May 14, 2024

After our time in the Dirty Devil, we abandoned the canyon walls we had called home for the past twelve days, transitioning into a new section involving a concept which had become a far-out fairy tale: civilization. Trading out hiking boots and Darn Tough socks for the wheels of our trusty pal Garth (the twelve seater WRFI van currently holding a mere six passengers), we embarked on the front country section of our semester on the Colorado Plateau.

We plastered bread ovens with adobe and sheared billy goats. We forged connections with people kind enough to welcome us into their homes and teach us about the history and present day of their culture, along with their personal lives. During our ten front country days we participated in two homestays, forgoing one due to a brief mystery illness which plagued our group for the better part of three days. During these, as well as our extensive time spent driving across the Four Corners area, I learned not only some specifics of Navajo and Hopi cultures, but also the importance of differences in perspective.

One of the first prominent moments which highlighted this was just after leaving our first stay with a Hopi family. Our host conveyed to us the importance of humility and gratitude in Hopi culture, and of forming experiences and relationships from a place of peace and nonviolence. In both past and present, the Hopi people have centered this perspective. After saying our emotional goodbyes and expressing our gratitude for this time spent on Hopi land, we headed toward our next destination. While making a stop in Bluff, Utah, we took a quick visit to the preserve known as Bluff Fort. As soon as we walked in, a worker excitedly expressed to us that this establishment was “celebrating the first white settlement” in the area. Skeptical of this concept, we ventured into the fort and saw an overwhelming rhetoric championing white colonialism. White settlers were being praised for ‘conquering’ this land and ‘braving to go where no other man would.’ There was barely any mention of Native Peoples who have inhabited this land for thousands of years prior, let alone of the impact this settlement had, and continues to have, on
these communities.

These two starkly different experiences catapulted me into a new frame of thought, one fueled by questions ranging from, “How does an establishment so blatantly ignore such a prominent aspect of its history?” to a more introspective, “How has my perspective been shaped by my experiences, education, and privilege?” These are nuanced questions which I am still ruminating on, but they led me to an awareness of the very noticeable differences in perspective between people and cultures on the Colorado Plateau, one which I carried with me through the rest of this section.

With this more intentional practice of noticing, we moved into our final homestay. On our way, we met with the Chief of Natural and Cultural Resources of Canyon De Chelly National Monument. After our experience at Bluff Fort, I felt jaded toward any establishment stemming from the US government, which inherently stems from a base of prejudice and settler-colonialism. Once the representative started speaking, I experienced my own perspective shift. I expected to hear more about removal of Indigenous Peoples from their native lands under the guise of a positive and nationalistic view. Instead, our speaker shared about the involvement of Navajo Nation in park management and decision making, and the continuity of a ‘live-in community’ within monument boundaries. This served as an introduction to the great importance of land to Navajo Culture, which was further shown during our time with our final host family. We witnessed the expansive family land rich with pieces of history, recent and long past, as well as their current uses. Old hogans, chert scatters, grazing herds, and edible plants were each a testament to the generations-long relationship with this land.

The front country brought a renewed sense of comfort in the form of home-cooked meals and a couch to sit on for class, as well as a unique set of challenges. Broken sunglasses, forgotten grocery store items, and a strange rattling sound coming from Garth’s rear tire all fell under the umbrella of our mantra, “Something about front country.” But tied in with all of the small frustrations and mishaps was an even greater sense of community and gratitude fostered in each new experience had and relationship formed. This section provided me with a newfound understanding of a small number of the vast amounts of varying perspectives on the Colorado Plateau, as well as insight and reflection on my own perspective and biases – both of which I will carry with me through the rest of this semester and, no doubt, my lifetime.

2 Replies to “Perspectives on the Colorado Plateau: From Canyons to Civilization by Josephine Caringi”

  • Josie that was quite a trip just following along with your blog! Thank you for sharing your experience with us. If I were your age I would be happy to sit along side of you on this journey! Please send more as you experience it.

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