Tuesday, June 28, 2016

To the North: Arizona's Apache and Navajo Counties

When we lived in Scotland, my travels took me around the country, but now that we live in the U.S. again, and I work for a State agency, my travels take me mostly to different parts of Arizona.  Although it's not as glamorous-sounding as going to Edinburgh or London for work, going to Northern Arizona is definitely a different experience.

Last week I traveled to visit Apache and Navajo Counties - my route took me up through the White Mountains to see Whiteriver and Fort Apache on the White Mountain Apache tribal lands, then up to Holbrook, Chinle on the Navajo Nation, over to St. Johns and finally to Eagar/Springerville before heading back down south.

My route from Tucson up and around through Navajo and Apache counties
So what was I doing? Well, in Whiteriver I was just looking around, trying not to stick out like a sore thumb with my pale (ish...not so pale as it was in Scotland) skin and my University of Arizona car.  I stopped at the gateway to the White Mountain Apache tribal lands: Salt River Canyon- beautiful area, and the only rest area for miles.

My colleague and I stayed in Holbrook, whose claim to fame is proximity to the Petrified Forest National Park, and of course many places where you can buy petrified wood in all shapes and sizes:

Since petrified wood is from dinosaur times, there's a not-so-subliminal theme going on among the local shops:

Holbrook is also on Route 66, something it's hard to forget when the central square sports this sign painted on a rock.

Because of its proximity to the Navajo Nation, another unique feature of Holbrook is that it has a kids tribal dance group that performs for free each summer weeknight. The biggest dancers are probably in their early teens, with the youngest ones barely able to toddle around the arena. The boy pictured below was maybe 9 or 10 and performed the Hoop Dance; it was very impressive.

Here is one of the tiniest dancers, a little boy whose dad is heping him to do the Grass Dance:

From Holbrook we drove onto the Navajo Nation up to Chinle (2 hours away and 1 hour earlier, because the Navajo Nation observes Daylight Savings time, while the rest of Arizona does not). It's pretty up there - and sparsely populated.

In Chinle we found some items in the grocery store that showed us we were in a rural agricultural area - horse pellets and salt licks - and then we went on to the Summer Meals SNAP-Ed event, which was why we were there.
After Chinle it was back to Holbrook for meetings and visiting sites (mainly SNAP-Ed supported gardens), then over to Apache County (St. Johns and Springerville/Eagar) the next day to see more gardens and also more Summer Food activities.

When I woke up in Holbrook and went outside on my way to St. Johns, this was the scene, thanks to the Cedar Creek wildfire, burning near Show Low, 47 miles away. I could smell the wood smoke from the hotel parking lot:

I had the honor of seeing the best garden in St. Johns (the county seat of Apache county, population about 3,500) - lovingly planted and tended at the Apache County Cooperative Extension. Becuase it's colder in Northern Arizona the growing season starts later, but they made their own greenhouses and nurtured tomatoes and other plants so they were thriving in June instead of just getting started. They even had broccoli ready to pick! They told me people were pulling over to the side of the road to ask them how they grew such lovely plants.

On my way back to Tucson, I decided not to drive back toward the fire (which by this time had grown from 1,000 to 8,000 acres, had shut part of the highway, and had Show Low under a pre-evacuation threat) so I added some time and went through Alpine, AZ (complete with an Alpine lake) and down through New Mexico.  I didn't take any pictures, mainly because there was nowhere to stop and pull over...just winding mountain roads snaking through trees and more trees, with the occasional town flashing by.

Thanks for reading all the way to the end, and now you

1) Know a little bit about what a SNAP-Ed evaluator does in Arizona.


2) Have seen some of Arizona that's off the beaten path, that you might not see unless you are getting your kicks on Route 66.

Happy Trails!

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