Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Moab to Supai - Culture Shock

If we needed culture shock, we got it this week. Journeying from our Colorado mountain home we paused in Moab, Utah where we went to the extreme end of the park-drive of the Arches National Park. As many times as we have visited Arches, there is always something new. But this wasn’t culture shock.

Continuing our drive south, we took a fantastic byway out of Blanding Utah to the Natural Bridges National Monument to see the natural wonders here. Coming out of the park and moving towards Arizona we descended one of the steepest roads in the U.S., a 10% grade with few guard- rails. This may have caused panic, but it, too, was not a culture shock.

Arriving at dusk in Flagstaff, we ventured onto Route 66 en route to our motel. If one wants to see poor road planning near a major interstate connection, go to the Forest Meadows mall in Flagstaff at the intersection of I-17 and I-40. If you like risks, make a left turn. But this is not culture shock, it’s Americana.

Now we faced west. The drive along I-40 past the turn-off to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, past endless miles of forest and dry sandy desert, we turned off onto Route 66 at Seligman, Arizona. There we found a motif of bygone years, a block long museum dedicated to Historic Route 66. If you have the chance and an hour, take this side trip and have an old fashion root beer float. It’s a culture shock for anyone under 55.

Continuing on Route 66, we stopped for the night at Grand Canyon Caverns. The highlight here is a dry cave of limestone 200 feet below the earth’s surface, a natural wonder, awesome, but not a culture shock.

The objective for our next day was an eight-mile descent into a side canyon of the Grand Canyon occupied by members of Havasupai Tribe. The trail is steep down a hillside, descending 1200 feet in about 1.5 miles. The canyon starts out wide with little vegetation. It progresses to a more narrow slot canyon with trees and bushes growing from the rocks. The trail is full of loose gravel and rocks. Both in the descent and during the entire walk pack mule and horse trains led by one or two natives pass us. Accompanying the train one or more dogs scamper along the trail, running up and down and apparently thoroughly enjoying their dog life.

Weary, we arrive at a bridge crossing a creek that indicates that we are within a mile of our destination. The ground becomes softer and a house appears once in a while. We enter the village past a museum, the post office, café and general store on our way to our destination, the Lodge.

The villagers are quite friendly, and a young girl expresses concern over the zombie-like appearance of Murray, his feet burning and his electrolytes are depleted. Other than the fact that the villagers are Native Americans and there are no cars, there is little on the surface to indicate a difference between this village and a remote village in any other area of the U.S.

As we proceeded with our stay, we begin to notice other differences. TV is a rare; there is no newspaper. We learned that a few years ago devoted teachers did not stay because the Council uses the money meant to pay them for other things. This situation has been corrected. We suspect the adults have little or no use for education, viewing it as a threat to their culture. Anyone achieving more than a high school equivalency moves away. This is not culture shock, but cultural difference.

The next day we hiked the two miles to the Havasu Falls, clear lime colored water surging over red rocks and plunging into a pool 50 feet below. Several other pools and cascades fill out the scene with a few swimmers frolicking in the 55 degree water that develops from underground springs throughout the valley. Having been to the second attraction, Mooney Falls, a half mile further on the path, we decided that we had seen what we came for. The hike to Mooney involves climbing on ladders and through holes, and on high ledges, not for the faint of heart.

On the following day most of the tourists were gone. A large contingent calling themselves Christian Veterinarians started to arrive. We thought it was great that a group of professionals would donate their time and money to improve the health of the animals in the valley. Then we talked to the leader. The emphasis of the group was on Christian. They had come with a turkey dinner for the villagers and overwhelming proselytizing.

We were stunned. In this scenic valley well-meaning zealots were challenging the culture of this native population, just as the Spaniards had, albeit forcefully, terminated the culture of the indigenous population they found in the Americas. To their credit, the villagers ate the missionary’s turkey and trimmings (outside of the church) and most walked home with bags. The main audience for the preaching was the contingent of Christians.

Our climb out of Havasu Canyon was easier than the descent! We did not even look haggard on our arrival at the parking lot that is at the head of the trail.

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