Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Road trip through the Navajo nation

I'm out and about right now, on the road touring colleges. My daughter is going to be a senior in high school this year, so now is the time for information gathering. We looked at Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff, AZ this morning. Right now, I'm sitting in a hotel room in Durango, CO, so we can look at Fort Lewis college tomorrow morning.

It was a fascinating trip from Flagstaff to Durango today. Most of the day, we were driving through Navajo territory. Man, is that some desolate but incredibly beautiful landscape! If you like geology, this is your place--because there isn't much in the way of greenery to get in the way of the spectacular rock formations. Just the occasional manufactured home, with a couple of pick up trucks in front and a hogan out back. And, now and again a handful of cattle or a herd of sheep.

The sheep, of course, are what interested me. I saw at least 3 or 4 different breeds along the roadside. Sometimes literally along the roadside! I think those were going to have to be rounded back up. But sheep leads to wool, which leads to yarn, which leads to the absolutely spectacular rugs that the Navajos weave.

An hour north of Flagstaff is the little town of Cameron. We stop there just about any time we're headed north, because there is a trading post there that is great fun. (Well, that and the fact that there is a bathroom. Priorities!) In 1911, a suspension bridge was built there over the Little Colorado River. Soon after, the Richardson brothers started a trading post, where the local Navajo and Hopis could barter their wares for goods from afar. The trading post has been in operation since. In fact, the president of the post these days is a direct descendant of the original founders. And, oh my! The artwork that is available is very very tempting.

I usually admire the pottery on the way in, ooh and ahh over the baskets, then go take care of business. Then a stop by the book area. And then, I head back to the rug area. They often have a loom set up, and I love to look at it. The more I learn about weaving, the more I can understand what I am seeing.

Today though. Today was a wonderful stroke of luck. The artist was at her loom, actively weaving at her current rug. She graciously allowed me to take her picture, but was focused on her work. She warmed up a bit when I told her I admired the skill of her hands, and how very straight her selvages (edges of the weaving) were. We chatted for a bit, before I had to move on. She's been weaving for over 40 years now. She said it took her about a decade to really perfect the edges of her rugs. (I don't feel so bad now about my attempts at tapestry!) Most all of her work these days are commission pieces, usually to repeat customers. I was amazed watching her work. She made it look so easy...but I know it is most definitely not! Her movements were sure and precise, her rows even, and she worked the design without a pattern to refer to. Now, there is an incredible artist.

Wow. Just...wow.


  1. Wow indeed!!! She is amazing :0)

  2. I wish you could have seen it. The size of the loom, the scope of the undertaking, the skill of the weaver... Inspiring!

  3. Our family took a road trip through Arizona a few years back and all 5 of us remember the Cameron trading post. We loved it! Bought a small rug and some yarn.

  4. Isn't it a dangerous place? I have some earrings from there, as well as some woven place mats and coasters. I used them as wall decorations for years.

    I resisted temptation this time, only taking the pictures with me. But I think a run back up to get gifts for Christmas might be in order.

  5. I was so looking forward to the rug room at the Hubbell Trading Post, but the sales clerk there ignored us. Very disappointing. We got great customer service at Cameron so we shopped there!