A powerful wind lashes the desert and, as is supposed in these North American confines, sweeps rolling bushes back and forth along Highway 89's endless straights.
But neither the sandstorm nor the tumbleweeds unwary disturbam the sovereign trajectory of the classic Buick Le Saber we were driving in cruise control, there are already thousands of kilometers.
They separated us 160 km from Page. We covered the distance in three hours with a strategic stop at the Navajo National Monument to admire the ancient Indian village of Betatkin, sheltered under a huge hollow cliff, in the image of Colorado's neighbor Mesa Verde.
Arrived at the destination, we settle in and recover from some accumulated road fatigue.
Page: a Desert Denial
Clumsy and makeshift, Page is the gateway to the second-largest water reservoir in the US, augmented in 1963 by the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam that capitalized on the immense flow of Lake Powell.
This one appears like a gigantic mirage of blue, nestled in the desolate vastness around it. The privilege of its vision and the fun it provides attracts travelers from neighboring states but also a little from the rest of the country and the world. But it was work and not play that gave rise to Page.
The work proved to be long and exhaustive. It required the permanent effort of thousands of migrated workers. The houses assigned to them and the businesses that followed, eventually formed the city.
The dam's future seems doomed by a prolonged drought that, since 1999, has shrunk the reservoir to half its capacity, exposing petroglyphs, arches, caves, dinosaur footprints and other previously submerged attractions.
But even shrunk, the lake retains a strong charm, reinforced by many of its 3200 km of coastline bordering the mystic Utah, which we ended up making the occasional brief foray.
Sometimes on the way out, sometimes on the way back, we find high points that reveal an almost marine vastness and the hundreds of houseboats lined up in the Wahweap marina, anchored until the arrival of the holidays and the owners' families.
We wonder if, at the rate at which water is consumed by thirsty cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, the vessels will soon be dry docking.
Back in Arizona, we detour to the eccentric Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River.
There, some visitors are afraid to reach the high bank and exchange muffled shouts: "Don't take any more chances, Kerbie, this whirlwind is the worst!" Just two more steps, Will. Two steps and we should already have a view”.
It didn't take us long to understand why the commotion. Despite being held to the surface by the heights that rise from the desert, the wind rose from the deep gorge of the river with inordinate force and provoked violent gusts and eddies.
We redouble our care.
One, more retiring, is holding his feet than he comes forward, while this one, lying on the rock, faces the worst of the vortex but has the privilege of looking down and contemplating the perfect horseshoe carved by river erosion with more than 300 meters of depth.
We survived the stunt and left some teenage disciples to follow suit. When we get back to the car, it occurs to us whether we would not have inspired a tragedy.
We progress into southern Arizona parallel to the tight bed of Little Colorado and notice that the entire region is being invaded by a cold front pushed by clouds of increasingly dark blue.
As we drive towards Marble Canyon, the temperature follows the steep drop.
Even out of season, we are treated to a surprise snowfall that reduces visibility to almost nothing but, as the cold is not enough at ground level, it never gets to paint the landscape in white.
Colorado is now facing us. We cross it first on foot, contemplating its flooded canyon and then in the car, through one of the two arms of the Navajo Bridge and back to the starting point.
A scenic flight over the great Colorado Plateau awaited us on Page.
In the Navajo Skies of Arizona
At 7:45 the next morning, we are already at the airport. We are told that the wind has dropped and is staying within the limits where Westwind Air Service usually flies. We receive the information with an inevitable distrust that only increases when we see a teenage-looking female pilot sitting in the cockpit.
Experienced for her age, Jerrine Harrel has little to fear. In the hyper-confident American manner, he greets the passengers with a wide smile, hands us the briefing of security and lifts the small plane to the again crystal clear skies of Arizona: “Ladies and gentlemen, believe what I tell you.
You'll never forget these views again.”
Same, beforehand, we agree without reservation. So soon we wouldn't have another opportunity to photograph a terrestrial surface like that from the air. Thus, we abstract from the abrupt jumps that the aircraft takes and cause the machines to fire probably too many times.
We flew over the heart of gigantic Lake Powell where we discovered unthinkable nooks and crannies. We climb over Page and soar over the crimson expanse of the Colorado Highlands, carved out of prehistory.
We see sedimentary hills and plateaus lost in nothingness, branching courses of extinct rivers, stone arches, rock needles projecting from the ground and sharp hills. In between, also an improbable village or two somewhere between two and thirty or forty rusty trailers, given over to aridity and rattlesnakes.
To the east, the eroded surface locks us in with a surprising concentration of other exuberant geological sculptures. We suspect that we are over the Monument Valley and the pilot's narration confirms it. Jerrine makes the plane circle the area twice. The uniqueness of the landscape is illusory.
Downstairs, the Navajo Nation remains in the hands of its embattled natives.
From Alaskan Tundra to US Integration
The Athabaskan tribes that gave rise to the Navajo are believed to have migrated to the southwestern US in 1400 CE from eastern Alaska and northwestern Canada. Upon coming into contact with the Puebla civilization, they adopted its cultivation techniques and agricultural productions.
From the Spanish colonizers – who first called them Navajos – they assimilated the habit of raising animals in herds and herds for food and to exchange for other foodstuffs. There followed the learning of weaving and the production of clothes and blankets.
By the 1860s, the Spaniards realized that the Navajo had thousands of head of cattle, vast cultivated areas and a past of territorial expansion, redefining their identity and connecting with neighboring Pueblos, Apaches, Utes and Comanches which oscillated between military incursions and commerce.
But the Apaches were also in the path of the conquerors. Fulfilling tradition, these inaugurated a long period of attacks and pillages on the Indians.
A few years later, the United States expelled the Spanish and Mexicans from the area and took over the annexation of Navajo territory using a strategic network of forts. Angry about the construction of railroads, mining, and invasion in general, the Navajo retaliated like never before.
Simultaneously with the carnage of the American Civil War, the years 1860-61 proved to be so punishing for the colonists and military that they became known as “The fearing Time".
The reaction did not wait. Based in New Mexico, Union forces commanded by Kit Carson systematically burned Navajo crops.
Long Walk Violence and the Marginalization that followed
They led us first to the surrender and then to the condemnation of the long walk, an infamous deportation in which some 9.000 men, women and children had to walk in the desert for nearly 500 km to Fort Summer, where the US government had installed Bosque Redondo, the first major Indian reservation.
After 18 days of marching, there were more than 200 dead.
Thereafter, the military authorities were able to maintain and control the Navajo on this and other reservations that grew in size to their original territory.
Many natives were integrated into the army as scouts, but the permanent aggressions of the civilian settlers and prejudice prevented a better relationship between the two peoples. These days, this ethnic and cultural divide remains unresolved.
As part of the Navajo Nation, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park was never integrated into the North American network of National Parks.
Accordingly, all the ten dollars paid by the visitors are used to support the Navajo people who, after a long dispute with the federal governments, also won legislation (based on the tribal code), their own Council and Supreme Court - installed in the capital Window Rock – as well as the right to have autonomous forces of authority.
The Unusual Military Mastery of the Navajo Indigenous
Despite the bipolar relationship that Native Americans have always had with Washington, the Navajo have, in fact, gained a curious military reputation. are yours famous code talkers recruited by the Marines during the 2nd World War for the Pacific theater, in order to transmit secret tactical messages via telephone or radio, based on indigenous dialects.
For many natives, this and other collaborations never paid off. A few years earlier, the United States had denied the Navajo social assistance because the Indians lived in a communal society. More recently, federal funding for the indigenous sub-nation has proved insufficient to supply the interiority and the gaps that victimize it.
During the second half of the XNUMXth century, uranium and coal mining represented a significant source of income.
But demand for uranium has decreased and, worse than that, the Navajo population, uninformed about the harm caused by radioactivity, suffered serious ecological and biological damage which, in 2005, led to the cancellation of the extraction.
It is now known that Navajo Nation lands are home to the most important mineral resources in all of the native domains of the United States, but the Navajo continue to depend on other activities.
Crafts and tourism complemented each other and while many families have artisans, some of their elements also dress up as cowboys to represent the missing protagonists.