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March 31, 2017

Navajo Country

By Maryanna Gabriel

I woke up with a start. Registering my bearings, not a soul or vehicle in site, I quietly made breakfast. I tried to get the spare tire down again to no avail. I was thinking about what I had recently driven by. I remembered seeing something about a ranch. I was struggling with another memory as the morning turned into afternoon. It was the old mountain adage not to leave one's pack. Long ago, on a school expedition several of us had been lost in a severe mountain storm. I had made it to the mountain cabin but half of us spent the night bivouacked in deep snow. The teacher who was responsible for us got down to saying goodbye to his wife. He thought he was a goner. Everybody made it out but it was close and one person was badly injured. I am sure that isn't the reason why they later divorced.

Was it better for me to try and walk to find help with a canteen, a kind of Clint Eastwood trek in the desert, possibly never to be heard or seen again, or should I stay with the pack, er, my truck, which was my means of survival? I really didn't know. It being almost 24 hours without any sign of human life, I decided on the latter course. With my bottle of water I began to walk to the ranch I remembered. It was hot but not unbearable, it being November after all. After five miles I came close to where the turn off was for the ranch. As I arrived a truck load of people were also headed for the turn off. They were Navajo. I waved anxiously and it looked like they were not going to stop. They drove past. Then the truck halted and backed up. They piled out. Relieved, I explained the situation to what seemed to be an extended family with a lot of children. The woman laughed and laughed. "You drive too fast," she said. Together we drove to the camper. A wiry girl, about twelve years old, slipped under the Bigfoot with a pair of pliers. In seconds she had pulled out the cotter pin and the spare was released. They all thought I was tremendously funny and I was so relieved that I felt pretty happy and laughed with them too. The spare was a pathetic thing but it was enough to get me to a gas station. I wished I could give them something but I had nothing to give except my thanks. I was lucky. They told me Chaco Canyon was a sacred place and I was not to go there. I didn't really understand as it was a national park open to the public. Gratefully I retraced my route back to Gallup, New Mexico. 

March 24, 2017

Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

By Maryanna Gabriel
"Now I walk in beauty..."
  - Navajo Prayer

     Being in the southwest I knew I needed to see this famous place and after leaving Santa Fe, Chaco Canyon was where I was headed. The Navajo reserve I was entering was reputed to contain the highest concentration of Pueblo sites and that had me intrigued. The shortcut to Chaco Canyon seemed like a good idea. It would save me many miles and what was the big deal with a gravel road anyways? I do it all of the time back home in British Columbia. I drove intrepidly into the desert. I was in Navajo country and fully engaged with this experience. I mentally rummaged trying to remember what I could from my studies as an archaeology student.

     The road seemed smooth but the gravel was sharp. The land was dry and flat with little vegetation. I drove hurriedly. The next thing I knew my truck lurched. With a sinking heart I pulled over to check the tires. No doubt about it. I had a flat. I tried to loosen the spare tire from under the truck. No go. There wasn't any other vehicle in sight, or person for that matter, nor come to think of it, houses. The sun began to set. There was no point in getting worried I told myself. Someone was bound to come along. I had food, water, and a place to sleep, didn't I? The stars came out. It was an incredibly clear sky. Coyotes began to croon. Quite a few of them. It was a strange feeling to be in this place for hours on end without one vehicle passing, halted on a red road in a desert landscape listening to all of the yipping. I scanned the sky for UFO's in case I had to add alien abduction to my list of woes. As the hours passed I sincerely started to worry. 

March 18, 2017

Santa Fe, New Mexico

By Maryanna Gabriel 

I knew where I was heading. The Georgia O'Keefe Museum was foremost on my mind as I pulled in. Santa Fe has a population of 67,000 and is the capital of New Mexico. What struck me immediately was the architecture. Gaudi would have approved. The rounded adobe forms seemed so inviting. The streets and buildings were sculptured. I walked into the museum and felt surprised by the size of the canvases. For some reason I thought they would be large. They were not. This museum houses a lot of her earlier work which is exciting and innovative. I walked into a room and took one look at the canvases and burst into tears. "They are so beautiful," I managed to breathe to the surprised onlooker beside me. Composing myself I walked into the next room and promptly burst into tears again. I was so moved by the beauty that Georgia had captured. A lot of the work I had never seen before as it was her later years that made her so famous. I loved that they were small and I loved how she framed them. Seeing this museum and these works in person was something I had dreamed of for many years.

Feeling inspired, I started to explore Santa Fe. I felt I had come home. The place was a combination of the indigenous peoples, the Spanish who had come in 1610, and of course the new world influx. It exploded with colour. Coming from an art town myself I felt I had hit the mother lode. The streets were a jostle of interesting shops, galleries and restaurants. I longed for my daughters, wanting so much to share this amazing place with them. Inspired by what I was seeing I was to startle my family when I returned home by repainting all of the rooms. The colours of this place made me feel so alive.

March 10, 2017

Taos, New Mexico

By Maryanna Gabriel 

"It was all so far away - there was quiet and an untouched feel 
to the country and I could work as I pleased."
Georgia O'Keefe


I must confess to a love affair with Taos. I approached this famous place with mounting anticipation. I crossed the Rio Grande, a vast cleft in a moonscape geography and came to the the rolling hills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The pines were pretty but it all seemed so miniaturized compared to the forests of British Columbia. I think I travel in part because I wonder if the place I am about to see has everything I think I might be missing. I was thinking of this town's most famous resident, Georgia O'Keefe. I admired Georgia. She painted from her soul at a time when it was difficult for women to be successful in the arts. She had left New York knowing that she needed a more natural and rural place to tune into her muse. She lived in an adobe house called "Ghost Ranch" and she would lie on the roof at night and look at the stars. A prolific and vastly original output ensued that has enriched us all subsequently. I was intrigued that other seekers of some fame had lately come to Taos, it being an artistic mecca. The truth of it is that I drove in and walked around this small and dusty place. I had trouble getting a read on it. A string of red peppers hung from a store and the quick take on the restaurant menus did not draw me in. In short, I was unable to find a latching point. The ranch was closed. I got into the truck and moved on. Pulling over to rest I had a nightmare that I was being boarded by robbers. In a somewhat unsettled state I made my way to Santa Fe. 

All of these photos are from post cards that I bought and are by Bill Bonebrake. 

March 3, 2017

Mesa Verde, Colorado

By Maryanna Gabriel

Cliff Palace
Once long ago, I stared at a National Geographic article on the "Four Corners" and resolved to go there. Here I was. This famous Mesa Verde National Park, a world heritage UNESCO site was also something I wanted to see. Unbeknownst to me I was arriving the last day the park was open. Mesa Verde is a table top formation that is situated high above a vast plane and is over 210 square kilometers. It is famous for Cliff Palace and there are over 4,000 sites in the park. I was recognizing the sites as I stood on the edge and scanned the cliffs. A new vocabulary was becoming familiar to me as I learned about kivas, kachinas, and skin walkers. 

It is not well understood why the Pueblos left but as they depended on their gardens of squash and corn it was thought that drought was a factor. I went into a museum in the park that contained some of the best preserved artifacts in the United States. I was startled because it seemed to me that the artifacts were familiar to me, the basketry, the clay sculptures, and the tools. I next wandered into a small arroyo where a small village had been and waves of emotion came over me. Why? Was I remembering a past life or was I tuning into the emotion of the people there? I did not know. I was surprised by how deeply the place was effecting me.