Years ago while wandering across northeast Arizona, I saw highway signs directing the interested traveler to see the Four Corners monument, the only place in the United States where four states meet. Having naturally been good at geography in school (let’s not talk about arithmetic) I was interested in visiting it.
Of course I knew that it was just a very important survey point established in the middle of nowhere, ordered to be plunked down by white politicians in Washington, D.C. that were still struggling to define the western portions of their country back in the 1800s. It wasn’t the summit of a mountain, or the lowest point on the continent. Nothing like that. It was merely there…where lines drawn on a map to separate four states happened to cross.
But when I got to the park, a Navajo Indian park, I scoffed at the notion of paying a fee to look at that point stuck in the ground. So I turned around at the entrance booth, vowing never to pay to see something so politically frivolous. After all, Major John Wesley Powell had done his best to advise drawing boundaries by watersheds, a naturally sane guideline. It was ignored.
Now, decades later, I find myself living just 40 miles from the Four Corners monument. I wouldn’t have given it any more thought except that I work at a job that involves giving visitors advice about what to see in the area. And one of those topics most frequently raised is going to see Four Corners.
A recent visitor said: “That’s the biggest ripoff I’ve ever seen!” If he expected Pike’s Peak, no wonder. But these days I have different feelings about the Four Corners tribal park. So I drove down there to see what I could come up with this time.
Mid July, and the summer thunderstorm clouds were building beautifully. Driving south from Cortez, Colorado’s green irrigated ranch fields, down into the high desert of the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation, then onto the Navajo Nation. Dinetah, in their language.
Finally I was at the entrance to the Tribal park. The entrance fee is only $5.00 per person, and I was only one of those. Still, the employee at the booth asked: “How many people?” It must be a job-ingrained thing from doing that all day for years.
I parked in the dirt parking lot and walked to the area of interest: a circular plaza ringed by Navajo artists selling their wares. A formal sign warned anyone intending to scatter a departed loved one’s ashes there to forget it. Because to the Navajo cremation is desecration of a body. To each their own, but don’t do yours here. Fair enough.
There was a small line of people waiting to have their pictures taken on the exact mark where the four states meet. From what I’ve heard the survey marker is off somewhat, but who cares? It’s not like it’s a holy temple or something. It’s a spot on a map, people! Just have fun with it. So many visitors do.
I had expected more Navajo food vendors to be ringing the park. Not so. Only two establishments were there, one offering Navajo Tacos for $8-12. The other, Grandma’s Fry Bread Shack, was closed.
As far as the Indian art vendors within the cherished ring of booths? The necklaces, etc. were cheap in price. Real cheap. In the $5 to $15 range, like you would see at roadside stands in the middle of nowhere elsewhere in Navajoland. But beautiful. Knowledgeable Indian artwork buyers would sneer at it. So what? These items are cheap only because they’re in the middle of nowhere, rather than in a high rent shop in town. These artists know how to make the best stuff, but these tourists aren’t interested, so they offer the stuff that does sell way out here. My advice? If it looks beautiful to you, buy it. It was handmade by a Navajo, even if it was from cheap parts. You will be supporting their household. It will be a no-brainer purchase. If you would rather have an expensive version of their amazing craft, go to town. To the city, even. I did not photograph any of the artists’ wares, at their urging. They wish to keep their designs unique.
I left the Four Corners park feeling serene and refreshed, somehow. I love the wide open spaces, high desert feel of the area. From it you can see Sleeping Ute Mountain to the northeast, and the Carrizo Mountain range to the south.
Go to Four Corners. Be grateful it’s not Disneyland. Any money you care to spend will be supporting a local culture that is beautiful and enduring.
And maybe Grandma’s Fry Bread Shack will be open. I wish it had been when I was there. I had only potato chips in the car.
Photo location: Four Corners, Navajo Nation Tribal Park. Or should I say: Colorado/New Mexico/Arizona/Utah?
See more of my photography at www.NaturalMoment.com.
© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg