A white whisper of snow dusted the sandstone buttes of the Lukachukai mountains that are sacred to our people the Dineh´. Franz and I had come out to the Navajo Reservation for a whirlwind tour to visit family out on the “Rez” with our son and his Austrian girlfriend, who was a first time visitor to the US. We wanted to share with her the beauty of our homelands but were pressed for time due to our guys having to be back in California to give a talk. Can the Southwest be done in 7 days in January? Yep! Enjoyable? You bet! It can be as long as it’s not the worst winter on record and if one focuses on one main destination per day it can be quite doable. The day before we had flown in from San Diego to Albuquerque, New Mexico and we overnighted with family in Placitas. When in the vicinity a must stop is at the iconic Range Cafe in nearby Bernalillo for some local eats and live blues music. 7 days is not a whole lotta time out in the great expanse of the American Southwest. That and a weather front had just dumped substantial snowfall on the route out to Arizona that included several high passes and remote roads. This was of concern as well as the government shutdown which affected the clearing of the highways and had caused the closure of many national parks and monuments.
As luck would have it the dawn brought sunny skies and clear roads and the Navajo Nation had stepped up to ensure that the highways out on the Rez were maintained. The stars had aligned in our favor. Our route from Placitas via I-40 to Grants, New Mexico included a side tour via Route 66 to check out a Native Basket Array installation at the Fire and Ice Park. The project highlighted the work of local artists who had repurposed satellite dishes and painted them in traditional designs to create unconventional pieces of public art. While there a quick peek in at the New Mexico Mining Museum is well worth the time taken and holds a collection of related artifacts from the area and some tribal art.
Route 40 winds near the ancient El Malpais National Monument where the landscape morphs into unusual basalt formations with dormant volcanic spires and hardened lava flows. The otherworldly terrain was formed from 115,000 to as recently as 2,000 years ago and the local tribes the Zuni, Acoma, and Laguna Pueblo people have inhabited this region for over 10,000 years. One’s imagination can easily take hold out here in the vast spaces of this arid region. And mine did just that as my sister recounted a story that told of large lizards that inhabit the remote lava tubes of this eerie landscape and are said to be voracious eaters that keep the locals and animals away. The 60’s sci fi film Journey to the Center of the Earth came to mind. Creepy! This of course intrigued our guys and Franz set out on foot to check out an underground flume they had spotted on Google Earth and Stefan followed him with a drone recording his progress. I am happy to report that he encountered no flesh eating lizards but perhaps they were hibernating in the winter months only to emerge come spring with ravenous appetites… but regardless of the lack of large reptiles the footage they caught was pretty spectacular!
The frozen waters of Wheatfields Lake lay silent with only a whisper of falling snow. If one is lucky majestic eagles can be seen perched along the pines lining the shore. The Diné/Biitah Scenic Road winds right past Wheatfields Park at 7300 feet which is known for its trout fishing then steadily climbs the Chuska Mountains until descending into the Lukachukai Valley with the mountains (9466 ft.) in the distance. We spent an evening at the homestead and planned the next day to take in Canyon de Chelly National Monument, just one of the many treasures on Navajo tribal lands.
After a lovely family evening our small group took off to visit a special place in Canyon de Chelly that involves rugged muddy roads and takes effort to get to especially in winter. The view from the point is quite spectacular and mother nature does not get any more beautiful than this. The canyon itself covers 84,000 acres and is about 45 miles long with sandstone faces up to 800 feet tall. Carved into the Defiance Plateau by the Chinle Wash this magnificent gorge is considered sacred to both the Navajo and the Hopi and has been inhabited for over 5000 years and still is today. Prehistoric cliff dwellings and rock art dot the canyon walls with the grande dame spire of them all, Spider Rock (830 ft) presiding over the canyon. Spider Rock, or Na’ashje’ii, is sacred to the Navajo and many stories are associated with her, such as how she taught the Navajo how to weave as well as her ensnaring naughty children in her web that has kept many little kids in check over the years.
We woke to snowfall the following day which kept us from exploring further afield instead we hiked closer to home then cozied up to a warm fire
and played a rousing game of Scrabble. To my dismay one of our native German speakers won the game with a whopping 84 points for the word “question!” Ouch! Our trip out to Lukachukai was way too short but we had to get out to California and opted to drive back with a few stops along the way. With our first time visitor in tow we headed to our next destination via Round Rock and Kayenta to Monument Valley, about a 2 hour drive away. One simply cannot visit Navajo Country for the first time without stopping at the Monument Valley Tribal Park. The rugged buttes, jagged pinnacles, and flat mesas that grace the valley and beyond did not disappoint as they shimmered in the stillness of the January day. Its breathtaking beauty always inspires awe no matter how many times I’ve visited. Traveling the Southwest during the winter is a gamble weather wise, but if the conditions are right one can experience the season when tourism slows to a trickle and can walk about the parks and the visitor centers minus the crowds. It felt as if we had the whole majestic place to ourselves.
Content that our photographers got their shots we hit the road once again with our next stop, the amazing sandstone wonders of Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona. To tour the slot canyons of Antelope Canyon it is necessary to book a guided tour as it is a big tourist destination even in January. We had made our appointment at 3:00 pm with Ken’s Tour at the Lower Antelope Canyon to catch the best possible winter sun rays and there was no way we were going to miss our allotted time.
Our route lead us 2 1/2 hours through the chaparral terrain (6312) of Shonto, Arizona. As we descended from the high plains the placid waters of Lake Powell came into view. It’s hard to miss the second largest man made lake in the US that covers 190 miles in this arid region. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief that the conditions had cooperated and we would make our tour. And it was simply amazing! It was even better than I had anticipated and far surpassed our expectations. Stunning, spiritual, spectacular, sensational and all the superlatives combined, it was that and more. We also had the best Navajo guide possible who was not only friendly but a wealth of knowledge regarding the geology and history of the “Corkscrew” Canyon. And to top it off he was a photographer who could offer advice as to angles and spots to shoot from and for this amateur photographer his tips were most welcome. It turned out visiting in the off season was a good choice as we had heard that during the high season the experience can be trying to say the least. Highly recommend a winter visit!
Admiring the clouds tinged with pink that reflected off the calm surface of Lake Powell we shivered in the evening light. In earlier times in summer we had camped along its shores and water skied though its red sandstone canyons. And it had been wonderful. But that is only one side of Lake Powell. As our photographers busied themselves capturing their footage I pondered the other side of the reservoir that lay before us. That is the controversial history of the flooding of Glen Canyon and the building of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1956. The mega project was conceived by the US Bureau of Reclamation so that the Upper Basin states could fulfill their obligations under the 1922 Colorado River Compact to deliver a fixed amount of Colorado River water to the Lower Basin states. The plan was ardently contested but the government prevailed and the project went forward resulting in far reaching environmental damage to over 80 side canyons, streams and natural arches, not to mention the loss of habitat to its thriving wildlife. Recreational boating introduced invasive species into the water system and the dam dramatically altered the Colorado River itself. The impact on Native American communities meant that culturally significant places and an unknown number of archeological sites have been lost due to flooding. And it never seems to stop as the disputes over water rights in the arid Southwest continues with the growing demands of urban settlement putting pressure on an already overtaxed river system. As I gazed over the life giving waters of the Colorado mulling over these complicated issues I wished that I could have seen what these ancient lands had looked like before man and his machines had made their mark. These thoughts and memories finally gave way to the more pressing issue of hunger. I put aside my thoughts and was thankful for the joy of my traveling companions. In high spirits we enjoyed the local eats and drinks at a nearby restaurant and reveled in our shared our experience.
A rainy Sunday with gusts of Foehn winds that blew down from the Alps and brought lower temperatures into the Rhine Valley hmmm… what to do on such a blustery day? We had already seen the latest offerings in the Bregenz Museums so Franz and I set out to visit the Hilti Art Foundation in nearby Vaduz, Liechtenstein to see the Yuri Albert “Elitist-Democratic Art” exhibition. Hailed as “one of the most important exponents of the second generation of the Moscow Conceptualists” his work highlights “…the relationship between artwork and interpretation, image and text, visibility and invisibility, original and copy” and confronts the viewer to question whether art is “elitist or democratic?” What a creative way to brighten a gray day contemplating meaningful works of art.
The December morning sun peeked out behind the rain clouds with a promise of sunshine making for a perfect day to head out to the historic town of Arbon, Switzerland. The Medieval town is nestled on the shores of Lake Constance and on the Saturday before the first Advent it welcomes in the season with a traditional Christmas Market. For one day only the inner city is decorated with festive stalls offering only hand made quality products such as delicious chocolates, roasted almonds, Glühwein, artwork, and plenty of cheese specialities that can be had as the famous cheese region of Appenzell is only a stone’s throw away. A peaceful afternoon well spent on the shores that were inhabited a mere 6,5000 years ago…
The sleek black cormorant dove into the crystal clear waters of Lake Constance gliding through the pilings that had stood for three millennia and had once supported six villages dating back to the Stone Age. As I pondered these long ago people high above me the slow moving Zeppelin made its way across the sky casting shadows on the glimmering surface below. Man and machine made for an interesting juxtaposition between the past and the present. It was fitting in that I had come to seek out an ancient time at the Lake Dwelling Museum in Unteruhldlingen, Germany. The open air museum is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the oldest and largest of its kind highlighting the unique village life of its early inhabitants including its farmers, traders, fishermen as well as their cultural practices. The site consists of 23 reconstructed houses showcasing the incredible finds that have been preserved under the waters and excavated from the lake bed such as wooden boats, hats made from straw, thousand year old paintings, and miraculously even some old bread! The interactive Archaeorma offers the visitor an underwater view while outside they can participate in the special exhibitions and life sized diramas presented throughout the location. It was an afternoon well spent for this modern woman delving into a bygone era.
Juppenwerkstatt in Riefensberg
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…” this iconic opening theme from the the beloved children’s show Mr Roger’s Neighborhood aptly describes my birthday spent in our Bregenz “backyard.” It was a weekend filled with art, music, delicous food, and nature’s beauty that can only be found nestled in “our neck of the Rhine Valley.” On Friday Franz and I began our weekend quest with a visit to a museum that I had long wanted to see in the Bregenzerwald called the Juppenwerkstatt in Riefensberg. The gallery holds an extraordinary collection of the traditional dress of the Bregenzerwald and highlights the involved process entailed in the making of the intricate textile and clothing as well as the culture of this fairytale region. I am now a big fan of this special little museum.
The August heat was a gift for the farmers fields of corn and hay but I slowly wilted under the suns relentless rays. We sought refuge in a nearby water gorge near Krumbach that was invitingly cool and a much welcomed respite from the rising temperatures. And what a find it was. Small and stylish. At the bottom of the ravine we were enchanted to come upon a site specific art piece that was installed using fishing line to weave patterns in and out of the tree trunks. The filtered light peeked through the overhead canopy and highlighted the repeating strands that created a magical mood. After our short jaunt we sauntered over to a gemütlich (homey) restaurant, the Krumbacher Stuba, intending to have a light salad but after eyeing the specialty of the region, a cheese Kässpätzle, we just had to have that. When in the Bregenzerwald one has to do as the locals do.
Green pastures with languid cows grazing along the KäseStrasse (cheese street) graced the road leading back to Bregenz. Our next stop was the Vorarlberg Museum to view another exhibition that had been on my list titled Wacker im Krieg or Wacker at War. Rudolf Wacker (1893-1939) was a well known local artist who documented his life in Bregenz and his experience in and after WWII. I found the show compelling and it was touching as it paralled the accounts of the war and prison camp life that I had heard from several men of that generation who had also served in the conflict. I highly recommend it.
The sailboats rocked gently as the halyards clinked against the masts and the seagrass tickled our feet. The orange orb in the sky was setting on our eventful day as we floated in the refreshing Bodensee waters in nearby Hard. Revitalized we sought out the waterside Italian restaurant of Ristorante Margarita sul Lago where we met a close friend and enjoyed a tasty tuna fish carpaccio and a favorite Truffle pasta dish. Franz, food, and a friend. A perfect ending for a perfect birthday.
My Breitachklamm Birthday Weekend Continues…
“It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood, a neighborly day for a beauty, Would you be mine?…” these sweet lyrics to the beloved show Mr Roger’s Neighborhood kept coming to mind as we continued our weekend excursions in the “hood.” We woke up to another sunny Saturday and got an early start on another wooded “schlucht sucht” or gorge search. Our itinerary for the day took us across the border to Southern Germany in the Kleinwalstertal to one of the deepest water gorges in the Bavarian Alps and in Central Europe called the Breitachklamm. The magnificent gorge had been carved out by the Breitach glacier for a mere 10,000 years! It had been some time since I had last visited and I looked forward to marveling again at the wild waters that flow and swirl down the Eigenkopf rock faces sculpting the stone into elegant formations. As I took in the grandeur of mother natures work the words of the song came to me again “I have always wanted to have a neighborhood just like you, I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you…”
20th International Sand Sculpture Festival in Rorschach, Switzerland
“Let’s make the most of this beautiful day…” crooned Mr. Roger’s and that we did as we took in the beauty of Buddah on the shores of Lake Constance. Siddhārtha sat with his eyes closed and lips curved upwards bringing a wide smile to his calm face. His clasped hands gently held a sleeping cat nestled on his ample belly. The serene bodhisattva crafted by a team from Russia had taken first prize at the 20th International Sand Sculpture Festival in Rorschach, Switzerland. And what a sensitive portrayal it was. As were all the other entrants hailing from many countries of the world. The theme of the 2018 competition was “All You Need Is Love” and it was a much needed balm for our troubled times. It was a relaxing Sunday afternoon admiring the talented vision that took the unassuming medium of sand to create such superb works of art.
Our day was still not done. The evening brought both culinary and musical delights as we dined at my favorite restaurant in Bregenz, Chen’s, where we indulged in Asian fish specialities paired with a fruity Sauvignon Blanc courtesy of our lovely friend Maureen. For dessert we enjoyed an evening of opera with the Viennese Symphonic Orchestra serving up Georges Bizet’s Carmen at the Bregenzer Festspiele on Lake Constance. The opera was an extravaganza filled with “diamonds, death, and spades!” and the superlative performers and stunning floating stage were truly magnifcent. What a beautiful birthday weekend in the neighborhood!
Hay, hay, hay, everywhere. In my hair, in the air, but hey who cares? For we were at the the Alberschwende Heuen Fair. What is that you might ask? I too had been curious as to what this event was and we were finally able to catch this unusual happening. So on a recent Saturday morning Franz and I headed out to the quaint village of Alberschwende in the Bregenzerwald to watch the International Hand Mowing Competition. In the local mountains where modern mowing machinery cannot reach due to the steep slopes farmers resort to scything the grass the ole’ fashioned way. And this competition grew out of this age old tradition. The scythers had a “hayday” brandishing their shining saber like blades at lightening speeds with unparalleled technique. This gathering even brought out the the young country folk from the ages 5 to 75 to join in the suspenseful scything. The winning time was a whopping one minute twelve seconds to cut 538 square feet! Hip hip hooray to the “heumeisters”!