Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Mutant vegetables

Is it cauliflower? Is it broccoli? Web sites I consulted couldn't agree other than to note it is a plant in and of itself and not some strange product of genetic modification. I spotted a head of romanesco at Econo Foods yesterday.

It turns out Ecclesiastes is wrong. There is something new under the sun, at least for me. I had never seen one of these strange, alien creatures before. As I stood there admiring its weirdness, one of the produce minions gave me a pep talk about how delicious it would be roasted with some olive oil, garlic, maybe some salt and pepper. . . the next thing I knew it had crawled into the shopping cart.

Tonight we feast green stuff. Verdict tomorrow on just how edible something that looks like it should grow on Venus tastes.

Note to Kid: See, we do know that vegetables other than potatoes exist.

Something closer to home than the State of the Union

I did not watch the State of the Union address, and I'm really hoping talking about it falls out of the news cycle fairly quickly. Regardless of who the President is the State of the Union speech is pretty much a waste of time. The President stands there making a bunch of promises he will not keep (although he'd really really like to if only Congress would rubber stamp his wish list) and the  Congress critters sit there hoping the television cameras focus on them long enough for their constituents to believe they're actually worth re-electing. If the President is a Republican, the Republicans applaud wildly no matter what gets said while Democrats sit on their hands, and vice versa. It's all meaningless. It fulfills the Constitution's requirement that the President do an annual report to the Congress, but no one really cares in the long run what is said.

Well, almost no one. The pundits who make their living reading political tea leaves will spend the next 48 hours or so dissecting every phrase and speculating endlessly about what it all meant. No one else wants to talk about it for much longer than it takes for Kimmel, Colbert, et al. to mock it.

In short, Trump is not what I'm thinking about lately. What I'm thinking about are the plans being discussed locally for a wind farm in the Huron Mountains. You know what the primary opposition to it is? Aesthetics. Frelling aesthetics and how messing up the viewscape might make tourists on snow machines* less likely to spend a weekend in Baraga County. You got it. Having wind turbines in the hills might discourage FIPs and trolls and other forms of asshattery from visiting Arvon Township and dropping the mythical Big Bucks in Baraga County. OMG. The Finn's will sell a few less burgers, the Huron Bay Trading Post will have a few less customers desperate enough to pay their high prices for gasoline. Somewhere, at least on my planet, the world's tiniest violin is playing a sad song for all the people who think wind turbines are uglier than the alternatives.

We already have cell towers cluttering up high points in the county, but those are apparently okay. After all, we all use cell phones. Gotta have that cell service, right? But wind turbines? Not In My Backyard.

The same people bitching loudest about the wind towers are, of course, the same folks who bitch about clear cuts when one of the timber companies has the nerve to harvest the trees on the land it owns and who oppose any development that might make things less pretty or increase truck traffic on the highways. I have mentioned this before, but back in my graduate student days I did an analysis of local opposition to a proposed pulp mill. It would have been sited on the shore of Lake Superior (convenient source of water for mill operations) with US-41 running right next to it. An organization called Friends of the Land of Keweenaw** was formed to fight it. My research used content analysis of letters to the editor in local newspapers to see how opposition and support lined up in terms of existing stereotypes of tree huggers and their ilk.

I was really hoping to learn then that there was no clear line between the two groups (supporters and opponents). No such luck. It turned out that the difference really did fall along class lines -- the usual what time of day do you take a shower divider (before work or after? which is another way of saying "white collar or blue?") You know, "Are you an environmentalist or do you work for a living?" Mill opponents tended to be retirees, including a good percentage of trolls who had retired here because it's pretty and wanted it to stay that way, or white collar. Supporters were still working, usually at an hourly wage rather than for a salary, and were a lot more interested in permanent, year-round jobs than in keeping tourists happy.

So here we are almost 30 years later and a different sort of development is being proposed. I'll be honest. I do have a real problem with people who freak out about wind turbines. I love wind mills, both medieval and modern. There is something remarkably soothing about seeing a large modern wind farm in action -- one of my favorite stops along I-39 in northern Illinois is the Mendota Rest Area. There are wind turbines as far as the eye can see. They're beautiful. Ditto the wind farms in Minnesota along the Buffalo Ridge that runs through the town of Marshall. The turbines are so contradictory: humongous but graceful and, despite what some critics have claimed, remarkably quiet. I've been right under them just outside Marshall and could not hear a thing except the natural wind. I have been known to be a bit of a Luddite, but when it comes to wind power? Nope. I have yet to see a wind power development that hit me the wrong way.

I will concede that it would be nice to see some downsizing and decentralizing, more dispersed rooftop installations and improved designs that might not require a several acres of land for each tower. In my ideal world we'd all have a lot of individual power generation and far less dependence on an aging and vulnerable grid. However, there are people working in those areas and eventually we'll get there. But for now? I see no rational reason to oppose a wind farm in a rural area where the deer and moose (and squirrel) outnumber the people by quite a bit. If Weyerhauser or some of the other land owners in Arvon Township want to cooperate with wind power development, I think they should do so. If all of us living up here have to stare at cell towers on the horizon, I'd say the viewscape is no longer pristine. And if a couple of tourists happen to look up and decide they're unhappy, screw 'em. Given that when they're running around on their snow machines or ORVs they've got a pretty restricted field of vision anyway, I doubt that many will even notice the cell towers are no longer alone on the hill tops. Most of them never see anything other than the ass end of the machine in front of them on the trail.

People who use aesthetics as an argument or do the "please don't mess with my playground" (usually voiced by nonresidents) have always annoyed me. If you're going to argue against a development, use something concrete: possible negative effects on an aquifer, destruction of wetlands, pollution with heavy metals, whatever. But use something that is REAL, not just a totally subjective personal feeling.

*I occasionally hope for a special place in Hell for the inventors of machines that are noisy, spew pollution, travel in packs, and shit beer cans. The one good thing that's happened with snow machines in recent decades is they're now so over powered with such skinny tracks that they're stuck on trails. Back in the '70s asshats on snow machines used to cut through our place on a regular basis. They can't do that anymore because if they venture off a groomed trail they bury themselves in the loose snow.

**Also referred to as "Fucking Over Little Kids 'cause Daddy can't find a job" by mill supporters

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Another of life's little mysteries

Why do people buy this stuff? Just what is the attraction of mass-produced weirdness? There was a sales flyer in the mailbox the other day that had multiple blow-in cards all pushing collectibles of various types. There's a godawful, tacky beyond the human capacity to grasp Thomas Kinkade-inspired Christmas tree that comes complete with a glowing star on top and a snow globe in the base. It's one of those things that you look at and the mind boggles. The only places I can think of where people might have taste that weird are also places where one is unlikely to find Christmas tree knickknacks, like cheap bordellos. It is so weird and so ugly. . . I thought Kinkade related items were bad when the man was alive. Apparently his estate has decided they can sink even lower.

The carousel isn't quite as bad. It's got a verse printed on the base about how wonderful granddaughters are so it's easy to picture some sweet little old lady (definitely not me) buying it to give to a little girl as a decoration for her bedroom. That's a pretty obvious market. The kids won't appreciate it much, although you never know. Even if they're not thrilled at getting a knickknack instead of a toy, they're likely to still think it's cute. At least it's not overtly painful to look at and it is a music box, which gives it some entertainment value.

And then there's the dachshund in the sheriff's outfit. Holy wah. The little dude is both cute and appalling. What type of drugs are the people who came up with that design doing? How stoned do you have to be to decide that a dachshund with a badge is a good idea? And just how much persuasion did it take to get the Hamilton Collection t to decide to add it to their product line? Then again, considering just how much crap Hamilton cranks out annually, the dachshund probably wasn't that hard a sell. For all I know, it's just the latest in a long line of canines in improbable costumes and cast in resin to gather dust for all eternity. Dalmations as firemen. Golden retrievers as nurses. Pomeranians as meth heads.
At least they're not trying to convince anyone that the beast is going to increase in value over time, which is actually part of the sales pitches for one of the others where production is going to be limited to a mere 95 days. Ninety-five days! Apparently they're assuming no one is ever going to do the math and think about just how many hundreds of thousands of "collectibles" can be cranked out on an assembly line when the production line is running for over three months. Three months! They could probably saturate their target market with three hours' worth of production, let alone three months. 

OMG. Just realized the little dude has spurs on his boots. I'm suddenly feeling relieved I threw the ads in the burnable trash right after I took the photos. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

No state monopolies on racism

Caption above done by person who scanned the photo and didn't quite realize what she was looking at. 
In commenting on my last post, Ol' Buzzard mentioned the Klan in Mississippi. I'm not going to disagree that Mississippi had lots and lots of overt bigots, but they weren't exactly unique. The North was full of sundown towns (as in  if you were black the sun had better not set while your ass was still in town), like Ironwood, Michigan. I took the train a lot when I was younger (I had a pass for free rides on the Chicago & Northwestern) and asked my dad once why the black porters never got off the train when it was standing in the Ironwood station. It routinely stood in the station long enough for the engineer, fireman, conductor, and train man to all step down, stretch their legs, and do some schmoozing with the depot agent and other locals. That's when I learned about sundown towns. This was in the early 1960's but the town still retained enough of a nasty reputation that no black train crew member was going to take a chance by setting foot on the depot platform.

Interestingly enough, when the Klan started growing in the early 20th century, it actually had more members in the North than it did in the South. The state of Indiana, if I recall correctly, had the largest number of Klan members of any state in the country. The South had individual acts of terrorism -- black men being lynched for supposed sexual assaults, houses being burned if a family seemed too uppity -- but the 20th century race riots where mobs of white racists wiped out whole neighborhoods did not take place in the Deep South. They happened in the border states, the North, or the West, e.g.. the Tulsa riot in 1921. In the South the acts of terrorism were intended to remind blacks of their proper place in society, i.e., as the servant class. In the North the goal was much more "we don't want you here" and "go back where you came from."

And, yes, we had the Klan locally. The person who scanned the historic photo above and labeled it as Odd Fellows may have genuinely believed it was Odd Fellows, but it's definitely the Ku Klux Klan. It's a high quality resolution and when you blow it up the Klan emblem (the blood drop cross) is clearly visible on the front of the robes. There were chapters of the Klan in a number of Upper Peninsula towns, although they seem to have been a phenomenon of the nativist movements of the 1920s and then faded away. Maybe it was because Michigan had a law saying you couldn't cover your face. If you look at the photo, you'll notice there are no masks. It can get a little embarrassing to be spouting hate when everyone knows exactly who you are. Or maybe it never did have much traction. It would be hard to keep an anti-immigrant (the Klan wasn't just about hating blacks; they also opposed immigration from what they considered shithole countries like Finland and Italy) group going once Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924 and the number of new immigrants from undesirable countries dropped. It would be especially hard to be anti-immigrant in an area where a huge chunk of the population consisted of fairly recent arrivals who'd managed to get off the boat before the laws changed.

Minor digression. Both of the commercial buildings shown in the photo are still standing, but both had the clapboard covered with cheap asphalt siding decades ago. The cornices are still there, though.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Silence is complicity

I read Paul Theroux's Deep South recently. Theroux is known for his travel writing, most of which highlights trips in foreign lands. In Deep South Theroux decides to explore his own country, a part of the United States where he'd never really spent much time or knew much about other than through reading and listening to the news. Theroux is a Yankee to the bone --whenever he talks about home, he references his house on Cape Cod. In Deep South  he describes his wanderings around states like Mississippi and Alabama.

Unlike the typical travel book that narrates a person's mishaps and insights as they progress from Point A to Point Z, Deep South is circular. Theroux makes repeated trips to places like Brookdale, South Carolina, and Dumas, Arkansas. No surprise -- he finds appalling rural poverty, sees stuff that makes some of the Third World nations he's visited look good in comparison. He visits the same people multiple times so gets second, third, and fourth looks at communities that had this been a normal travel book he'd have passed through only one time.

One reason he finds the poverty, of course, is he's deliberately looking for it. He's taking back roads and stopping in the towns with multiple boarded up store fronts, dilapidated houses, and junked cars abandoned in people's yards. He's on the roads where the main roads used to go back in the days before the Interstate highway system and before state highway departments began routing major highways around towns instead of going right down Main Street (or its equivalent). He's stopping in the rural communities that were bustling when the typical family farm was a maybe 40 acres with a decent patch of cotton or sorghum or sugar cane and families had truck gardens and sold watermelons and peaches at roadside stands. Granted, a lot of those small farms in the deep South were occupied by sharecroppers or tenant farmers, but nonetheless you had a lot more individual farms in rural areas than exist today. More farms equals more people to shop at small local groceries, patronize the feed stores, and fill the churches. Then the farms became mechanized, more and more families pushed their kids to go north to Chicago or Detroit or west to California, the more successful small farmers expanded their holdings (farms went from 40 acres to 400 to 4000) and what was left?

The same thing you find in rural areas everywhere: ghost towns and the people who couldn't manage to make it out. When the number of farmers drops from hundreds to a handful, the local farmers' cooperative is going to see a pretty drastic drop in membership. You can see that same pattern in Kansas and the Dakotas and the upper Midwest. You see it here in the U.P.  Our county's population peaked in about 1940. It then dropped steadily for decades. It finally rebounded when the economy began improving about 20 years ago, and is now at an all-time high, but we've still got a bunch of ghost towns and boarded up buildings in the outlying communities, the backroads ones that used to be centered on farming and logging, like Pelkie and Covington.

Similarly there are dying small towns all over the country that had businesses that catered to travelers that wound up either shutting down or relocating when the highway by-pass went in. Brookdale and Orangeburg, South Carolina, aren't exactly unique in having moldering mom and pop motels that have either been shuttered for years or now muddle along after converting to low budget apartment complexes that do weekly rentals to people down on their luck and surviving on welfare vouchers. In fact, sometimes it doesn't even take a highway by-pass. All it takes is someone putting up a more modern motel, even something that's supposedly low budget and no frills like a Super 8 franchise, and suddenly the travelers are ignoring the older places that went up 20 or 30 years earlier.

So just what was Theroux's goal with this book? To find out for himself that parts of the Deep South are still stuck in the 19th century? To be able to put down on paper and somehow feel  morally superior that he heard white Southerners freely using the infamous N word? I don't know why he'd feel the need to go to Alabama for that -- I'm sure if he hung out in a diner on Cape Cod sooner or later he'd have heard the term bandied about by people who hadn't voted for Obama. Anyone who's ever made the mistake of reading the comments sections on the Internet knows Alabama and Mississippi don't exactly have a monopoly on racism and bigotry.

Maybe his goal was to do some Clinton bashing. He brings up the subject of the Clinton Foundation a number of times, usually with a fairly distinct slant. He visits a number of nonprofits that work on housing issues and anti-poverty programs and asks if they've gotten anything from the Clinton Foundation, usually followed by comments about how the Foundation is giving money to African countries so why won't it do anything in this country? To the credit of the people Theroux is trying to get a rise out of, they treat his questions as some sort of weird non sequitur and make it clear there's other stuff they'd rather talk about.

As an aside, I'll note that it appears Theroux has never bothered to actually look at the Clinton Foundation. If he'd taken the time to do some basic research (Google is your friend, Paul), he'd have learned that (a) the Clinton Foundation does have programs in the United States. It's supporting work in healthcare, education, and energy efficiency. In addition, he'd have known that the Foundation is a re-granting agency. That is, it doesn't administer programs directly. It gives money to other nonprofits, some of which do work themselves and some of which spread the funds out even more. It's analogous to the Kellogg Foundation or the Ford Foundation. (The museum I volunteer at has been given Kellogg Foundation money but it came through the Humanities Council of Michigan, not straight from Kellogg. Kellogg gave the Humanities Council a big pot of money that the Council then split into smaller pieces and awarded to small, local nonprofits.)

I have no clue why Theroux had a minor obsession with Clinton. He mentions William Jefferson Clinton a number of times and seems to think Bubba is somehow relevant at the time he's doing his road tripping in 2012, a dozen years after Clinton left office. I thought it was kind of weird that the name of Barack Obama didn't come up. If you're going to wander around the South chasing racism wouldn't the country's first black president be a tad more interesting to talk about than the good ol' boy who'd been gone for quite awhile?

I will give Theroux a few points for having the humility to describe an incident in which he's hoping to get a chance to speak directly with Congressman John Lewis at an event (Lewis was a speaker at a book festival). He gives his name to a person at the public library, and not only is he not recognized, his name is immediately mispronounced as "thorax." It's about there that he has a minor epiphany and realizes that (a) he's gotten old and (b) he looks like one of those disheveled geezers that amble around in public sounding confused and leaving people wondering if they're homeless.

So just what do the above paragraphs have to do with the title of this post? Not much, actually. However, on a number of occasions Theroux did talk with white Southerners. They're all old enough that they remember the 1950s, '60s, and '70s when the schools were desegregating. One fellow recalled an incident from his high school in the early 1970s. There was an assembly held in a gymnasium, a space where there weren't chairs, and students had to sit on the floor. A natural posture for 'anyone who's stuck sitting on a floor is to put your hands down and kind lean back using your arms to support you. The man remembered it was not long after the first black students were admitted to what had been an all-white high school. He said that there were a group of black students sitting on the floor like that, using their hands to make sitting on the floor more comfortable, and every single white student who walked past them stepped on the black hands. The black kids suffered in silence; the white kids pretended nothing was happening. The old white  guy said he felt real bad about it. Sure he did. He felt so bad about it he said nothing at the time and no doubt stepped on a few hands himself. Peer pressure makes a marvelous excuse after the fact.

Theroux mentioned a number of similar incidents that 30 or 40 years later that white people were still feeling guilty about -- and well they should. One can't help but wonder if some of the tensions over civil rights would have eased sooner if a few more people had spoken up instead of worrying about what the neighbors would say or how their friends might mock them. You know, when you hear people say they would have spoken up but they thought they were the only ones who felt that way what they're actually articulating is the perfect reason for speaking up about anything that bothers you. If you never say anything, you'll never know if anyone else agrees with you. It is possible to point out that something is wrong or misinformed without being overly confrontational about it. Silence equals complicity. Doing nothing is a political act.

And even if when you do speak up the result is a supposed friend becomes angry or you end up being socially shunned, so what? What have you lost? The companionship of someone you've just realized is a sadistic asshat or an unabashed bigot? Taking the moral high ground can be uncomfortable at the time, but at least you won't find yourself confessing to an author 30 or 40 years later that "I should have said something." 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Back when we were wintering in Arizona we did a fair amount of wandering around. End result was a stash of photos and impressions that never quite made it to the status of a blog post around the time those photos and impressions were acquired. Canyon de Chelly was one of those places.

I was reminded that I'd never mentioned Canyon de Chelly when I saw a video on Facebook describing an ultramarathon planned for the canyon. Seeing the video made me wish that I was a lot younger and actually insane enough to do long distance running: Canyon de Chelly would be an amazing place to race through.

That said, why I didn't do a timely blog post is a bit of a mystery. We were actually there twice, once in February and then again a month later. The first time we were traveling by car on our way up to Grand Junction, Colorado, to visit my mother. Canyon de Chelly falls about midway between Safford and Grand Junction on US-191 so it seemed like a logical place to stop for at least one night. (We did a slightly different route back to Safford so stopped in Gallup when southbound.)

The second time we were doing the same trip, Safford to Grand Junction, but had the Guppy. We decided to camp for two nights. We knew there was a campground right in the park because we'd spotted it on the February trip. On that trip we spent the night at the Thunderbird Lodge, which is in the park and operated by the Navajo nation, and is right next to the campground. The lodge, incidentally, was a bargain. Nice room, complete with stuff we didn't need like a mini fridge and microwave, and a good on-site restaurant that had great food, and all at much lower prices than I'd expected to pay.

The campground had gotten mixed reviews on Campendium, but we decided to stay there in March anyway. It looked okay to us when we'd given it a quick look from the Visitor Center (you can see down into the campground from the VC parking lot) and when we drove by to check in at the Lodge. It's basic (no hookups) but there is potable water available and a comfort station with flush toilets and sinks -- no showers, but that's a minor inconvenience. The most important thing when you're camping is access to good water.

Anyway, the reviews had some odd complaints, like being too close to where people live, worrying about stray dogs, and telling people to stock up on groceries in Holbrook because there was no place to shop in Chinle. Apparently they didn't do much looking around in town because Chinle is a decent-sized little city and has all the usual conveniences (multiple gas stations, a Family Dollar, a Denny's) including a fairly new Basha's supermarket.

Side note: the meat department in Basha's made me wish we were camping longer -- the dismembered sheep had me thinking it would be interesting to try cooking mutton that wasn't in the form of lamb chops the size of postage stamps. Not that I'd actually eat it -- that would be the S.O.'s job. To me, lamb and mutton always taste like wet woolen mittens. The restaurant at the lodge serves a mutton stew that the S.O. said was good -- and it did look edible to me, although I didn't sample it.

The campground struck me as being rather nice -- it has humongous cottonwoods so would have lots of natural shade when things leafed out -- but was laid out rather oddly. At the site we picked, for example, because of the way the traffic flow moved, it was obvious we should back into the site. However, the picnic table and grill then wound up on the side away from the door and awning. That wasn't an issue when we were planning a short stay and the weather was cool enough that we felt no desire to spend much time outside once we got back from playing tourist, but if we're ever there again (and I would like to do a return visit), we will factor stuff like picnic table location into where we park the Guppy.

Factoid digression: Chinle and de Chelly are both based on a Navajo phrase that translates (according to our tour guide) as "place where water runs between the rocks." For the uninitiated (which included me until I heard the names pronounced) Chinle is pronounced (more or less) "shin lay" and Chelly is "shay." The actual Navajo word for canyon ("tse") is softer. I'm not a linguist so have no clue how it would be described in technical terms, but Navajo seems like one of those quiet, sibilant languages that it would be difficult to do much shouting in. No doubt native speakers manage to raise their voices occasionally, but it feels like it would be a lot harder to do so than it would in something more guttural like German. German seems to lend itself really well to barking out orders.

Back to talking about the actual park.
White House ruin seen from overlook using zoom on camera

Canyon de Chelly is an amazing place on multiple levels. It is visually spectacular, it has hundreds of ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings as well as rock art (petroglyphs and pictograms) spanning multiple centuries, and it is in the heart of the Navajo nation. Our tour guide said there are several thousand known archeological sites in the park; we spotted quite a few ruins tucked away in the canyon walls in addition to the ones the guide pointed out so several thousand seems quite believable. Unlike most sites managed by the National Park Service, it is still a living, breathing landscape being used the same way today that it was 200 years ago. Navajo families still have farms, they graze livestock and plant crops, they're in the same place now that their grandparents were before the Monument was created. I"m not sure how they managed to avoid getting booted out when the park was created, but maybe the fact it's "only" a monument spared them the NPS's usual misguided people removal policy.

Even more amazing, the Navajo are actively involved in park management. If a visitor wants to go into the Canyon, whether it's on foot, horseback, or in a motor vehicle, that visitor must do it with a guide or on a tour licensed by the Navajo nation. There is one small exception: you can walk down from one overlook on the south rim to see one of the more accessible cliff dwellings, the White House ruins. It's approximately 3 miles round trip and is reportedly a fairly easy hike. There were quite a few people doing it on the day we stopped at the overlook in late March. We weren't tempted to do it ourselves because we'd seen the ruin as part of the tour in the canyon we took in February. The ruin itself isn't exactly totally a cliff dwelling; it's more like it was built up against the cliff. It's not like some of the ruins built into openings in the cliff walls a couple hundred feet above the bottom of the canyon. You know, the ruins where your first thought is "How the heck did they get up there?!" followed quickly by the thought that the inhabitants were either insane or super paranoid.

The Navajo apparently arrived at Canyon de Chelly after the ancient Puebloans left (ancient Pueblo people is now the preferred term; Anasazi has become passe). From having hundreds of villages and cities scattered across the southwest, the population shrank into a much smaller number of pueblos in about the 13th century. About the same time, Athabascan peoples moved into the region. The Athabascans were semi-nomadic, a hunting and gathering culture, while the Puebloans were farmers. It's unclear what role the movement of the Athabascans into Pueblo territory played on the shifting population, but Anasazi is reportedly based on the Navajo word for "ancient enemy." The Navajo are an Apache tribe; there are minor differences in the language spoken by the Navajo and, for example, the San Carlos Apache, but it's the type of differences you notice when people from different regions of the same country speak, kind of like the differences between speaking Yooper and speaking redneck.

White House ruin from overlook seen by naked eye
Most of the Apache tribes remained hunter-gatherers, built no permanent houses, and moved around their respective territories seasonally. The Navajo were the exception, possibly because despite its barren appearance the Navajo nation actually has some areas that are naturally good for farming. Nonetheless, the Navajo shared a number of characteristics with the other Apache tribes, including a fiercely independent streak and a lack of interest in cooperating with first their Pueblo dwelling neighbors, then the Spanish, the Mexicans, and eventually the U.S. government.

Canyon de Chelly has a year-round source of good water. A river with various side branches runs through the canyon, and the water table lies very close to the surface. Even in periods of drought when it can look like the river has gone totally dry, all you have to do is dig a few feet down through the sand and, voila, instant waterhole. Although the Navajo today are thought of a a primarily pastoral people relying on herd animals like sheep and goats, in the 19th century they farmed in the canyons. Besides traditional field crops like corn and squash, Canyon de Chelly was renowned for its peach orchards. You don't see many fruit trees there now. The American government destroyed them when the U.S. Army and Kit Carson moved as many of the Navajo as they could round up to a desolate reservation in New Mexico. It wasn't as long a trek as the Trail of Tears but on the other hand the Long Walk was across desert with not enough food and water. Hundreds of people died, and hundreds more starved to death on the reservation. (Between active genocide in the 19th century and passive genocide through contamination from uranium in the 20th, the U.S. government has done a pretty thorough job of fucking over the Navajo.)
White House ruin viewed at ground level

But as usual I digress. Entrance to the canyon is up the river bed. The roads, all dirt (or, more accurately, sand), weave in and out of the river. At some points the road goes right up the middle, sometimes it's off to one side but still in the water, and at places where the canyon widens out it can be quite a distance from it. Visitors have a choice of ways to see the canyon from the inside: several tour operators offer trips in motorized vehicles, there are horseback tours, and you can hire a guide and hike in down several different trails. We were told one of those trails is quite vertical: you come down cliffs that involve climbing down wooden ladders similar to the notched logs used centuries ago. I think the horseback tour would be the way to do it if a person had the time. We had only half a day so opted for a tour that uses 6-wheel drive military surplus vehicles.

We were lucky with the weather the day we did the tour. It started off as a rainy morning but turned sunny. Got to see lots of interesting stuff, learned some Navajo history, and had an overall good experience. I'd definitely do it again if we had the chance to do the all-day tour.

On our second stop at Canyon de Chelly in March, we did the drives along the north and south rims. There are a fair number of overlooks with a different view from each. Seeing the canyon from above after having seen it from below was interesting, too. I will admit my fear of heights did interfere a bit with enjoying the views. The S.O. wasn't fazed, though, and got some great photos that I was too nervous to try for. We had decent but cold weather for our stops at the various overlooks, and then woke up to snow. . . big, sloppy flakes. When we'd been there a month earlier, it felt like Spring. In late March when according to the calendar it was actually Spring, it looked like Winter.

The big sloppy flakes kind of worried me, and they did create a minor problem as we were leaving Chinle. A semi hauling a load of hay jackknifed on the highway (only two lanes at that point) so traffic had to be re-routed. The detour went into a field, drove along a two-track through a mudhole or two, and ran parallel to the fence line until it got to the next gate, and then we got back on to the highway. I was a little concerned about doing it in my Focus but noticed all the locals in ordinary cars didn't seem daunted by it. Then again, most of the roads away from the main highway barely qualify as two-tracks so it was more or less business as usual for anyone who lived on the Navajo nation. I wouldn't have wanted to be the first one in line doing the detour but as part of a parade? No worries.

So what are my recommendations for Canyon de Chelly? Definitely see it if you ever have the chance, and stay at the lodge in the park if you can. It's a nice, clean, quiet place to stay. Just be warned that cell service is spotty. We could text but didn't have strong enough service for voice calls.  And pay attention to the warning signs at the overlook. It's not as dramatic a drop as at the Grand Canyon (hundreds of feet instead of several thousand) but you'll still bounce pretty good if you go over the edge.

Happy Birthday, Nerf

Another year older, another year closer to Medicare.