Sunday, November 11, 2007

Grand Canyon. Breathtaking vistas. We hiked along the rim trail for about 4.5 miles, encountering hundreds of people. T'was a smoggy day, perhaps from Southern California fires; the canyon below in purple, pink and gold, seemed almost other-worldly. Bright Angel's trail, a drop of about 7,000 feet to the canyon floor, in a maze of switchbacks, drew us, but our feet, bodies and finally minds, said no.

We wandered into the Hopi House, ducking our heads to enter this trading post originally designed by Mary Colter in 1905 to sell Navajo crafts. We found it unchanged, three story traditional adobe brick construction with mud-plastered walls. Even the roof retains a traditional cribbed log design. A few old showcases highlight Puebloan pottery and jewelry, but most of the store is crammed with tourists, beautiful and expensive pottery, weaving, and jewelry.

Many lodges and hotels dot the Grand Canyon's rim today, thanks to Frank Harvey, an English immigrant who partnered with the Sante Fe Railroad to upgrade services and attract tourists to the Southwest. Here begins the saga of the Harvey Girls, thousands of young women hired as waitresses who came West to work, with most of them marrying and settling down. The Bright Angel Lodge has a neat little room with momentos (china, uniforms, photographs) of this turn of the century era.

We also wandered into the Cameron Trading Post where we learned about the difference between Hopi and Navajo kachinas. Originally, Hopi dancers, in full mask and costume, would dance through villages according to the season or to instruct the tribe. Small "dolls" called kachinas were given to the children. Today, those kachina dolls are highly prized. According to our spokesperson, the Hopi kachinas are authentic, carved from cottonwood, and embued with religious significance. The Navajo kachinas are dramatic and designed more for storytelling and tourism. We saw a lovely Hopi Cornmaiden kachina ($800). Phew! Look and don't touch! But for many, these kachinas are an introduction to Hopi beliefs and an understanding of these masked kachinas.

One last tidbit. The ancestral Puebloan people used stones called manos (Spanish for hand) and metates, a flat slab of a stone, used as a mortar and pestle to grind corn to cornmeal. We saw several of these at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon, and here on display at the Grand Canyon. The corn was ground to cornmeal in a kind of communal activity, 2 or 3 women working together. What surprised me is that these women spent 2-4 hours a day, grinding corn, and actually wore the stones down. These manos and metates lasted about one month. The resulting cornmeal had a signficant amount of sand-sized stone in it that worked equally powerfully on the teeth, grinding them down to stubs. Perhaps a dentist would find this a paradise, but I think of nerve pain and say "Ouch!" Make it a good week! Beth

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