Dr Chip Thomas is a native of North Carolina who went to Diné (Navajo) Nation decades ago as a fulfillment of a National Health Services Corps scholarship he had received. He arrived in this area in 1987.
Decades later he began to paint large scale murals on abandoned buildings throughout the area. Early on he painted what he believed to be an abandoned roadside stand, only to find it was still used and the new art attracted more business. These stands are crucial to the economic survival of the community.
The mural in Gray Mountain is on an old motel that had been owned by a group known as the Whiting Brothers, who had a chain of motels all along route 66 and elsewhere in the west.
The art is a tribute to the Diné Nation and their struggles and heritage, and was completed by Dr Thomas as well as Diné artists.
Easily one of the most recognizable locales in the Southwest, Monument Valley is part of the Navajo Nation. The Tribal Park offers the opportunity to tour the valley via a 17 mile dirt and gravel road.
It is interesting to note that unlike a national park, people live in the valley, so you will see farms and homes scattered about.
According to the National Park Service documents the Canyon de Chelly contains over 2500 archeological sites dating from 1500 BC to 1350 AD.
Among these are numerous cliff dwellings dating from 1100, built by the Anasazi.
Today the canyon is located in the Navajo Nation. While you can tour the area from the rim, the best way to see and appreciate the area is to take a guided tour with one of the local Navajo guides, which is what we did.
Our tour guide Sylvia took us on a 3 hour jeep tour of much of the canyon. Having grown up in the canyon, she was a fantastic guide, pointing out not only the historic features of the cliff dwellings and the petroglyphs, she added insight into life in the canyon from a first person perspective (even showing us her cows!)
The White House ruins is one of the more famous, and most complete. While the walls of the canyon rise as high as 1000′ the deeper you go in, the walls here are around 500′ high.
After completing our tour of the canyon floor, we drove around both the north and south rim.
The most noteworthy view is Spider Rock, rising 800′ above the canyon floor. Named for the mythical lair of Spider Woman, it is a sacred Navajo place.
From above the views of the canyon floor is impressive.
At long last it is time for a long road trip. This trip will take 16 days, and go as far north as Montana, always taking the scenic route, providing interesting views for a series of blog postings.
We started out by leaving Tucson on a sunny Friday morning.
Our route took us up Arizona Highway 77 north towards Globe. The route follows the Gila River for a few miles.
Anywhere there is water there is vegetation in the desert, with this view showing an interesting mix of the desert landscape of the saguaros next to the riparian landscape of the riverbank.
As we made our way through Pinal Pass, just south of Globe, we came across a burn area. Nature however is resilient, and the spring flowers are in bloom next to the burnt trees.
At Globe, Arizona 77 merges and runs along with U.S. 60 towards Show Low. About 40 miles northeast of Globe you descend down 2000′ vertical feet into the Salt River Canyon. The drive, and views, are spectacular.
Once the river is reached there are two bridges – the original bridge is an Art Deco masterpiece built in 1934, built as part of the New Deal initiative. It is built in a design known as steel two hinged girder ribbed deck arch.
Today it is a pedestrian only bridge.
The newer bridge, built in 1993 carries the traffic. While not nearly as interesting, they at least added some native symbolism incorporated into it.
Two more views on the north side of the canyon show the dramatic walls, and the river below.
North of Holbrook you go through areas of the Painted Desert. While not as colorful as the areas near the Petrified Forest National Park, it still added interesting views to the drive that lead us to the next posting stop – Canyon De Chelly National Monument.