Two years ago, my wife and I went to America, and we drove from Las Vegas to Santa Fe in a rental car. After visiting Zion National Park and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon we headed east through to Hovenweep National Monument to visit the old Ancestral Puebloan ruins.
Both my wife and I were quite surprised at the fact that there were stone buildings built by the American Indians.
As Australians, our knowledge of the Native Americans is mainly informed by television. The only sort of American Indians that one that tends to see in westerns are a pastiche of various Plains Indians with large eagle feather war bonnets on horseback who lived in buffalo skin teepees. It was also interesting to find out that the Navajo who now are the largest Native American tribe of the U. S., actually came from the north in Canada back in the early 1400s, about 100 years before the Spanish. Apparently the word Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning “the old enemy”, and it is incorrectly used to describe the Ancestral Puebloans.
A year later, on another trip, we visited Mexico, and we noticed that the stonework of the pyramids near Mexico City had the similar decorative use of smaller stones in between the larger stones, just like in Hovenweep.
Perhaps the Ancestral Puebloans had some sort of cultural contact with the Aztecs of the South.
The more time we spent in the southwest the more we came to feel that American history, as we knew it began in the mid-1800s and there didn’t seem to be very much acknowledgement of Hispanic, and Native American history in contemporary American society.
We left Hovenweep as the night was falling and as we were passing Mesa Verde we saw a small Toyota pickup truck pulled over on the side of the road with its hood open and a guy standing next to it hitchhiking.
The area around Mesa Verde is semi arid and borderline desert, so we thought we should pick up the hitchhiker and help him out. As soon as we opened the door, as our hearts instantly sank with regret as the smell of alcohol filled the interior of our car. The fellow that we picked up was totally off his face drunk, and it would seem that he had driven into the desert without enough fuel in his tank.
Apparently he’d come from Cortez and was going to visit some family near Farmington because he had a fight with his girlfriend and had been thrown out of her home. The reason why he had been fighting with his girlfriend was because he wouldn’t get a job and had been drinking too much lately. He went on and on about what a bitch his girlfriend was because she wanted him to get a job and stop hanging out with his friends and getting drunk all the time.
The really sad thing about this fellow was that he was a Native American and he was living up to, or should I say down to the stereotype of the drunken Indian. As visitors to the United States of America, both my wife and I were quite interested in the indigenous culture, and we both found it very disappointing that the only contact we had so far, with any Native Americans, was with the drunk, we now had in our car.
Although our passenger was quite inebriated he was very proud of being a Navajo, and he liked to remind us at various intervals during his tirade against his girlfriend, that it was by the grace of people like him, that white people like my wife and I, were allowed to visit places like Hovenweep. It was the old play on white guilt thing, and how we had taken away his heritage rant. When I mentioned to our passenger that Hovenweep wasn’t Navajo, and that it was possible that the Navajo hadn’t been in the area that much longer than the white people, he just shifted back to his tirade about his girlfriend who just didn’t understand him, the bitch! Just because she had the job and paid the bills, she didn’t own him! The bitch! Just who did she think she was? The Bitch!
After about 45 minutes of listening to his drunken ranting, I had just about enough and when we reached Shiprock I told him that we were staying there for the night and I dropped him off by the side of the road. I lied. I went and filled up the car with gas, and headed onto Bloomfield. A few miles out of town, I saw him again and much to his credit, he was running by the side of the road towards his destination about 20 miles away.
The next day when we were in Chama, we met a woman in a store and we got talking about what had happened the day before, with our hitchhiker. She was a very nice woman and as I told her our story, I could see a flash of anxiety streak across her face. In a very sisterly way, she pointed out that we should never pick up hitchhiker’s in America, due to the fact that so many people owned guns and that we were very lucky, nothing bad has happened to us.