later to contain their spirits, as all animate beings did, when they evolved into future worlds.

In the third world the holy ones advised Spider Woman that she had the capabilities of weaving a map of the universe and the geometrical patterns of the spirit beings in the night sky. At first she did not know what they meant, and was not instructed how it should be done, but curiosity became her energy and driving force to weave her creations.

IMG_3683.JPGOn a beautiful day when she was out on the land, exploring and gathering food at the same time. She came upon a small young tree, which was just beginning to grow. She touched a branch of the tree with her right hand and wrapped her fingers around it. When she released her right hand, a string was attached to the branch and it was streaming out from the middle of her palm. She was not quiet sure what it was, at first. She shook her hand to release the string, but it stayed attached to her hand. She thought the strings might detach if she kept wrapping it on the branch of the tree. She kept wrapping the string around the small extended branch and she became worried when she realized that she would run out of space on the first small extended tree branch.

IMG_3691.JPG There were so many strings on the small branch that it seamed it would break off, and than Spider Woman ran the string to another branch on the same tree. After doing this for awhile, she realized she was creating a pattern. She started maneuvering and manipulating the strings into various shapes. It was then she realized that this was the weaving the holy people had instructed her to do. Immediately she broke the string with her left hand without hesitation. She sat and thought carefully about how to use her new gift. For the rest of the day she sat close to the tree and wrapped the strings into various patterns on other branches of the small tree.

When she felt comfortable with her gift, she returned home with her gathered food and showed her newly acquired skill to her husband, Spider Man. After a period of time, Spider Woman began weaving within her home. The holy people heard about Spider Woman’s new talent and came to visit her. During the visit the holy ones instructed Spider Man to construct a weaving loom and also create the tools used in the various processes of weaving. Today, Diné (Navajo) men are the key makers of weaving looms and tools. With each tool created, a song, and a prayer were made and offered to Spider Man to use each time he created the tools, and this gave the tools a sense of purpose and unique life.

At this time Spider Woman began to sing the weaving song, given to her by the holy ones. The songs are empowering for the textiles, just as they are for the weaving tools. The tools were made from various trees. The weaving fork from the juniper tree, used to push the weft down, placing layers upon layers of weft, and thus creating a life. The sound of the weaving fork hitting the weft is considered the heartbeat sound of the textile. The weaving loom was made of the main trunk of a young juniper tree, with all the branches removed. It is made into two main supporting beam, which stand upright on the right and left sides of the loom frame, which represents the pillars holding up the sky and keeping the mother earth secure. The third beam is placed at the foot or base of the two pillars, which represent the earth on which we live. The forth beam is placed at the top, and represents the sunbeams and rainbows, protecting mother earth. It also represents the sky (atmosphere) and the universe. Diné men sang as they made the tools and weaving looms as instructed by Spider Man and Spider Woman, which were created in the fourth world, called the “Glittering World”.

IMG_3716.JPG(While exploring the canyon with Leander, a herd of cattle ran through the narrow passage on which we were travelling)

The fourth world is where human beings were created, in the form of First man and First woman and inherited their physical bodies in a place called “Diné tah “. This place is considered to be the center of the world and a sacred place to Diné people. As children growing up at Spider Rock, Canyon De Chelly and Canyon Del Muerto, native grandmothers passed down stories about how Spider Woman was instructed by Talking God (through the wind spirits) on how to find and identify the bad little kids. Spider Woman would then boil and eat the bad little kids, which is why there are white banded streaks at the top of Spider Rock, where the bones of the bad children still bleach the rocks to this day.


Leander told us the story of how, long ago, a young cave-dwelling Diné youth was hunting in Dead Man’s Canyon, a branch of Canyon de Chelly. Suddenly, he saw an enemy tribesman who chased him deeper into the canyon. As theDiné child ran, he looked quickly from side to side, searching for a place to hide or to escape.

Directly in front of him stood the giant obelisk-like Spider Rock. What could he do? He knew it was too difficult for him to climb. He was near exhaustion. Suddenly, before his eyes he saw a silken cord hanging down from the top of the rock tower.

The Diné boy grasped the magic cord. which seemed strong enough, and quickly tied it around his waist. With its help he climbed the tall tower, escaping from his enemy who then gave up the chase.

When the Diné boy reached the top, he stretched out to rest. There he discovered a most pleasant place with eagle’s eggs to eat and the night’s dew to drink.

He was very surprised to discover that his rescuer was Spider Woman! She told him how she had seen him and his predicament. She showed him how she made her strong web-cord and anchored one end of it to a point of rock. She showed him how she let down the rest of her web-cord to help him to climb the rugged Spider Rock.

Later, when the Diné youth felt assured his enemy was gone, he thanked Spider Woman warmly and he safely descended to the canyon floor by using her magic cord. He ran home as fast as he could run, reporting to his tribe how his life was saved by Spider Woman!

Today young Diné weavers are instructed to find a spider web in the early morning dew glistening with sunlight and sparkles and place the palm of their right hand upon the spider’s webbing without destroying or damaging the web, and the gift of weaving will be transposed into the young weaver’s spirit forever.

Valley of the Monuments

Coming in to Monument Valley means you need to cross a great span of desert which appears dry and barren.  But there is not only a great deal of water under the surface of the land, there is a great deal of water in the history of the valley.



Monument Valley was created as material eroded from the ancestral Rocky Mountains, and was deposited and cemented into sandstone. The formations you see in the valley were left over after the forces of erosion worked their magic on the sandstone.


A geologic uplift caused the surface to bulge and crack. Wind and water then eroded the land, and the cracks deepened and widened into gullies and canyons, which eventually became the scenery you see today. Natural forces continue to slowly shape the land.


Human occupation in the valley today is severely limited, but archaeologists have recorded numerous ancient Puebloan (Anastazi) sites and ruins.


Today, crops are planted in scattered plots to catch most of the run-off from limited rainfall. Deep under the surface sand dunes retain surprising amounts of water.  Corn planted there has a good chance of survival.










These are the two rock formations known as ‘Mittens’.










Visiting the valley is a thrilling experience. As you crest a hill or round a curve, a unique world unfolds before you. The present scene is little changed from that which Hollywood fell in love with in 1938 (when John Wayne and John Ford came to the valley to film Stagecoach).


Driving out of Monument Valley, Liz was amused that just after seeing a sign on the side of the road saying, ‘Stock on Road’, she turned the corner and found a herd of grazing sheep.  Liz wondered how the sheep knew to hang around the sign.  Later, one of the local native people shared that it was probably a local spring which was a reliable source of water.


The Arches of the Universe are Long


Arches national park exists in Southern Utah, just north of the Arizona border.  It lies atop an underground evaporate layer or salt  bed, which is the main cause of the formation of the arches, spires, balanced rocks, sandstone fins, and eroded monoliths in the area. This salt bed is thousands of feet thick in places, and was deposited some 300 million years ago when a sea flowed into the region and eventually evaporated. Over millions of years, the salt bed was covered with debris eroded from the region directly to the northeast. During the Early Jurassic period, desert conditions prevailed in the region and the built up over time.




As this subsurface movement of salt shaped the landscape, erosion removed the younger rock layers from the surface. Over time, water seeped into the surface cracks, joints, and folds of these layers. Ice formed in the fissures, expanding and putting pressure on surrounding rock, breaking off bits and pieces. Winds later cleaned out the loose particles. A series of free-standing fins remained. Wind and water attacked these fins until, in some, the cementing material gave way and chunks of rock tumbled out. Many damaged fins collapsed. Others, with the right degree of hardness and balance, survived despite their missing sections. These became the famous arches.


Rocks have attracted visitors to Arches National Park for thousands of years. However, sightseeing has not been the main activity for very long. Hunter-gatherers migrated into the area about 10,000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age. As they explored Courthouse Wash and other areas in what is now Arches, they found pockets of chert and chalcedony: two forms of microcrystalline quartz perfect for making stone tools. Chipping or knapping these rocks into dart points, knives, and scrapers, they created debris piles that are still visible to the trained eye.


Then, roughly two thousand years ago, the nomadic hunters and gatherers began cultivating certain plants and settled into the Four Corners region. These early agriculturalists, known as the ancestral Puebloan and Fremont people, raised domesticated maize, beans, and squash, and lived in villages like those preserved at Mesa Verde National Park.



While no dwellings have been found in Arches, the northern edge of ancestral Puebloan territory, there are rock inscription panels. Like earlier people, the ancestral Puebloans left lithic scatters, often overlooking waterholes where someone may have shaped tools while watching for game. People living in modern-day pueblos like Acoma, Cochiti, Santa Clara, Taos, and the Hopi Mesas are descendants of the ancestral Puebloans.

Arches National Park is located just north of Moab Utah, an extremely cool town with lots of funky places to eat and outdoor climbing stores.  We stayed in the Bowen Motel and escaped the 100+ degree heat and was the first place we did our laundry on the trip.

The Bryce is Right

After getting warmed up hiking up the Narrows in Zion, we were ready for a more strenuous and exploratory expedition.  But it all began with exploring the crevices of our fantastic Fit.

Four of the first five nights on the road were spent in our compact-sized care courier.  This is a car we’ve been extremely happy with for every day we’ve had it.  However, one thing we didn’t research as it was on the showroom floor was the exact length of the back end – which is exactly four inches shorter than my body in full bloom.  After one night it is a minor inconvenience.  Night two, it’s a little tight.  Night three, cramped.  Night four the other campsites reported a strange howling that those woods have not heard in some time.

We put the rain tarp over so that we could have the windows down (because it was so warm) and we used duck tape to cover a window so we could have our electric lantern on and read at night without being swarmed by bugs.  We did receive a few chuckles from the camp ranger, but we suspect he was jealous of our ingenuity.












A bus tour of the canyon proved to be not only ecologically appropriate (reducing the number of cars that run up and down the 25 miles of roads in Bryce) but it allowed us to see as much of the canyon as we could in our mere 24 hours.  A three hour tour (which provided more than a few connections with the crew of castaways on Gilligan’s Island) gave us ample enough time with our tourguide, Cliff, who retired to Bryce from the Phoenix area after having several nervous episodes in the big city.  He said he loved the quiet solitude and was a very pleasant person to be around.

Cliff shared the engaging regalia of the story of Butch Cassidy who was born and raised not very far  from this area and reported to have some inside information from people he’d met who knew young Butch throughout the course of his life.  As it turns out both Butch and Sundance took on different names – Butch from a fiesty and hornery rancher who employed him for several years and Sundance because of coming to the area (from New Jersey) when he was young and ending up in a jail in Sundance, CO.

They were bank and train robbers who were rather colorful.  They hid out among the canyons which provided so many natural caverns and caves that the law enforcement were reticent to pursue them there.













We took a six mile round trip Hike down the Navajo trail along the rim of the canyon which revealed a stunning new landscape around every turn.  The rock formations are stunning.  As was hearing about 15 different languages being spoken along the trails.  There was easily at least one European family for every American family – and they were generally the more well behaved groups.  Liz and I were, surprisingly, in better shape than some of the other travellers and we made the hike in only a couple of hours.


























The switch backs at the end provided a great echo throughout the canyon of the groans of hikers along the hot dusty trail.  Children scampered back and forth to the amazement of their parents and we came out of the hike completely amazed by the beauty and diversity of both the scenery and the travelers.



More than the Purchase or Recovery of Lands

IMG_3431.JPG “The redemption of Zion is more than the purchase or recovery of lands, the building of cities, or even the founding of nations. It is the conquest of the heart, the subjugation of the soul, the sanctifying of the flesh, the purifying and ennobling of the passions.”

Orson F. Whitney


“They found grace out in the desert,
these people who survived the killing.
Israel, out looking for a place to rest,
met God out looking for them!”
God told them, “I’ve never quit loving you and never will.
Expect love, love, and more love!
And so now I’ll start over with you and build you up again,
dear virgin Israel.
You’ll resume your singing,
grabbing tambourines and joining the dance.
You’ll go back to your old work of planting vineyards
on the Samaritan hillsides,
And sit back and enjoy the fruit—
oh, how you’ll enjoy those harvests!
The time’s coming when watchmen will call out
from the hilltops of Ephraim:
‘On your feet! Let’s go to Zion,
go to meet our God!”

This passage from Jeremiah was probably not thinking of this park in Southern Utah… but it should have been.  There is a majesty here in the cliffs and the trees that is worthy of awe and wonder.  IMG_3408.JPG

Although, like most awe, it comes only after trials.  While in line to the park entrance, I received a call from the apartment complex in Manassas  where Liz and I are trying to get our apartment.  We’d sent in our application (complete with notarized signatures, employment verification, two checks of sizable sums and notes from all our dead relatives vouching for our earnest and sterling intentions) but despite our immaculate karma with the US postal service it was mangled on route and returned to sender.  The Fishers, who rented out place on 10th street found it and reported its condition to us.  Even more, they went down to the Post Office and pleaded mercy on our behalf.  The Post Office concurred and granted mercy, sending it overnight and tracking it.  However, when the Apartment warlords of Sudley Crossing beheld the mangled innards of our once pristine package, they cast their eyes away and pronounced our offerings unworthy.  After more begging for mercy, they granted that we did not have to re-notarize, they still insisted that we re-do our applications which meant finding a place that would give us internet, printing and faxing capacity – in Zion National Park.


Luckily, the goddess of travelling mercies and administrational paperwork lives just outside of Zion and works at the local library.  She helped us through what might have been severe gnashing of teeth and helped us complete our residential administrational penance in short order and returned us to the beauty that had been calling.

The Watchman campground just inside the park entrance was a fine – if only 20 degrees over our preferred thermostat setting.  We got a chance to get out for a pictuesque drive as well as a nice three mile hike up the narrows.



Leaving Las Vegas

180px-Welcome_to_LV.JPG Most of the time I spend in Las Vegas is categorized in a confusingly hard to describe swirl of attractive contempt.  From the time I was a baby I have been going to the city where, over the years, I have visited beloved members of my family (where my Auntie Opal lived – my most influential relative – until she died in the late 1990s), where we took some of favorite family vacations (waterskiing on Lake Mead) and where we flung ourselves into ‘coming of age’ mode in the lights of the strip.

But, especially in the last 10-15 years I have watched the seedier elements of a rather morally dark town blossom and choke out most of the fleeting but redemptive characteristics.  Now, to walk along almost any ordinary street in Las Vegas is to come upon a strip mall complete with pay-day loan office, a dollar store, a porn store and/or a series of corporate franchises.  5928577.JPG Every opportunity to sell out the last vestiges of creativity and originality and pray upon the weaknesses and addictions of others.  Money is the god that this town bows down before.

That said, it is where I most enjoy to play one of my favorite games: No-Limit Texas Hold em.




We were in town for two days (delaying a day in the vain hope my nephew would have the decency to throw his state championship qualifying game and join his uncle in Zion frollicking amidst the canyons… alas, Casey was too good for such shinanigans and they were off coercing with the other 14 ‘best teams in Oregon 2012).  All this meant I got to play in two tournaments – both at the Golden Nugget.  It’s a $65 buy in with a $40 add on… half hour levels.  I came in 4th in the first tournament which paid $250 and 2nd in the other (paying $500).  I played well in both but was disappointed to not win since I was chip leader in both very late in the contest.

We also saw the new Batman while in Las Vegas which was filled with so much gratuitous violence it far outweighed any of the acting, writing, premise, plot or intrigue.  It also chose to give the two major characters speech impediments that made it hard to understand them (however, the relentless high octane blood lust made understanding what they were saying less important).  I am sad when I think about the potential of so much violence to desensitize us to people’s pain and trauma.

Moving on to the natural beauty of Zion came as a welcome relief.

Dawn raid on Yosemite and Mt. Whitney

Dawn brought sun and birds and the whizzing sound of Liz and I caravaning away from our home of the last five years on the Pacific Central Coast of Monterey.   As we departed, we waved goodbye to the picturesque rolling hills of the central valley.IMG_3339.JPG

Entering into Yosemite we purchased our annual interagency cards which allow us access to all the national parks across the country.  Of course, being pacific coasters,  we believe very few places on earth rival the beauty of Yosemite… especially in the summer when the beauty is enhanced by tourists scurrying across Hwy 120 pulling their children in tow… or the panoramic scenery of a wild heard of foreign tourists displaying their characteristic plumage of oversized telephoto lenses taking pictures of the nature around them, each other, and taking pictures of one another taking pictures.




From 120 to 140 back to the valley lodge to 120 to the loop around the valley back to 120 (pulling over to curse at the GPS – ‘…you are entering an unverified area…some routing may be slightly different…’) back to 140 headed through the Tioga Pass and out the east end of the park.



An amazing beauty is nestled into the high desert on the backside of the Sierras.  Bishop, Big Pine and Lone Pine where we finally camped at Tuttle Creek.  One of the great characteristics of the Tuttle Creek site – besides not having the teaming masses of oversized RVs – is that it was mercifully cooler than the 110 degrees generously delivered in Bishop.  A little stream worked through the camp we shared with a sparse few others.  And we had a gorgeous view of the mountains surrounding Whitney (the tallest mountain in the contiguous states.