Gentle Footsteps in Canyon de Chelly


In 2016, I led an EarthWalks group to Canyon de Chelly, Arizona.  We were guided by a wonderful group of people from the area who had called this amazing place home for generations.  One of our participants, Sallie Bingham, wrote an account of the experience for a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) show “To the Contrary” with host Bonnie Eribe.  Bonnie Erbé was a nonpartisan, award-winning American journalist and television host based in the Washington, D.C. area who covered national politics for decades. She was a columnist for 25 years with Scripps Howard Newspapers wrote columns for and

You can find Ms. Bingham’s wonderful full account of our experience in the canyon at:

Ms Bingham is an accomplished writer and her work can be found at: 

By Sallie Bingham

The Navajo/Diné traditional prayer is called “The Beauty Way.” Here it is in Diné—the Navajo name for their nation—and translated into English.

In beauty I walk
With beauty before me I walk
With beauty behind me I walk
With beauty above me I walk
With beauty around me I walk
It has become beauty again
It has become beauty again
It has become beauty again
It has become beauty again

Hózhóogo naasháa doo
Shitsijí’ hózhóogo naasháa doo
Shikéédéé hózhóogo naasháa doo
Shideigi hózhóogo naasháa doo
T’áá altso shinaagóó hózhóogo naasháa doo
Hózhó náhásdlíí’
Hózhó náhásdlíí’
Hózhó náhásdlíí’
Hózhó náhásdlíí’

This past weekend, I was blessed to join eleven comrades on an expedition to Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, sponsored by the amazing Earthwalks, dedicated to a growing understanding, for us, of Native American ways, especially their spiritual traditions (the ones that can be shared), and to service—and to laughter and good food and cooperation and camping out under the stars.

(Read more by clicking on the link above)

Eat Dirt and Thrive!

After years of living in New Mexico, Chaco Canyon kept drawing me like a magnet. I felt a sense of mystery, wonder and timelessness just in hearing its name. But darn it!  This particular trip I had a persistent pain in my stomach that began even before I arrived at Chaco. Was the pain physical, emotional or both?  2003 had been a difficult year on many levels. President George Bush declared war on Iraq. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein deliberately set oil wells on fire in the Persian Gulf creating a huge environmental disaster.  In the Soviet Union, repression rose after a hopeful year of incipient democracy.  The U.S. economy was in serious trouble.  On the personal side, a close relative entered a hospital psychiatric ward, plagued with inner demons of doubt, paranoia and depression. A romantic relationship I was in for several years ended.  The biggest blow was the death of my mother. Maybe coming to the canyon that day was not only to attend a fall equinox ceremony with others but to find solace and some relief from the stomach pain as well as the pains of this world.

I drove alone, something that always helped me unwind from daily routines, responsibilities and anxieties at home.  The windswept landscape was bone dry, with only a sparse sagebrush, cactus and occasional juniper tree dotting the horizon.  Yet this was the desert environment I’d lived in most of my life that made me conscious in a way that a more lush, wet world did not.  The sound of a single bird singing, a drop of rain or trickle of water, the flash and wiggle of a lizard tail–here in the desert they reminded me not to take life for granted and that all my thoughts and actions were consequential.

After setting up camp, I hiked to the ledge overlooking the Pueblo Bonito site.  The mesa ravines supported wiry bunch grass, cliff roses wafting an occasional sweet fragrance, an array of desert wild flowers and Apache plumes fluffy with seed pods illuminated like bright lights in the late afternoon light. Rocky erosional pathways were exposed like large veins in a human hand.  Mysterious circular holes in the sandstone ledge looked human made and left me wondering about who, what and when. All the while, this persistent jabbing in my stomach was painfully present.

This was the path of the ancients I was treading, the route so many walked by foot for hundreds of miles to the Center Place, this canyon where thousands of rooms in ancient pueblo buildings had been carefully constructed in alignment with heavenly cycles of sun, moon and stars. I wondered if I was part of an ongoing drama, coming here to help find my own center place to ground myself in my daily life.  Back home there was the digital world wide web where I spent so many waking hours connecting to others electronically, but where was that center place in which I could rest and find the sacredness of the everyday?

As I walked along in the morning silence, I noticed a bit of crumbling red sandstone on the trail, and wondered if it might have served as paint for the exquisite Chaco pottery made hundreds of years ago.  Kneeling down, I wet a piece with saliva on my index finger to determine the color and texture; then without thinking, licked the red earth again, like licking the sweet batter on my mother’s spatula at home when she was baking a cake. It was rough, sandy and not at all like cake batter.  But for some inexplicable reason I repeated the procedure.  More licks of the earth batter.  Within minutes, my stomach pain vanished. I had no explanation, but Native American Acoma Pueblo poet Simon Ortiz expressed it this way in his poem  “Canyon de Chelly”:

Lie on your back on stone
the stone carved to fit
the shape of yourself.
Who made it like this,
knowing that I would be along
in a million years and look
at the sky being blue forever?

My son is near me. He sits
and turns on his butt
and crawls over to stones,
picks one up and holds it,
and then puts it in his mouth.
The taste of stone.
What is it but stone,
the earth in your mouth
You, son, are tasting forever.

I knew at that moment I’d become part of the place, was being given a gift from the canyon that day, no matter how or why.  Then that night, another gift:   I awoke just as a waning moon rose above canyon walls–orange-gold, beautiful, complete silence in the campground.  There was a blanket of infinite stars. I watched a meteor trail across the vast canopy and thought:  “This is why I come to Chaco.  To reconnect with my home in the stars.”  Then, an even larger meteor blazed across the darkness, as if to answer, “yes.”