I must admit that when our English teacher told us we would have to wake up at 6 a.m. and ride a noisy, crowded bus for eight hours, it took the edge off my excitement about visiting Monument Valley, Ariz.
But my enthusiasm was reborn when we stopped in Moab and climbed an almost vertical sandstone rock about 50 feet high, using very small holes as footholds - just as the Indians did years ago.The footholds, called mokee steps, were painstakingly carved into the mountains by the ancient Anasazi Indians.
I was amazed to think I was climbing where these mysterious people once worked and played thousands of years ago.
We soon arrived in Kayenta, Ariz., where we spent three days learning about the area and the Indians who live there. After a night's stay at Kayenta Holiday Inn, we got up early and went to Monument Valley High School. It surprised me that in such a modern building, easily as large as East High School in Salt Lake City, only 350 students were enrolled.
We ate breakfast at the school, then hiked to a nearby mesa, a treacherous adventure but one that opened up a vista of Monument Valley and beyond. The area was once inhabited by the Anasazi Indians. We saw an interesting ruin built into a sheer cliff about 50 feet above the ground.
The only route to the cliff dwelling, without rappelling up the cliff, is to climb a path over boulders that have broken from the mesa wall over the years. We climbed the rocks to a shelf and followed a trail to two small "keyholes" that would allow only one person at a time. Crawling through, we came to the courtyard of the cliff house, a small structure only about 64 cubic feet in size.
The Anasazi used their dwellings only for sleeping, and the small quarters helped retain heat at night.
I decided they also built their homes in such high, inaccessible places for protection, since no enemies could bring heavy equipment with them onto the mesa, and they couldn't have fit through the keyholes if they got equipment that far.
That night, we stayed with a Navajo Indian family in their home. I had anticipated an experience radically different, culturally, from our own. I was mistaken. The first things I noticed were a television, Nintendo, wall-to-wall carpeting, a microwave, indoor plumbing, a stereo system and four cars!
We had spaghetti and strawberry punch for dinner.
But many of my friends stayed in hogans with no basic modern necessities, and many Navajos still herd sheep for a living.
In the evening, Don Mose, the father of my Navajo host, took us to see some of the sights in the Four Corners area, including Gooseneck Canyon, where the river has carved meandering shapes in the land. It was not as big or as colorful as the Grand Canyon but nevertheless an impressive sight. Our host also showed us some of the famous plateaus and Anasazi ruins in the area.
In the morning, we boarded a bus and drove to Mesa Verde, Colo., where we visited two of the ruins, Spruce Tree and Cliff Palace.
Cliff Palace was spectacular. We saw at least 20 houses and 23 kivas cut in to the shelf of treacherous cliffs. The kivas were most interesting to me. No one knows their exact purpose, but archaeologists believe they were used for family gatherings and religious ceremonies. They are built below ground level because of the Indian belief that man emerged from an underworld.
I enjoyed Spruce Tree because one of the kivas had its roof intact so we could climb a ladder down inside it and feel as if we were real Anasazis.
One of the ruins had unusual wall paintings and hieroglyphs painted long ago.
A three-hour drive from Mesa Verde took us back to Kayenta, and the next morning, we boarded buses to return home. I was very glad to have an opportunity to experience the Navajo culture and to explore the habitations of the ancient Anasazi in the Four Corners area.