Saturday, January 26, 2013
Lower Antelope--Walking into Mother Earth With Eyes Wide Open
Just over the Utah-Arizona border, smack in the middle of the border near the town of Page, the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation sits upon land that purely vibrates with light. There's no other way to describe the geography here, the air, the vast sky, the colors of the water in Lake Powell, and the way the land appears flat, but rolls almost without impression.
This is where we found Hasdestwazi, or Lower Antelope Canyon.
Tsebighanilini, "the place where water runs through rocks", refers to Upper Antelope Canyon, which is located literally across the highway.
The slot canyon had come highly recommended, so my husband and I took a day to see what it was all about. One of the joys of traveling is that I tend to suspend all expectation--I don't do much advanced homework to orient myself, I fail to collect "must sees", I leave the planning to others. This, I know, is a huge luxury. I don't feel as if I'm being lead so much as just waiting to see what might be around the bend, but obviously someone has to do the homework and I have an abiding faith that I won't be lead too far afield, so I willingly agreed to my husband's plan.
Along with two others, our Navajo guide Tim, began the tour in the parking lot, stopping along the trail at a plaque commemorating 11 lives lost several years ago in a flash flood in the Lower Antelope. He explained that storms many miles away, unseen here, could dramatically effect the dried river bed we were now entering, transforming the river and canyon into a raging muddy river in a matter of seconds.
We walked on in silence, until we came to a slit in the river bed, an opening that widened finally just enough to allow us to slide sideways, stepping boot over boot, descending into an ever-widening chasm.
Suddenly, I could feel my heart beating like a drum as the walls closed and we left earth top behind. The air dampened perceptibly. Backpack scraping on sandstone, hands still balancing the boot over boot action, we came to several sets of metal steps to take us deeper, and then deeper still.
Walking into Mother Earth.
The 5 of us spent over an hour walking through and descending deeper into the spiraling sandstone rocks. Everywhere water had rushed through, the walls had been hollowed, striated, carved and curved, as if fingers had come through softened red clay to create bodies. Bellies, breasts, shoulders, spines, the arch of the sacrum, and the curve of thighs, forearms and placid faces--Mother Earth was showing us at every turn that our bodies are indeed fashioned by her forces of Nature, that we are forever her invention.
By turns awestruck and claustrophobic, humbled and emboldened, diminished and then made huge, I noticed how my mind and body ran the gamut of sensations, thoughts and actions.
In some places the canyon was so narrow we had to continue walking sideways, taking off mittens to allow cold fingers to find handholds, leaning into the walls for stability. Then the canyon would open like a secret room, like a womb, covered with a floor of fine silt. Here too, it was so comforting to lean into the walls, to allow the body to nestle into the curves of sandstone, because the body kept finding these places spontaneously.
A busload of tourists pushed through, seemingly on a forced march, and I felt sorry that they couldn't do what we were doing--meandering, gazing upward, running our hands along the stone, taking dozens of photographs of one another and the view, listening to the muted sounds and inhaling a very different sort of air that didn't exist above us, a heavier air, with secrets to share.
In some places, great collections swallow nests rested on razor thin ledges, decorated with white dropping, all vacated for the winter. One could imagine the summer comings and goings at the edge of the canyons, as swallows raced to collect insects, then dove expertly into the slot in the earth's crust to feed nestlings. It must be an amazing sight.
The eventual climb out of the canyon was fairly arduous, up and up, and straight up steep stairs or metal ladder. I am not good with heights, I just keep climbing.
Top side, the brightness takes your breath away and your eyes close involuntarily. Somewhere behind your eyes, the interior of the canyon remains and wants not to be forgotten. I know I have photographs to return to, but the muscular memory of the body in repose, against soothing sandstone curves will be what remains.
If I had done the homework before coming here, if I had known that I would literally walk into the earth, beginning at a narrow slice incised into a dry riverbed, perhaps I never would have gone, out of fear and worry. But there are times when one just goes and stops thinking, a meditation, enriched.
thanks honey for bringing me here