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Salem, MA Portrait and Event Photographer

In the Land of Kokopelli Part 2

 Walnut Canyon 

Walnut Canyon 

I know it's been a minute since I wrote In the Land of Kokopelli: A Journey to Northern Arizona Part 1 - but I went and got married, so a lot of things got put on hold. But, it's been raining here in Salem for about a week straight, and then I started reading Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient, so I found myself craving the desert. 

Also, I recently got my photos back from the printers – because while I was there I had brought a disposable camera just to see what would happen – and the results have their merits. I'm not certain what to do with them just yet. Are they worthy of framing? I don't know. But waiting a month to see what I had taken? That's a whole different world. 

Anyways. Where were we? 

When we left the Grand Canyon, we stopped at the desert watchtower on our way out of the park. That night we were staying in Flagstaff at the Sonesta, and all of us were barely able to stand we were so exhausted. Fortunately, the Sonesta is fabulous, and we each had our own room with a queen sized bed. I barely remember anything that happened that night apart from eating leftovers and crawling into bed. 

Day 3: Petrified Forest National Park

The next morning we grabbed a quick breakfast – standard very non-vegan continental fare from the hotel (bread and peanut butter abound!) – and headed off towards Petrified Forest National Park in Holbrook. 

 Come get your kicks. 

Come get your kicks. 

Located in Navajo and Apache counties in Northeastern Arizona, the park covers 230 square miles and is home to, as you would expect, copious amounts of petrified wood...which is one of the most beautiful natural materials in the country. The petrified wood and fossils in the forest date back to the late Triassic period, roughly 225 million years ago, and the sediments from these fossils are what make up the painted desert. Petrified wood forms through a process of permineralization, whereby over lots and lots of time, organic materials – i.e. wood – are replaced by silicates and become hard like stone. The mineral qualities of this wood is what makes it look like it's been laced with rainbows.
 

But i'm getting ahead of myself. 

En route to Petrified Forest National Park, we stopped at Wigwam Hotel Village #6 along old route 66 in Holbrook to take a quick look around. Places like this are American relics, remnants from the past that make you feel like you've fallen into a time warp and that James Dean is going to come walking round the corner smoking a Lucky Strike. 

And there were some flashy vehicles. 

Once inside the park, we stopped first at the Visitor's center to get oriented. I hadn't realized the scope of the place until a park ranger handed us a map, told us to open it and spread it out on the stone slab in front of the center, and then proceeded to start marking all the spots he deemed worthwhile. 

"How long do you have?" He asked. 

"Oh, several hours." We responded quickly. 

"Well then!" He laughed. "You need to do everything, well, mostly everything. You probably don't need to hike to Agate House, because it's mostly the same as you'll see later on. You definitely want to stop by Blue Mesa and Puerco Pueblo, and try to catch the sunset at Pintado Point, if you can." 

We thanked him, filled up our water bottles, and began our adventure behind the Visitor's Center at the Giant Logs trail, which was overrun with fanny pack tourists and small children climbing all over the petrified wood, despite bold signs saying not to. 

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From Giant Logs we journeyed through the park to the Crystal Forest (I stayed in the car) and then on to the Blue Mesa, which was undoubtedly one of the unusual sights I had ever seen. It felt like I was walking on the surface of the moon. 

 Blue Mesa 

Blue Mesa 

The Blue Mesa is a 1 mile loop trail, with a painfully steep incline at the start and finish. Many deep breaths are needed to descend into the trail. The Blue Mesa is comprised of Badlands, a type of terrain where softer sedimentary rocks and clay have been beaten down by weather and water, so much so that growing anything in it or on it is impossible, The stripey nature of these hills is caused by a combination of blue (ish) bentonite clay and petrified wood. It's officially part of the painted desert. 

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Our next stop was Puerco Pueblo, which contains the ruins of a early Puebloan village - circa 1300. One of the most remarkable aspects of this site though isn't the ruins themselves, but the petroglyphs which cover the rocks and walls on the perimeter of the village. Petroglyphs are images painted onto a rock surface, and they depict the oddest things – many of which are subject to debate. Take for example this image on the right. Many people see it and think that it's a stork delivering a baby. But really, it's either a stork or an avocet devouring a small critter, but it's uncertain whether it's a frog or a human. 

The stork giveth, and the stork taketh away.

It is also through these Petroglyphs, both at Puerco Pueblo and at Newspaper Rock, that I first heard about the Kokopelli - a fertility deity and mayhem raiser, depicted as a humpbacked flute player. He is a trickster deity who is responsible for babes and agriculture, and is therefore awesome. 

Before we left, we walked the Rim Trail. I'll let the photos speak for themselves. 

 

Day 4: Sedona

The worst parts about Sedona: 

1. The crowds 

2. The crowds

3. Did I mention the crowds 

The best parts about Sedona: 

1. The drive there through Oak Canyon

2. The Red Rocks 

3. Theia's Cafe 

Also, there's virtually no vegan food downtown. Apparently theres the ChocolaTree, but the reviews were so awful I didn't want to risk it. For a place that's self-described as a a spiritual Mecca - watch out for those Vortexes! – it's really quite superficial. 

So, if you find yourself stranded in Sedona, don't fret. Here's what you do. You go to Theia's café on Cedar Street and get yourself a huge cup of coffee and listen to local musician John Carter from Earth play his guitar for you. Sit there for several hours and read a book. Do not go to 89 Agave or to any of the stores along the downtown strip. Do go to Trailhead Tea and pet the small Maltese dog that sits by the front door. Look at every single statue that you cross, especially the pink Javelinas.

Do find a place that overlooks the red rocks and breathe in the warmth of them. 

Then leave, don't stay there, leave as fast as you can. 

Day 5: Walnut Canyon, Montezuma Castle

Our final full day in Arizona was spent split between two majestic spaces: Walnut Canyon and Montezuma Castle

Walnut Canyon lies just a stone's throw from Flagstaff and we started off the morning there. While my companions put on sunscreen and toured the history and cultural center on site, I scoured the gift shop looking for small tokens of affection to bring back East with me. 

And that's when I saw him. 

In a glass container in the center of the tiny shop, surrounded by dozens of other fuzzy plush creatures of lesser significance, the Javelina sat waiting for me. 

I hemmed, I hawed, I deliberated. He was one of the cutest things I'd ever seen. 

"Joey, just get him. You obviously want him." My companions told me as they came into the store to find me, I had been thinking for a while, it seems. 

Meet Kokopelli the Javelina. 

A Javelina is a type of pig that spends it's days wandering through the deserts of southeastern Arizona feasting on prickly pears and showing off its razor sharp teeth to predators. Kokopelli does not like to show his teeth to predators, but he does like to climb trees.

Anyways.

Walnut Canyon is a breathtaking, and relatively easy, hike that allows visitors to peer directly into ancient cliff dwellings along the trail. The region was inhabited by Native Peoples from about 600 - 1400 AD. No one quite knows why they left when they did, but they assume it had much to do with changing weather patterns and limited access to food. 

But you can't beat the view. 

The last stop on our journey, before heading back to Phoenix and eventually back East on a big metal bird, was to Montezuma Castle National Monument, one of the best preserved Cliff Dwellings in North America. These were the homes of the Sinagua peoples, who were master craftspeople of their age. 

Just check out this high-rise! 

On the way home, we stopped at an Apache stand along the side of the road for some Frybread, and it was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. While I was sitting there, stuffing my face with sweet goodness and feeling the warmth on my face, I knew that the desert had claimed me, and I'd have to go back soon.

I look forward to it like the meeting of a long lost friend. 

“The desert could not be claimed or owned–it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names... Its caravans, those strange rambling feasts and cultures, left nothing behind, not an ember. All of us, even those with European homes and children in the distance, wished to remove the clothing of our countries. It was a place of faith. We disappeared into landscape.” - Michael Ondaatje