#11.”The best fry bread I’ve ever had was made by an elderly Navajo woman at the edge of a dusty road leading to Shiprock, New Mexico.”
New Mexico is my other home. It was there that I met my husband and discovered a new landscape. I fell in love with both of them.
There is a peaceful feeling that I can only find there, a need to explore the rock formations and lonesome desert flowers, a desire to just sit and feel the sun caress my soul. I have had many opportunities to see the Land of Enchantment but this particular adventure will be forever imprinted in my mind.
This was a day trip in the Four Corners Area highlighted with a visit to “Shiprock”.
We were travlling on Red Rock Highway that takes you to this glorious sight. At the side of this deserted road, we could see the figure of an elderly woman dressed in a long dark skirt sitting by an outdoor grill of some type. As we drove closer, I insisted that we stop. My sons were with us and I believed this was one of those “once in a lifetime, you just have to stop” moments.
Getting out of the car, the aroma of oil and bread combined was surprisingly wonderful. The desolate desert backdrop transported us to a place of long ago, of recipes passed down….a place of simplicity, family and survival.
As we approached her, she smiled slightly, which pronounced the deep wrinkles set into her weathered face. Her long hair was pulled back with a beaded barrette but the dry wind of the southwest sent it in a few different directions. As she poked at her creation in a cast iron skillet, I noticed her hands. This was a working woman. She placed the fry bread on a paper plate and handed it to us.
I pondered about what this meant to her compared to what it meant to us.
This was her living. This was our…..hmm…..entertainment?
Fry bread was a common staple to her.
Perhaps to us it was an initiation into an unknown land that was only a privilege to visit.
We paid her the four dollars she had advertised with her cardboard sign and thanked her. The bread was round, flat, yet puffy, soft and warm…..delicious. Our first bite could not wait until we returned to our car. We were in the moment, cacti at our feet, surrounded by blue skies and sunshine. Most of all, I think we honored the old woman by eating it right away. It was too good to wait for. Driving away, I thought about the way we had a brief encounter with another place, another time and then we simply moved on. We leave it there and come away with a few photos and a memory. We carry on with our travels, our lives, our problems, our ways, but our past is someone else’s present. The native woman selling fry bread still sits there, waiting for her next customer to slow down, completely intrigued by her or maybe just hungry.
Shiprock is the name of the small town governed by the Navajo Nation as well as the amazing landmark itself. This magnificent peak rises 1500 feet above you, but it is not the height that makes this formation unique. It stands out in an otherwise barren and flat desert plain, and the shape of Shiprock reminds me of Disneyland. The only difference was that this magical place is real. Geologically speaking, it is a stunning tower of volcanic rock, the neck of a volcano that erupted millions of years ago, with rugged walls of lava leading out of it. To the Navajo people however, Shiprock is a sacred monument. They strictly prohibit anyone from approaching this religious and historical site that they call “Tse Btai”. As I looked towards this masterpiece of nature and the long, dusty road towards it, my husband warned me that we could only admire it from afar. That was fine with me. As much as I love to be hands on and this mountain screamed “climb me”, I found myself scanning the wide open desert, half expecting someone of authority to jump out of nowhere or fire off a few warning shots. It was not the only thing that stopped me from getting closer to Tse Btai. I felt a presence. It was as though a spiritual circle surrounded this beautiful creation. The Navajo have many stories and legends about their “rock with wings”. It didn’t matter what Shiprock meant to me because what it meant to others brought it to life.
This isn’t really about Shiprock.
It is about appreciating a natural wonder without touching it, without invading it, allowing the wind to be the only one to carve and caress it.
It’s about restraint and respect of others beliefs.
This isn’t really about the fry bread.
It’s about a quiet lady at the side of a dusty, desert road, trying to make a living and at the same time, upholding the traditional ways of her culture.
It’s about entering another world, another time, another feeling and then leaving it behind.
It’s an exchange between curiosity and a few dollars. It’s real. It’s pure. It’s sharing at its best.