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


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.”


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.


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.  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  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


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

Canyon de Chelly in September!

This autumn equinox 2015 and full moon, Earth Walks will journey to the spectacular Canyon de Chelly (September 24-27).

Spider Rock Canyon de Chelly

Spider Rock Canyon de Chelly

We will travel past the ancient Shiprock formation,over the Chuska mountains to Chinle, where we will be staying at the Sacred Canyon Lodge. Free camping and RV space is available next door. Our Dine (Navajo) friend Daniel Staley and his family will guide us through the spectacular red canyon to his family land where he will lead a sweatlodge at auspicious time of the year. (Those who may wish to stay outside the sweat can assist with the fire and be a part of all the prayers.) The next day we’ll visit another family member who is a long time weaver on her canyon farm and participate in a service project on her land. There will be time for rest, quiet contemplation and group dialogue. Information on cost to be sent soon. Let us know if you are interested!

Walk in Beauty, Doug

EarthWalks to Chaco Canyon May 22-23, 2015–Join Us!

Chaco Canyon is a spectacular ancient Native American Anasazi Pueblo site in New Mexico where silence of the high desert, warm sunshine and an infinity of sparkling stars welcome visitors.  EarthWalks will journey there for two nights camping May 22-23, 2015 with a wonderful Pueblo friend as our guide.  This is her ancestral homeland and heartland. Bea is an artist of the soul as well as grandmother, drum maker, potter and weaver.   She will help history and tradition come alive through walks, talks and time alone in the silence and spirit of this special place.  For more information, click on the Contact link above.  Happy Trails!

Great Chaco Kiva with time lapse of sky

Casa Rinconada the Great Kiva at Chaco

Join EarthWalks in Chaco Canyon this May 22-23, 2015

Chaco Canyon is a spectacular ancient Native American Anasazi Pueblo site in New Mexico where silence of the high desert, warm sunshine and an infinity of sparkling stars welcome visitors.  EarthWalks will journey there for two nights camping May 22-23, 2015 with a wonderful Pueblo friend as our guide.  This is her ancestral homeland and heartland. Bea is an artist of the soul as well as grandmother, drum maker, potter and weaver.   She will help history and tradition come alive through walks, talks and time alone in the silence and spirit of this special place.  For more information, click on the Contact link above.  Happy Trails!

Great Chaco Kiva with time lapse of sky

Casa Rinconada the Great Kiva at Chaco

Happy New Year from New Mexico

Feliz Ano Nuevo from New Mexico!  This is New Year 2015 and this is a totally new blog.  Please visit the pages listed above including the slide show of all the events and activities of EarthWalks over the years.  Thanks to those who made this site possible as well as those who have been “EarthWalkers” over the years.  Here’s to many more in the years to come.

If you are not a blog subscriber and would like to be, please fill out the form at the bottom of the page.  I promise not to overwhelm you but would love to send out a few thoughts and resources from time to time related to multi cultural health and healing principles in the American Southwest and Mexico. If you are interested in creating a special EarthWalks, contact me, Douglas Conwell, at  Thanks for letting others know who might be interested in EarthWalks and related information.

I spent my New Year’s eve at a favorite placs in this part of the planet, Bodhi Manda Zen Center Although not a Buddhist, I am a meditator and welcome the opportunity Bodhi extends to us all on this special evening as well as throughout the year.  May you have a wonderful 2015 filled with wonder, gratitude and the simple gifts of love and friendship. Here’s a few photos from the event:

Bodhi Justin 2014 IMG_0701 IMG_0695 IMG_0699























Convergence at the Rio Grande

RiogranderivermapI stand on the beach at Boca Chica, Texas listening to gentle waves of the Gulf of Mexico. The Rio Bravo/Rio Grande is nearby, after making it’s nearly 2,000 mile journey from the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.  This is my first time here.  I am from Colorado where I’ve camped near the origins of the Rio.  And I’ve lived near the Rio Grande most of my life in Texas and New Mexico.  It is a special moment to be here for the first time–a convergence of both the Rio and my own.

The river serves as a Rio Grande at Gulf of Mexiconatural border between the US and Mexico – but Mexican friends tell me that over the years immigrants have not crossed the “border.”  Rather, the artificial border crossed their homeland. Since the mid–20th century, heavy water consumption of farms and cities along with many large dams on the river has left only 20% of its natural discharge to flow to the Gulf. Near the river’s mouth is an important agricultural region. The Rio Grande is one of 19 Great Waters recognized by America’s Great Waters Coalition. The Rio Grande’s watershed covers 182,200 square miles (472,000 km2).

For me, this is a moment of prayer and thanksgiving to All that brings waters of life to the Rio Grande and around the world.  I offer some of the water I have gathered from oceans, holy springs and other rivers.  Then I fill my empty bottle with this water.  The prayers will continue wherever I go, a wonderful circle and cycle.

If you would like to create a special EarthWalks journey for yourself, family, friends or business groups, contact us in Santa Fe, NM at

Ancient Native America

Full-Moon-over-CanyonNot your average tour in the American Southwest, EarthWalks has taken a turn in the road to be at Canyon de Chelley, Arizona for this full moon. Yesterday I was perched high on a sandstone ledge, sun setting in the west and moon rising in the east and playing flute softly to the Spirit of the land. I have had the pleasure of meeting perhaps the youngest National Parks and Monument ranger who is from the Canyon area and well grounded in his traditions and history. He will lead a hike into the Canyon tomorrow. November is Native American Heritage month…what a great place to celebrate the culture and contributions of the First Peoples of the nation.

To create your own special journey and pilgrimage in the American Southwest, contact Picture yourself above!