Tucson to Steamboat -2017 – Part II – Winslow, Gallup and Acoma

This is Part II of a three part blog-post on our return trip from Tucson to Steamboat in the spring of 2017, covering Winslow, AZ, Flagstaff, AZ, Gallup, NM, and Acoma, NM.  This is the heart of “Indian Country”, with so much Native American history and so much to absorb.  I love the vibe of this area and somehow feel a bit more relaxed, like nothing is urgent.  Art abounds in so many ways and has for centuries.  People have been expressing themselves through the arts since the beginning of human time.  (Warning:  this blog post is pretty long.)

Winslow, Arizona

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the words, Winslow, AZ?  “Standing on the corner…”, right?  At least it was (is) for me. “Take It Easy” is a song written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey, and recorded by the Eagles with Frey singing lead vocals, in 1972 and the “standing on the corner” line is one most people (at least from that era) remember.  Of course, we had to see “the corner”.

Winslow is on historic Route 66 –  AKA the Mother Road, the Will Rogers Highway, Main Street of America – the first cross-continental highway, taking people from Chicago, Illinois to California.  Beginning in 1926, it was a large part of the modern western expansion of the US.  Towns along the route catered to car-travelers, the railroad, and truckers hauling goods.  Roadside attractions popped up to entice people to stop along the route.

Although the original Route 66 as a trans-America highway has been replace by the interstate highway system, and only segments of the road actually exist, it is a fond memory in the minds of some and a legend in the minds of others.  It is the call of the open road, of adventure, of freedom.  It is so sad that so much of the magic has been lost.

Winslow is a very tired, down-on-its-luck Route 66 town. Most of the stores and restaurants in the historic downtown are closed.  Lots of businesses moved out to the interstate.  There are, however, two fun things to see in Winslow.  In an effort to revitalize their downtown (they ARE an Arizona Main Street community), they created “the corner”.  If you look carefully, you can even see the “flatbed Ford” in the window behind us.  Although that is a painted “reflection” in the window, there actually is a red flatbed Ford parked at the curb near this sign. There were people milling all around this corner, so it is obviously working.

Standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona. See the flat-bed ford in the background? There is also a big Route 66 sign on the pavement in the middle of the intersection, so you really can’t miss it.

The other “must see” in downtown Winslow is the historic La Posada, a Fred Harvey railroad hotel. Built in 1929, is on the National Register of Historic Places.  Designed by the famous architect (as story in itself) Mary Colter, it is her most famous work.

This plaque is located at the front door of the hotel. Mary Colter was a remarkable woman architect working in what was then a man’s world. She worked often with Fred Harvey who was the father of luxury rail travel for the masses.

La Posada embodies the visions of both Mary Colter, the hotel’s renowned architect, and Allan Affeldt, its current owner. But the story really begins with Fred Harvey, who “civilized the west” by introducing linen, silverware, china, crystal, and impeccable service to railroad travel. (He was so legendary that MGM made a movie called The Harvey Girls starring Judy Garland.) Harvey developed and ran all the hotels and restaurants of the Santa Fe Railway, eventually controlling a hospitality empire that spanned the continent. (From the hotel’s website.)

Trains would stop right outside this wonderful hotel and passengers that had been cooped-up in a train for days could get off the train, spend the night or a week, have wonderful meals and showers, before moving on to their final destination.  Much of the hotel has been changed to accommodate ADA requirements, but the splendor of the place is still evident.  They also have a wonderful art gallery that is currently displaying Tina Mion‘s paintings.  (The works exhibited in the hotel include many pieces from her Ladies First series, an insightful retrospective on wives of American Presidents – from website.) The “First Ladies” paintings were haunting, encapsulating the legacy of each first lady – the good, the bad and the ugly.  Mion also equated each first lady with a playing card, like the king of hearts shown here, and included it somewhere in the painting.

Tina Mion’s first lady portraits were amazing. Each one used a playing card and represented some defining part of the life of the first lady she was painting. Note that the king on this card is President Kennedy and the bullet goes through his head. Also note the red in Jackie’s eyes, as if she has been crying. Pretty haunting. It took us an hour to get through this small gallery because the paintings all had hidden meanings.

Homolovi II

We chose to stay in Winslow because we could use it for a base for day trips.  We camped in the rather remote and very quiet Homolovi State Park. Homolovi (ho-MO-lo-vi) preserves a couple different Native American ruins.  What was so amazing about this park was the number of pot sherds.  They were EVERYWHERE!  Although there is really nothing left of the community and architecture at this site (because of looters), just taking the short walk up to this site is worth it, just to be able to see all the sherds.  They must have been making and smashing pots every day.

Homolovi II has been looted by pot thieves looking for antiquity treasures, but there are still (literally) tons of pot sherds all over the ground. It is pretty cool to see the painting on the sherds, see the different colors of clay, and realize that people actually lived here. Most sites have been cleared of any relics, but not this one. There is just too much.

Second Mesa

Another day trip out of Winslow was up to Second Mesa, the Hopi reservation.  The small Hopi reservation is located smack dab in the middle of the huge Navajo reservation.  As the Hopi tell it, Second Mesa was always their destination – the promised land, and all the villages and centuries of nomadic travel was to get to Second Mesa. When people ask “What happened to the Anasazi?”, you just have to ask them.  They abandoned other sites along their path to reach the second mesa. They say they knew it when they found it.  That was where they would settle.

We had to drive for almost an hour through the Navajo reservation to get there. Eventually, we could see the roofs of dwellings up on top of a high mesa in the distance.  When we arrived, we visited the Hopi Cultural Center to learn more about these friendly, remarkable, extremely religious (in their own way) farmers and artisans.  Hopis believe they are direct descendants of the Anasazi culture, with history going back 10,000 years.  In our time there, everyone was very friendly, answering “stupid” questions from us gringos, and engaging with us.  We ate traditional Hopi food in the restaurant at the cultural center, which included chili beans and blue corn fry bread.  (YUM!)  It is amazing how different (and yet similar) each of the tribes we have experienced are.  The Hopi are humble, friendly and accepting.  The Navajo (at least the ones we have experienced) seem to have a more superior air, and there are some issues between the two tribes.  No photos are allowed without permission within the reservation, so nothing to share.

Flagstaff, Arizona

Flagstaff is located in the largest Ponderosa pine forest in the US, the same forest that also includes Show Low where we spent a week last fall and collected a garbage bag ful of pine needles to use for my pine needle baskets.  This is an example of one of the baskets I learned to make last August.

This basket was made with North Carolina pine needles, much finer and smaller than the Ponderosa pine needles we collected in Flagstaff, but it is an example of a pine needle basket to show how they can be used.

 I taught three basket classes to people in our winter RV park, and was seriously short of needles for my own use in the summer to come. We drove over to Flagstaff and started looking for downed pine branches with green needles still attached.  There had been a storm the night before and knew there would be branches all over for the taking.  We found LOTS!  This bin is just a small part of what we collected. The rest were still in the back of the truck. After stripping them from the branches, and laying them out to dry, I ended up with three FULL paper grocery sacks of needles – close to 20 pounds.

These Ponderosa pine needle branches are just some of the ones we collected in Flagstaff. The needles are long, soft and really fragrant! Although you can use brown needles picked up off the ground, I really like to use fresh needles because they stay green if you dry them out of the sun.

Gallup, New Mexico

After four days in Winslow, we moved on the the USA RV Park in Gallup, New Mexico.  We love Gallup and have stayed in this park before.  Gallup is the epicenter for Native American crafts, tribes, and awesome Mexican food.  Since we had spent a week in Gallup last fall, this was more of a quick stop before moving on.  We had not visited the historic El Rancho Hotel in the fall, so we made a point of seeing it this time.  Unfortunately, the hotel and restaurant were closed for the day because the city was doing water-line work and there was no water for the rooms or the restaurant.  We were still able to go inside and walk around, getting a feel for what it must have been like for all the movie stars and politicians that frequented this stop on Route 66 back in the 30’s and 40’s.

This is the historic El Rancho Hotel on Route 66 in Gallup, New Mexico

The weather was pretty awful while we were in Gallup with cold temps, wind and rain, so we didn’t venture out much.  We did find a terrific “locals” Mexican restaurant for lunch, however, that we had to try.  Jerry’s is an unassuming restaurant with lines out the door every day of the week.  I think we were the only non-locals in the place.  It was delicious!!!  Check it out if you are in the area.

Acoma (Sky City), New Mexico

The highlight (for me, at least) was the tour of Acoma (AH-co-ma) Pueblo.  We went to the Sky City Cultural Center, something we had skipped on our way south in the fall.  BIG MISTAKE!  Everyone we talked to at our happy hour gatherings told us not to miss it this time.

This is a three story section of the Acoma Pueblo, still accessed by log ladders, with no electricity or running water. They do have internet access, however. Go figure.

Acoma is located on top of a mesa.  There is no running water or electricity, but there are still some people living there full-time.  The adobe buildings are much as they were when they were built centuries ago.  To access the upper stories, they still climb up ladders to get there.  Many of the rooms (dwellings) are used part-time by ancestors of the families, sort of like second homes, especially for annual celebrations and ceremonies.   On those days, the whole mesa is full and active.  The day we were there was just a regular day, so it was pretty quiet.

Tours of Acoma leave every hour (on the half hour) from the Cultural Center and last about an hour and a half.  Our guide was Steven, a Navajo, who was really funny and gave us a good sense of the blending of ancient and modern blending of lifestyles in the pueblo.  As we walked through the community and he explained what we were seeing, we would come upon artisans sharing their pottery, jewelry, and paintings.  Some of it was magnificent.  There was one young man who was selling arrowhead points he had chipped from beautiful stones using methods that have almost been forgotten by the modern youth.   I am kicking myself that I didn’t buy one of those points, as they were exquisite.

This is Steven, our Acoma guide, pointing out a horno (oven) used to bake bread – and pizza, he said . These were scattered throughout the pueblo.

What I did buy (before we got to the arrowheads) was a small pottery fetish bear made of what has become very popular – horsehair pottery.  What is so special about this bear, however, is that is was made by the woman who accidentally discovered the method for making horsehair pottery – Corrine Louis. I bought the bear from her husband, Gary.  While firing her pottery one day, Corrine accidentally dropped one of her hair strands on a pot without noticing.  When it came out of the kiln, there was a burned line on the pot where the hair had melted into it.  AHA!  She and Gary, started experimenting and have perfected the craft.  Now many natives use the method, but she was the first. (They now use horsehair because it is more readily available and not as hard on your head as using human hair.  I am sure some use hair from a hairbrush, however.)  I HAD to buy the bear to put on my slide rail with all my other trinkets.

Horsehair fetish bear made by Corrine and Gary Louis. Corrine was the first ever to make a piece of horsehair pottery, and it was an accident. Gary carved the lizard into the bear.

There is still one segment, Part III, to this trip, that will be coming out in the next week or so.  Although it was a pretty faster trip (three weeks) for us to get from Tucson the Steamboat, we actually crammed a lot of things into it.  The same trip last fall took us two months.