on day 2 of our grand canyon trip we took a 52 mile narrated bus trip to the eastern side of the south rim. (we could easily have driven this ourselves, but the park service does a terrific job of training the drivers in the history of the area, especially the various native americans who first populated the area and the first white explorers)
in many ways the eastern part of the south rim is a very different place from the western part. the eastern side of the south rim is less rugged and less deep (still a mile down and the river is still 300 yards across) than the western side with spectacular views of the colorado river and the clay red soil we all associate with the arizona desert.
the most spectacular outlook on this side of the canyon is navajo point, a sweeping, breathtaking view of a large expanse of the canyon, the colorado river below and the painted desert off in the eastern distance. the road on this side of the south rim winds through the kaibab forest so as you drive through it’s a bit hard to believe that the canyon is just the other side of the trees. to say the scenery is dramatic is an understatement. our guide talked about the nearby shrubs and trees, giving examples of how the navajo and hopi used these plants for food, medicine and sundries (he got a great kick out of having a pharmacist among us and used C extensively). he was also comically on the outlook for an “elk jam” (when a bull elk wanders into the road and everyone stops dead in their tracks to take a picture. one materialized later in the day back at grand canyon village)
day 3 we followed the same road but exited the eastern side of the canyon park and headed to cameron, in the navajo nation about an hour away. what started out with snow and sleet at the canyon turned into 30 mile an hour sustained crosswinds as we descended 2500 feet down into the desert below. (the winds kicked up a pink cloud of sand/dust that chased us back up the mountain later in the day). every turn in the road revealed a sight more spectacular than the last.
my descriptions aren’t the best, what i can say is that some time in your life you have to witness this for yourself. even the best photographers cannot possibly capture what you will see by being there. nor will they capture the heartache of seeing some of the living conditions on the navajo reservation.
the splendor of the surrounding land and their history is what the navajo have on the reservation. beyond that, not much else. (that we could see. go to http://discovernavajo.com/index.html to see the bright side.) there are trailers and debris, shacks and broken down cars, scraps and remnants from a once regal life on this land. it brought us to silence. and sadness.
aside: diane sawyer recently did an hour long report called “children of the plains”, highlighting the deplorable conditions of the lakota sioux people on the pine ridge reservation in south dakota. there was a counterpoint by tim giago, an oglala lakota, is president of unity south dakota on huffington post a few days later http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tim-giago/abc-pine-ridge-reservation_b_1014022.html.
i hope tim is correct in saying that there’s progress.
the stark contrast of how the first peoples on this nation live compared to even some of the most challenged among us is as striking as the difference between the view of the grand canyon and the valley below.