I have never felt pure serene solitude as I have in Nevada. I took highway 6 East through Nevada and turned Southeast to highway 375 right outside of the infamous Area 51. There was one town on the way.
There were plenty of unidentifiable lights flying around in the sky. Distant lights that move unlike airplanes and skitter back and forth. At first I thought they could be far-away radio towers but they were actually moving. Three lights in the distance that seemed to be moving together but were too far apart to be one unit. I have no photo of those three lights, but I did take this time lapse while I was sleeping. Each frame of this lapse represents 30 seconds and the whole time lapsed is about 12 hours. At the bottom of the screen you will see cars zipping by and in the sky you can see plenty of tiny specks of light flashing on and off which are probably shooting stars. But, at about 19 seconds look closely at the right of your screen and notice about 50 lights flying off into the distance over the course of several hours. Also, at about 22 seconds there is a huge streak of light in the upper left of the screen that cannot be a shooting star. If anyone out there in internet land can explain them, please leave a comment.
Many nights of hiking around in pitch black setting up time lapses, and more hours spent driving down dark and dusty unknown roads that don’t show on maps. My car has felt the pain more than me perhaps…
In Utah I found Skutumpah road, an old dirt road that wraps around Mount Zion. It stretches for roughly 120 miles starting in the town of Glendale and heading Northeast before cutting Southeast. The old man in Glendale asked me, “Are you absolutely sure you want to go down that road, you’re gonna need a can of beans and a lotta water.”
One of the locals that owns a Ranch suggested I camp in Lick Canyon. I made it there after dark and hiked in occasionally looking up to see the Canyon rising above me. Their were Cougar tracks in the mud so I took my photo and got out of there.
The end of Skutumpah road was said to be easier then the beginning. This is false. The further south you drive down Skutumpah the more it resembles two parallel muddy trenches passable only by dirt bikes. One hundred miles in and I was not about to turn back so I held my breath and charged my 88 Honda LXi (who I have named Loxie) through the muddy trenches hoping things would look better around the bend. Somewhere within the violent shaking both of my front lights popped out of socket.
Soon I was in Page Arizona surrounded by familiar Wal-Marts and McDonald’s. I walked past the largest man-made reservoir ever built. One of my fondest memories from this trip is swimming in the Glen Canyon reservoir. After a week in the hot and dusty desert it was a delightful bite of heaven to soak in the cool water while looking up at the canyons towering above.
The next day I awoke in Navajo territory. After doing some electrical work on my Honda over a cup of coffee I set out. I stopped at a roadside market and ate a grilled mutton (lamb) while talking with the cook.
My goal in passing was to find a Navajo or Hopi elder who had been alive before the Peabody Black Mesa Coal Controversy in 1968. Peabody essentially screwed the entire region out of their water and natural resources. I researched it and read that the Black Mesa coal mine shut down in 2005. I stopped at a store and asked where the abandoned Peabody Silo is. “Peabody is still here unfortunately,” said the cashier.
Sure enough there were two relatively new coal mines in the region. I guess the stigma of the Black Mesa plant was so big that it was best to just open a new coal plant. I did find the abandoned Peabody plant and took this shot.
Afterwards, it was another hour or so of dirt roads. The clouds were amazing. Whatever dirt road I was on shot me out right where the first mesa is. I saw many abandoned trailers along the ridge of a vast canyon.
I walked into the Hopi cultural center and caught an old man named Kiv. Judging by the deep burrows in his forehead I guessed he was in his 60s or 70s. He explained to me that he was born on the first mesa of Hopi land, but he left at the age of 9 because all the rest of his family had left.
“There was nothing left, no reason to stay,” he told me. He seemed upset as he told me that he had never been to the Grand Canyon. I soothed his anger by describing my hellishly painful descent into the canyon with no sleeping bag and having mice crawl on me as I slept on the picnic tables…He got a laugh out of that. I threw in a tid-bit about some guy that died there last week. I asked if he knew any elders that could talk about Peabody coal and he told me I would eventually find someone.
On the road I picked up a young hitch-hiker with a “Disturbed” tee-shirt. He didn’t say much but he had me take him directly into the village. Everyone in the village was at a volleyball game that we passed along the way. The village reminded me of Tegucigalpa, Honduras except empty and on top of a huge mesa surrounded by canyons. Nobody was there and half the shacks were abandoned.
I found the edge of the canyon and had a peek. On my way back to the car I saw an old man in front of a shack sitting on a crate with a cowboy hat on. I walked up to him and said “Hi.” He responded by ignoring me for a brief moment. I almost thought he didn’t hear me but then he looked in my general direction and started hocking up loogies and spitting. He got about three of those out before I was out of listening range.
The second mesa sits upon a canyon right across from the first one. There was a tiny village of adobe pueblo on top of a mount with cars wrapping around it.
There was a house on the edge of the canyon with a sign that said “Crafts, Welcome,” so I made myself welcome and knocked on their front door. A young boy came out and told me there were no crafts for sale today. He told me there was a dance going on at the top of the mesa where I can find a man named Walter Koyowitha and interview him. I tried to get the young man to go with me but he didn’t care for dancing.
I was about to stand out like Rosanne in a baseball auditorium so I left my camera in the car and took the rock stairs up the mountain. Everybody that was from the area knew Walter Koyowitha and it alleviated the awkwardness of essentially being in the middle of a Hopi Pow-Wow and being a complete outsider both mentally and physically.
The village felt like a castle, the way it winded up. As I hiked up I imagined that centuries ago the Hopi were dancing and banging on drums just like they were tonight. The dance was in a open space on the top of the mesa that was only accessible by ladder. Someone told me that Koyowitha was singing and drumming. I would have gone in to look for him but the dance was letting out and the ladder was swamped with people trying to leave so I waited and watched and listened to the language, the accents and the beautiful clothing and jewelry of the Hopi.
Finally, I found Koyowitha in front of his old adobe home. He was sweaty and tired. I told him that I wanted to record the oral history of Peabody Coal within the Navajo nation. It was important because Peabody is still blowing up the mountains of Kentucky and West Virginia while cheating people out of their mineral rights and exploiting their lack of education. His face grew dark when I mentioned Peabody. “You shouldn’t talk about such things around here, the Hopi people are still bitter about what Peabody did.”
I didn’t get my interview, but I got to step into a world of culture that I thought had no longer existed. I figured it existed in a Disneyland-like way, as a touristy faux of the real thing that once was. I was surprised.
Every mesa village I went to, the entire village was together at some event. The Hopi tribe is truly a great example of what intentional community could be.
Perhaps I will walk into every community and say that I am looking for Walter Koyowitha, just to see where it takes me.