Retracing Native Roads Day 6: Navajo Swap Meet, Narbona Pass, and Beautiful Downtown Farmington

Native RoadsBy Jim Turner

Cold! Tuesday morning, January 22nd, 2013 was cold in Window Rock, in the low 20s.  I had plotted and planned this trip for months, and knew that this day could be the toughest. I was headed up through Narbona Pass in the Chuska Mountains, elevation 8,000 feet. This was literally the high point of my journey. I had encountered lots of helpful, friendly people on the trip so far, so I asked the dining room hostess about road conditions up on the pass. She phoned one of the waitresses who commutes every day from Navajo, New Mexico, about ten miles south of the pass. The news was good, but she recommended that I wait until noon for any ice to melt before heading out.

When I got to town the day before I had stopped at Griswold’s Trading Post and enjoyed a nice chat with Michael Morris-Schumann. He and his sister, Amy Ruskin (a friend and former co-worker at the UofA Chemistry Department) grew up in Window Rock.

Griswold shoes

Griswold’s is in Tse Bonito on Highway 264, a half mile across the New Mexico border.  Since I had the morning to kill, I went back and spoke with Russ Griswold, the owner. They stock raw materials, like buckskin for ceremonial clothes and fine wools and beading supplies that aren’t available at many other posts. They also feature custom-made moccasins.

Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild SignFrom there I visited the giant Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild emporium. This place is about the size of a Target store, but carries only Indian-related items, including an impressive Western clothing section, Pendleton blankets, and aisles upon aisles of jewelry and rugs. I visited their store in Cameron on the first day of my trip. Shopper spoiler alert: if you are a shopaholic or have a loved one who is, do not visit the NACE web site at www.gonavajo.com. Seriously, they have some beautiful items there.

Window Rock Museum lobbyThe Navajo Nation Museum is just around the corner. I visited more than eighty museums when I worked for the Arizona Historical Society, and this one is definitely one of the largest and most beautiful in the state. The impressive skylight in the lobby is octagonal, just like traditional hogan designs. In addition to changing exhibits and a great gift shop, they have an extensive library there. A few months earlier someone had given me a slim volume of hymns written in Navajo in 1923, and I donated it to their library, a place where researchers might find it interesting.

I still had time to spare, so my next stop was the Chi’ihootso Indian Marketplace. This shopping center at the northwest corner of the junction of highways 12 and 264 has several cafes, a bakery, and craft stores, but the real attraction is the swap meet that takes place in the parking lot every day, weather permitting. Navajo silversmiths display their wares right next to folks selling pre-owned toys and videotapes.

Chester Benally belt buckleI was afraid I would squander my self-imposed “allowance” for Indian arts and crafts purchases my first few days on the road so I made a “must have” list before leaving Tucson: 1) ring, 2) bola tie, 3) belt buckle, 4) watch band. I got the ring at Keams Canyon on day two, and the tie at Teec Nos Pos on day four. I’d seen some belt buckles along the way but nothing I really had to have until I met Chester Benally at the swap meet and saw his beautiful inlay designs. While editing Southwest Art Defined and other Rio Nuevo books, I’d developed an eye for the styles I liked, and this was just what I was looking for. You can type “Chester Benally” into Google to see more of his work.

Noontime was approaching, another beautiful sunny day, so off I went up into the Chuskas. Fran Kosik included a section on the Crystal Trading Post in the town of Crystal, New Mexico, elevation 7,523. I wanted to stop there and see if they had any crystals for sale. I wandered around some back roads for a while and almost got stuck in the slushy mud before I realized that the historic trading post was just that — in the past. The last reference I found for it being open was in the 1940s.

From there I took a leisurely scenic drive north up Highway 491 to Shiprock, 25 miles east of the Arizona/New Mexico border. My stop at the Foutz Trading Post was the first new entry to Native Roads. Over the next two days I added almost a dozen trading posts, museums, and historic sites, writing a new chapter for the book.

Foutz trading post painting

The Foutz Trading Post was yet another of those unassuming buildings I encountered along the way, but WOW! wait until you get inside. In addition to traditional arts and crafts, this post had the largest array of modern carvings I saw on my trip.

Monsterslayer carvingI think the biggest difference in the third edition of Native Roads is the emphasis on how things have changed — not just the new buildings, resorts, and stores, but how this next generation of artists explores new styles and media for their work.

From Shiprock, I headed east on highway 64 to Farmington, where I had time to visit a couple more stores before checking in for the night. I was pleased to find that downtown Farmington is one of those lands that time forgot. The buildings are the original brick from decades ago when Main Streets bustled across America.

alexbenallyshoganAlex Benally’s Hogan is in the midst of it all, offering textiles, jewelry, and arts and crafts by local artists, plus old-fashioned enamelware pots and kerosene lamps. Mr. Benally said he keeps those items in stock “because the grandmas like them.” I didn’t get to see everything Farmington had to offer on this trip, but I plan to stay several days next time.

Then it was on to the coldest hotel room of my trip. It was on the eighth floor facing north, and it felt like they’d turned off the heat several days earlier.

The next day would be all new sights, a new chapter, and nothing that was in the previous editions of Native Roads. I was looking forward to it.

Jim Turner is an historian, editor, teacher, researcher, and author. He received his masters degree in U.S. history from the University of Arizona and is now an editor for Rio Nuevo Publishers. He writes history articles for various newspapers around the state, and his pictorial history book, “Arizona: Celebrating the Grand Canyon State,” was named  a “Top Pick” for Southwest Books of the Year by the Friends of the Pima County Library. You may reach him at jimturnerhistorian@gmail.com.

 

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