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Dinosaur Tracks in the Desert
Genevieve and Sebastian couldn’t wait to get outside and explore our campground area this morning.
All bundled up:
The campground at Canyon de Chelly National Monument was practically empty, so the children had plenty of room to roam.
They came running back to the RV, excited about their “best discovery.”
“Mom, Come and see! Come and see!”
They led the way to a rock, which provided a platform for their “treasure”:
(Drum roll, please.) It was a severed animal arm, looking quite fresh, complete with protruding bones:
It was quite a find, indeed. (We left it there.)
While Canyon de Chelly was beautiful, we hadn’t expected it to be quite so cold when planning this trip. We had hiked several miles yesterday, and the kids had been super-troopers. Sebastian, however, had complained that his nose was frozen during the last mile of hiking.
Instead of hiring a guide this morning and doing more hiking through the canyon (or taking a jeep tour), we decided to continue our westward drive and stay overnight in a hotel on the rim at Grand Canyon National Park. Two summers ago, we had stayed at the park in one of the campgrounds, which are set pretty far back from the rim. This time we were going to splurge—I thought that it would be incredible to wake up and have the amazing canyon view right outside our window. With fingers crossed, we telephoned one of the Grand Canyon hotels; we were ecstatic to hear that there was a room available for us! (I doubt that our spontaneity would have been rewarded during the summer months.)
On our way out of Canyon de Chelly, we stopped at the visitor’s center. Ranger Nora checked over Genevieve and Sebastian's Junior Ranger booklets and presented them with badges.
We left knowing that we would be back to explore Canyon de Chelly on another trip.
We chose a westward route that would take us through the Hopi reservation, which is located in the middle of Navajo Nation Land. First, we had to backtrack south before we turned west.
Leaving Chinle, we saw this brick hogan:
To our east was the mountain range that we would be crossing:
Some houses we passed:
The outer top of this formation had a huge vertical crack, and I wondered how many hundreds or thousands of years would pass before that large chunk of rock on the end would come crashing down.
As we climbed into the mountains, we looked back at the wide desert valley:
These rocks had been carved and placed “just so” by the erosive forces of water and wind:
We dropped down into the next valley, where the Hopi reservation was located (along three mesas). The colors of the homes in Keams Canyon blended in with the landscape:
Cows were grazing by the roadside:
In the distance, we could see a large sports field with stadium bleachers.
As we got closer, we realized it was part of the Hopi junior/high school, which looked like it had been built recently.
The snow-covered top of Humphrey’s peak hovered over the land.
At 12,637 feet in elevation, the extinct volcano is the highest point in Arizona.
This line of rocks by the roadside had been stabilized by a set of stone walls.
A view back into the valley as we climbed the Second Mesa:
On top of the mesa were a number of homes, as well as Hopi art galleries and jewelry shops.
The Second Mesa was also the location of the Hopi Cultural Center, with a museum, hotel and restaurant.
The road sometimes resembled a roller coaster:
A few homes:
On top of another mesa were a group of houses and other structures that looked uninhabited. One building had “Coal Mine Mesa” painted over the doorway:
I later learned that Coal Mine Mesa was a Navajo town that was vacated in the 1990’s when the border of the Hopi reservation was redrawn to encompass this area.
The road stretched across the desert:
The Navajo town of Tuba was ahead.
The road leading up to Tuba, however, was being repaired.
We detoured along a narrow dirt road that wound behind the town, past beautiful rock formations and some small homes:
These knobby rocks looked like vertebrae:
This hill reminded me of a big layer cake:
Back on the main road, I looked at my map and noticed a small symbol labeled as “Dinosaur Tracks” nearby. Up ahead, there was a large sign with an arrow—we needed to turn here to see the tracks.
We headed toward a small group of vehicles and some wooden booths with vendors selling jewelry and other items.
A blue and yellow sign next to an empty dirt lot indicated “Dinosaur Track Parking,” so we parked there. We got out of the RV and looked around. There were no other signs, and we weren’t sure where to go.
I walked over to one of the vendors and asked where we should go to see the dinosaur tracks, and she said that she would show us. She later explained that the vendors took turns being “guides” to people who stopped.
Our guide was a soft-spoken Navajo woman who showed us a variety of tracks that were imprinted on the sandstone. She said that a man who studies dinosaurs had told her that the tracks were from a Dilophosaurus. To make the tracks more visible, she poured water into some of them.
Genevieve and Sebastian compared their own hands and feet to the size of the prints:
Some of the tracks were huge:
Our guide also showed us an unusual shape that looked skeletal:
She said that ten years ago, a man who studies dinosaurs was convinced that dinosaur bones were buried somewhere in this area; however, the Navajo Nation refused to give him permission to dig into the earth.
She also stated that large sections of dinosaur prints have been stolen in the past by people who come at night. The Navajo police now regularly patrol the area after dark to prevent future thefts.
There was a big circular shape that she said was “dinosaur poop” (fossilized).
And some small round shapes that our guide said were dinosaur eggs.
A bird flew overhead.
As she showed us the dinosaur prints and other things, our guide talked a little about her life. She had grown up next to the hills behind us, and she used to graze her sheep here when she was a girl. She had told her grandmother about finding some tracks in the stone, but her grandmother had told her, "Don't go there!" The sheep, however, had continued to come here anyway, and she had followed them. She said that no one had been interested in the tracks until the 1960’s. Then scientists and other visitors had come to study and view the prints.
After our tour, she brought us over to her display of jewelry and indicated with a wave of her hand that we should look at her items. I must admit that Ben and I had an awkward moment here. We didn’t want to buy anything; her jewelry was very nice, but we had already purchased two pieces of jewelry yesterday from a Navajo woman at Canyon de Chelly. We also wanted to give the woman some cash for guiding us, but we only had $6 between us. We gave her what little we had and thanked her profusely.
We were soon rambling down the road again. We were fascinated with all of the different types of land formations around us.
A lone cow:
We headed west on Highway 69. On our right was the deep and meandering Little Colorado River Gorge.
The road ahead:
We entered Grand Canyon National Park from the east side. The road through the park had been plowed but was still a bit icy in patches.
From the road, we caught brief views of the Grand Canyon on our right:
Before checking into our hotel, we stopped by the visitor’s center so that Genevieve and Sebastian could pick up Junior Ranger booklets. We hadn’t known about the program during our visit two years ago, and the children wanted to earn a badge for the Grand Canyon park.
There was an exhibit showing a big slice of the canyon, with the names of all of the layers of different colored stone and earth.
A large raven was in the parking lot:
We found our room in the Thunderbird Lodge. We were on the ground floor, with a view of the upper portion of the north rim wall. Here is Genevieve, in front of our hotel, catching the last rays of sunshine:
Another view of the canyon:
We ate dinner tonight at a restaurant called the "Arizona Room" in the Bright Angel Lodge—our first meal outside of the RV in eleven days. (It was delicious.)
Genevieve and Sebastian worked on their Junior Ranger activities before bed.
The Grand Canyon truly is a special place, and we were all looking forward to experiencing more of the magic here tomorrow.
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