This is Chinle, Arizona, the heart of the Navajo reservation, where hope seems lost in a flickering memory that is ancient and in conflict with Burger King and the buzzing and beeping of cell phones. Chinle is about government entities, both Federal (Bureau of Land Management ), the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Navajo. Tough tribal police, high crime rates and a serious drug problem have filled the large juvenile correction facility on Indian Road 7.
What drives the crime rate? A youthful population that averages 24 years of age. 40% of all Navajo live below the poverty line with a median family income of just $22,000.00. 32% have no complete plumbing, 60% are without phones and 54% of those aged 25 and older are without a high school or higher education. The reservation is an incubator of discontent, acting out and crime. All of these facts and figures are compounded by the fact that the youth have no interest in the values and traditions of the Navajo. I was told that fewer and fewer speak the native language.
The hike, just 2.5 miles, descends a trail dotted with long stretches of slick-rock and laced with so many switch backs that the route seems as though it were stitched by a surgeon. Dropping down onto the trail, I was struck by gnarled and twisted sandstone, burnished red and blasted smooth, wrinkled like an ancient skin over millions of years. Where the slick-rock sloped away from the cliff toward a fall no one could survive, I put a hand on the cliff wall to give me the courage that was at the moment lacking. I am not crazy about high places.
The sandy bottom of Chinle Wash, which wanders for miles, made the hike to the ruins slow and heavy. Rain slicked the surrounding cliffs, turning them from a powdery red to a slate grey color.
After the descent, a long sandy trek across the flat, then a short climb up a rise marked by cholla cactus (pronounced choya), the ruins appeared in a niche some 8o feet or more above the canyon floor. A phalanx of grazing cattle, one with well developed forward pointing horns...a female by the way, stood between me and the ruins. I didn't stop for a selfie, but taking a deep breath walked between them and made the last hundred yards to the ruins.
Indians selling jewelry in Arizona is not unusual, but I was surprised to see Navajo selling goods from a couple of card tables under a tree just in front of the ruins and more surprised that they had gotten to the bottom of the canyon in cars!