Posted by: Bruce Proctor | August 29, 2010

My first visit to Coal Mine Canyon. Part 1 of 3

In early July 1998, on my first time through the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona, I spent a night at the mouth of Canyon De Chelley in a very large, free, public campground sheltered by great cottonwoods.

From early evening there grew a din of dogs barking, lots of them, and it continued through the night. I soon also discovered that the dogs were  also running freely throughout the camp. I never experienced that before or since: was this an aspect of Navajo culture?

I locked all my food and extra gear securely in the camper on the back of my truck. Until I went to bed, I saw dogs passing through my campsite in the shadows, some of them maybe imaginary. Later, from inside my tent on the ground, I saw their silhouettes on the tent wall slipping silently by. What were they up to? This was foreign to me, an Anglo American in what now seemed a foreign land. I did not sleep well and was on the road at first light.

At dawn I was driving west toward Tuba City through sparse desert. The two-lane highway ran  right through the Hopi Reservation, entirely bounded by the Navajo. I saw the signature Hopi mesas, and soon mounted the top of the last one, onto an upland plateau. There, by the road, in a pristine field of sand dunes, were growing hand-planted rows of corn! Ragged, yes, with stalks and leaves weather-beaten, but they were clearly doing all right, knee-high. No shade. No sign of irrigation. It seemed– and still does– miraculous.

[As I am writing this story from 12 years ago, my brother from Tucson is visiting us on the Maine coast. On his first night here, he was telling me about visiting Hopi country this spring. “I met this amazing Hopi farmer who has a traditional corn patch just outside the village.”

“Is it just off the highway? On the way to Tuba City?” I asked.

“Yes, in a dune field.”

“You won’t believe this, but I’m writing about that very corn field right this moment!”

What are the odds?! But it’s these coincidences which are an integral part of this tale.]

End part 1.

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