The Silence of Chaco Canyon

The great kiva complex at Pueblo Bonito

The great kiva complex at Pueblo Bonito

It is early morning, November 11, 1980 and the visitors’ center is not open. I sit in my car waiting. And watching. Watching the meditation unfold in front of me here on my first pilgrimage to Chaco Canyon National Monument. A Dine (Navajo) man is slowly, methodically and silently sweeping the entrance sidewalk, starting from one side and carefully making his way to the other. Not with a store bought broom, but rather a hand made broom from brush and plants gathered from the area. Unlike me, the man is not in a hurry. He is bent over somewhat, intent on each sweep of the broom, each passage down the sidewalk like a reverent monk at a Buddhist temple. There is no one else but us around. We two and the early morning birds, unseen insects and other life forms waking up to the day. Deep breath, palms together, deep bow as Chaco greets me, conveying a message that I will carry with me through the decades of visits I will make through to the present.

For over 2,000 years Pueblo peoples occupied a vast region of the Southwest in the U.S. Chaco Canyon, a major center of ancestral Pueblo culture between 850 and 1250, was a focus for ceremonials, trade and political activity. It is remarkable for its monumental public and ceremonial buildings and distinctive architecture. It appears that it was both solar and lunar cycles were integrated into the architecture http://www.solsticeproject.org/lunarmark.htm Huge building sites were in alignment with each other over many miles and great straight roads radiated out from the center of the Canyon to distant outlying settlements. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeoastronomy#Chaco_Canyon

Light in the Kiva (underground ceremonial chamber)

Light in the Kiva (underground ceremonial chamber)

 

Some who visit the Canyon feel an ominous energy. Over the 30 years of personal visits and leading Earth Walks groups http://earthwalks.org/ here, my experiences have been only positive and transformational. The indigenous Native American people who guide our groups revere Chaco as their ancestral home and approach the Canyon appropriately. I have chosen to do so as well.  Come join Earth Walks as we travel to Chaco in May 2017.  May you Walk in Beauty!–Doug Conwell, Earth Walks Director

Full moon over the Canyon

Full moon over the Canyon

Walk in Beauty

In September 2016, Earth Walks traveled to the spectacular Canyon de Chelly with 12 participants.  It was a deeply memorable time, which included camping in the canyon under a blanket of stars, Dine (Navajo) friend and guide Daniel Staley playing his beautiful flute music to the echoes of the notes and his  ancestors and a day of service on the family farm of Kathryn Pemala.  Canyon

 

Our canyon campsite was on Daniel’s grandparents’ land where he maintains a fruit orchard and a traditional hogan.

daniel-with-apples-canyon-de-ch-2016One magical evening found us around the campfire with Daniel playing his flute and singing traditional Dine chants in his native language.  One participant had just acquired her first drum and she sent it around the group, asking each person to add their own drum beat, song or words to empower it for future drumming.  The group spent a day of solitude near the powerful Spider Rock.  That evening the group participated in a traditional sweat lodge.Spider Rock Canyon de Chelly Our final day in the canyon was spent in a service activity on the family farm of Kathryn Pemala, long time weaver, who has lived her entire life in the canyon.  As she weaves, she hears the voices and stories of her ancestors which are woven into the fabric of her work.

Dine (Navajo) weaver

Dine (Navajo) weaver

The group help harvest corn and plums, pulled weeds and enjoyed conversation with Kathryn and family members.  It was all too soon that we had to leave.

Helping Harvest Corn

Helping Harvest Corn

One of our participants, Sallie Bingham, is a writer and published author.  Her blog on the journey is well worth the reading.  You can view it at:  https://salliebingham.com/the-beauty-way/#comments 

Earth Walks plans to return to the canyon in the fall of 2017.  We will also travel to Chaco Canyon, NM http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/353 in late May.  This coming spring, we will be based at Bodhi Manda Zen Center in Jemez Springs, NM http://www.bmzc.org/ helping with an organic farm in Jemez Pueblo http://www.jemezpueblo.com/  as well as making traditional flutes with Pueblo resident Marlon Magdalena http://www.aluaki.com/

If you would like to join us on these or other journeys or create a special Earth Walks for yourself, family, friends or business please be in touch.  Meanwhile, Happy Trails and may we all Walk in Beauty!

Earth Walks Director Doug Conwell

Earth Walks Director Doug Conwell

Solitude at Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly

Spider Rock is one of the most awesome and sacred places in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona.  Earth Walks will be there on the next journey, September 8-11, 2016 and there are only a few spaces available for those interested.  On the second day of our journey, we will travel through the red sandstone canyons, past groves of green cottonwood trees and a trickling stream to Spider Rock where there will be time for solitude and meditative time at this place of awesome beauty.

Spider Rock Canyon de Chelly

Spider Rock Canyon de Chelly

Spider Rock is the home of Spider Woman who is highly honored as a deity among the Dine.  Some say she chose the top of Spider Rock as her home and is the teacher of weaving.  On our final day in the canyon, Earth Walks will spend time helping with a variety of needs on the family farm of long time weaver Kathryn Pemala.  Kathryn will share the practical and mystical meaning of weaving for the Dine.

Kathryn Pemala, Dine Weaver

Kathryn Pemala, Dine Weaver

We will camp in the canyon on family land of our Dine guide who will lead a sweat lodge.  The final evening, participants have the option of staying at the Sacred Canyon Lodge near the entrance of the canyon.  Free camping is available adjacent to the Lodge. We depart on Sunday, September 11.

Cost: $420  Includes guiding fees, meals while in the campground, sweatlodge preparation and materials, transportation in and out of the canyon.

Deposit:  $140 due  August 8, 2016.  After this date, deposit is nonrefundable due to obligations with guides and those making arrangements from out of New Mexico.  Remainder of fee due August 22.

Not included in cost:  Carpooling to and from Canyon de Chelly, personal snacks/food, last night at motel ($113 per room, double occupancy–each person paying half of this amount; single supplement available); last night meal

Contact Earth Walks for registration and information.

Only a few spaces available!

 

 

Canyon de Chelly Journey in September!

Spider Rock Canyon de Chelly

Spider Rock Canyon de Chelly

Join Earth Walks September 8-11, 2016 on this both inner and outer journey to Canyon de Chelly.  Thursday, September 8 we travel by carpool from Santa Fe, past Shiprock, NM:

Shiprock, New Mexico

From there we cross the Chuska mountains to the town of Chinle.   Dine (Navajo) friend Daniel Staley and his family will guide us into the spectacular red sandstone canyon to his family land where we will be camping.  Those who wish will hike to the site; others can ride vehicles which will be carrying our camping gear.  The first evening we will participate in sweat lodge, a powerful way to begin our stay in this land which has been sacred to local people for so many generations. (Those who wish can stay outside the sweat and assist with the fire and prayers.) Meals in the canyon will be a group activity (preparation and clean up.)

Friday, September 9 we travel by truck to the Spider Rock for contemplation and time alone in the quiet of the canyon.

Saturday, September 10  we visit Kathryn Pemala who has been a long time weaver on her family farm in the canyon.  An important element of every Earth Walks is “service learning”–learning about traditional cultures while we offer service and “return the gift” of living in this great land.  We may be clearing weeds from farm land and orchards, helping with the animals, doing repairs or a variety of other activities.  Kathryn will share her method and meaning of weaving with us and we will share lunch together as well.

Dine (Navajo) weaver

Kathryn Pemala, Dine (Navajo) weaver

Our final evening, participants have the option of staying at the Sacred Canyon Lodge near the entrance of the canyon.  There is free camping available adjacent to the Lodge. We depart on Sunday, September 11.

Cost: $420  Includes guiding fees, meals while in the campground, sweatlodge preparation and materials, transportation in and out of the canyon.

Deposit:  $140 due  August 8, 2016.  After this date, deposit is nonrefundable due to obligations with guides and those making arrangements from out of New Mexico.  Remainder of fee due August 22.

Not included in cost:  Carpooling to and from Canyon de Chelly, personal snacks/food, last night at motel ($113 per room, double occupancy–each person paying half of this amount; single supplement available); last night meal

Contact Earth Walks for registration and information.

Walk in Beauty!

Amazing Aztec mythological images

 

Worthy of note is the work of author, artist and scholar Richard Balthazar of Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Richard has an amazing biography, which can be viewed at his blog/website https://richardbalthazar.com/art/coloring-book/

One of his current projects is a “coloring book” called “Ye Gods: Icons of Aztec Deities and Commentary” which is downloadable and totally free. Here’s the intro to the site:

 I find the Aztecs’ pantheon larger, more diverse, and flat-out scarier than that of any other culture I know of in the world.  Indeed, the Hindus may have a dozen or two deities, including fairly weird ones, and the Egyptians kept a veritable divine zoo, but the Aztecs worshiped around sixty divinities, many right up there with your worst nightmares.  In that pinnacle civilization of the Americas, the uniquely human propensity to personify (whether singly or multiply) the divine, the ineluctable, and/or the supernatural, ran hog wild.

The ancient Mexican culture was of tremendous influence in the American Southwest, including New Mexico.  It’s iconography and mythology pervades much of the culture still today.  It’s fascinating stuff.  Richard’s work and the rest of his blog might be of interest.  He’s written several scholarly books on Native America that are also available to the public.  Here’s one image from the coloring book:

ICON #8:  ITZPAPALOTL, The Obsidian Butterfly

Itzpapalotl, The Obsidian Butterfly

 

 

 

Chaco Journey Almost Full!

Saludos!  The Earth Walks to Chaco Canyon May 20-22, 2016 is nearly full.  If you have been thinking about going, register as soon as you can to reserve your place.  The trip will be led by a wonderful family from Tesuque Pueblo who consider this a “homecoming” to the site of their ancestors.  I think you’ll find it an inspiring “coming home” as well.

Happy Trails,

Doug Conwell

Pueblo Bonito Kiva and Complex at Chaco

Pueblo Bonito Kiva and Complex at Chaco

Snake Medicine and Prayer Sticks in Chaco Canyon!

August 11, 2012:  I am on a solo journey to Chaco Canyon.  I take a favorite walk from the Great Kiva Rinconada through the south gap towards the trail that leads to the mesa above the kiva and the ancient site of Tsin Kletzin.  The subterranean Great Kiva was once utilized for religious activities and ceremonies.  It had 39 foot passageways from the underground structure to above ground levels. Casa Rinconada is one of the many buildings in the Chaco area that have documented astronomical alignments.

 

On the walk all was silent save for the wind. Suddenly I encounter two large deer, or possibly elk or antelope.  There are two farther on.  How they survive in this harsh environment should be a lesson to us all.  I feel blessed by their wild animal presence.  Back in camp, I sit in mottled shade of nearby low growing cliff bushes and create prayer sticks for friends facing challenges as well offerings to my home.  Knees bent, “feet standing,” I silently wind colored yarn, feathers and other found objects into the sticks.

These “ofrendas” are a meditation practice given to me long ago at the LBGTQ Spirituality Gathering at Lama retreat center north of Taos, NM by Maria Elena.  Maria Elena is of Mexican Huichol ancestry and had the gift of being a “dream healer.”  She could enter into the dream world of a person and offer help and interpretation.  As a young child in Los Angeles, where her Mexican parents had immigrated, she occasionally found herself in that dream world, seemingly floating above her bed and having other unusual experiences.  Experiences that her parents did not want her to have, as they had immigrated to the U.S. to forge a new and hopefully more prosperous life.  So, they put her in parochial school to help her forget the old ways.  But Spirit will have its way, no matter where we are.  At school, Maria Elena made friends with an African American maintenance man and together they went out to the desert and did prayer and ceremony,  further deepening her healing abilities. This secretive time in ceremony and prayer helped her make sense of her natural talents. Maria Elena said that if she had been living in her Huichol community in Mexico, the elders would have recognized her gift and taken her to be trained in the ways of their people.  Fortunately for me and many others, she did not lose that gift and indeed was willing to share some of her healing ways.

Back to Chaco and the prayer sticks.  As I sat there quietly making prayer sticks, slowly sliding out of the low bushes emerged a two foot snake that just as quietly made her way under my legs, stopping briefly among the colored balls of yarn and feathers to give me a quick glance, then travel on her merry way.  For some indigenous cultures, the snake is the most sacred of animals as it travels with its heartbeat closed to that of Mother Earth.  I was both in awe and gratitude for this silent serpentine gift.

Image result for free download images of snakes

Earlier in the day driving into Chaco, the cell phone buzzed with a message from work at the public schools in Santa Fe.  As I listened, I recoiled and contracted, wanting to be as far from an increasingly difficult work situation as possible. But soon thereafter I heard this internalized message:  “Say yes! to all that does not compromise you or your core values…keep your spirit shield firmly in place, beware delusional thinking, but do not contract in fear of change or letting go to new conditions or requirements or adaptations to the material world.”  Perhaps this was the message the snake was giving me in advance of our special encounter.

Join Earth Walks May 20–22, 2016 on a special journey to Chaco Canyon, led by a wonderful Pueblo family.  To them–and perhaps you as well–this will be a homecoming journey.  Contact Earth Walks for more information…the trip is designed for only 12 participants, so be in touch as soon as you can.  (This fall, Earth Walks will journey to Canyon de Chelly, Arizona.  We are available to also create your own special trip in Santa Fe, New Mexico or the Southwest USA)

Happy Trails,          Doug Conwell     Santa Fe, New Mexico

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Earth Walks to Chaco Canyon May 2016

 

Pueblo Bonito Kiva and Complex at Chaco

Pueblo Bonito Kiva and Complex at Chaco

Earth Walks will journey to the amazing World Heritage Site of Chaco Canyon May 20-22, 2016.  Chaco was the ancient center of the Pueblo Anasazi world between 850 and 1250 A.D.  Today the massive buildings of the ancestral Pueblo peoples still testify to the organizational and engineering abilities not seen anywhere else in the American Southwest. This includes phenomenal archaeoastronmical buildings and natural sites aligned with solar and lunar cycles.

Our Earth Walks experience is designed for a deeper contact with the canyon and the ancient ones whose voices still can be heard in the stones, wind, wide open skies and bright starry skies.  We will be led by a wonderful family from Tesuque Pueblo, who consider Chaco an important site of their ancestors.  It will be a homecoming to them, and perhaps to participants as well.

“The Power of Storytelling” is the focus of this journey.  Sharing stories brings back the oldest way of being connected and seeking coherence in a world that often seems to be falling apart.  As Michael Meade of the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation has said, “Genuine stories help us to restore ourselves and re-story the world around us.”

WarriorsFremontMoab

As we walk the ancient sites with our Pueblo friends, experience silence alone among the vast open space of Chaco or gather around the fire at night we will share the stories that call to us from past and present that will help reweave the fabric of our individual and collective lives.

casarinconadaatdarkjpeg

Join us!  Space is limited to 12 participants so sign up soon by emailing Earth Walks for a registration form.  Cost is $210 which includes all meals, campsite fee and honorarium to Pueblo guides.  Transportation is by carpooling (minimal car entrance fee not included in cost.)

Pilgrimages in the American Southwest 2016

“The purpose of pilgrimage is to come home and realize your own backyard is sacred ground.”
—Thich Nhat Hahn, Vietnamese Buddhist teacher

This has been a wonderful year with special Earth Walks journeys to Chaco Canyon, NM and Canyon de Chelly, AZ.  An integral part of the experience was service activities to the Native American communities where we travel.  For Chaco Canyon, ancestral homeland for Pueblo people of the region, we helped dig and plant a garden for Tewa Women United, an organization in the Santa Fe, NM area.  http://tewawomenunited.org/  TWU is involved in many activities and services of their own and we were delighted to add our own efforts to their work.

The great kiva complex at Pueblo Bonito

The great kiva complex at Pueblo Bonito

In Canyon de Chelly http://www.nps.gov/cach/index.htm  we visited with an elder Dine (Navajo) weaver on her family farm.  Huge rains this year had inundated her fruit trees and massive weeds had grown up.  During our visit we dug out some of the trees and fed the cut weeds to her goats and sheep who happily received them.

canyon-chelly spider rock

Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly

 

Dine (Navajo) weaver

Kathryn Pemala                            Dine (Navajo) weaver

Due to the interest in these two amazing places and the native cultures and traditions that they embody, Earth Walks will return to them in 2016.  Watch for the exact dates in a future message, but Chaco will be the next to the last week in May and Canyon de Chelly will again be in the fall.

If you would like to create your own special Earth Walks for friends, family, business groups or other organizations, please contact us. Service to the local communities is always a part of the journey. In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday season and may we all “Walk in Beauty” throughout the coming New Year!

—–Doug Conwell, Director of Earth Walks, Santa Fe, NM USA

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We Walked in Beauty!

Late September 2015 and the planet is engaged in its eternal autumnal dance of change as it axis tips toward the North Star Polaris.  Eleven souls and I are on an Earth Walks journey from Santa Fe westward to the 1,000 foot red sandstone canyons called De Chelly by the Anglo world and Tsei by the Dine or Native American Navajo people.  The axis of our own path takes us around the Jemez Mountain range, once a single mountain rising over 30,000 feet high, the largest known above ground formation in the world.  Only a million years ago its massive volcanic explosion sent chunks hurtling as far away as Nebraska and affecting global climate for a time.

 

Onward we go through high desert rolling hills, tall pine forests and open plains, home to herds of elk.  We pass the turn off to Chaco Canyon, where a few miles away amazing archaeoastronomical structures are found along with hundreds of underground kivas and an advanced complex social and spiritual organization.

The great kiva complex at Pueblo Bonito

The great kiva complex at Pueblo Bonito

Once we’ve escaped the clutter of billboards, oil rigs, auto salvage yards and cookie cutter fast food eateries in the Farmington-Bloomfield area, we see in the hazy western horizon a huge looming silhouette, dark, starkly solitary and almost brooding.  It is known as Shiprock and indeed looks like a gigantic ship, impossibly frozen in a sea of desert.  To the Dine, it is the legendary great bird that brought them from the north to their present lands.

Shiprock NM

Shiprock New Mexico

Still we press on, the land rising to forested mountains, dropping again to bare sandstone cliffs.  We are nearing our destination and suddenly without warning, the canyon opens before us.

On our first full day, we are immersed in the canyon walls when my watch stops.  Me, who is leader of the pack and so focused on dates, itinerary, agenda, checklists and movement of participants at specific intervals of time.  But we are in some ways in “time without time” and a watch seems like a superfluous anachronism.  Next, the spirit of the land takes away my prescription glasses, which I don’t even miss until hours later.

In sacred sweat lodge, I hear the weary yet deeply devoted voices of our Dine leaders who strive to maintain the ancient ways.  I voice my support and acknowledge how being a spiritual leader can bring more tests and challenges, but also brings its own great rewards.  In the darkened lodge, I can somehow see their heads nod in affirmation.

Next day, we are back in the canyon gathered around “spider woman” herself who kneels before the web of her hand crafted loom, weaving threads of wool from her sheep into a multicolored tapestry of wind, sunlight, stars and ancient stories of hope, tragedy, sadness and laughter.  She is Kathryn Pemala, who’s lived on this family farm all her life, raised sheep and goats, grown fruit trees, corn and a family as have generations before.

Kathryn Pemala, Dine Weaver

Kathryn Pemala, Dine Weaver

“I hear the songs and stories.  That’s why I weave,” Kathryn tells us.  “Plus it’s good physical work.”  We’ve come to hear some of the stories, but also to help out on the farm.  So we get our own dose of physical work.  Dust flies, people sneeze, goats greedily much the weeds we chop and everyone chats and chuckles.  Soon it’s time to go and we cram into crowded jeeps amidst smiles, thank yous and promises to return next year.

This is an eternal return, however, this coming and going and coming again of countless seasons that have shaped both the canyon and the people who live within her protective embrace.  It is hard not to feel a part of this immensity, to shed our limited physical skins and become a part of the land and sky—to Walk in Beauty, as the Dine say.  Especially as the full moon rises above us on the canyon rim as we overlook the great spire of Spider Rock on our last night here.

Spider Rock Canyon de Chelly

Spider Rock Canyon de Chelly

Oh, and that watch of mine that stopped?  I took it to the jeweler who check the battery, found nothing wrong and returned it to me ticking right along.  And the glasses?  Our group kindly stopped in the side canyon where I thought I might have dropped them, and we fanned out in a search party.  Suddenly overhead, a red tailed hawk circled and sent out its screeching call, resonating against the canyon walls.  Soon after, the glasses were found where they had spent a night under the nearly full moon.  “New vision,” someone said.

Everyone wants to return next fall, 2016.  If you are interested in joining the group, please be in touch!  Happy autumn.  Doug Conwell