Apache, Sacred Places, and Treacherous Roads

This is Benjamin, signing in to tell you a little bit about our time this past week…

Like a television signal descrambling itself to create a coherent picture while begging broadcasted from one place to another, we needed a slight adjustment of our group operating system to go from Free Travel in Jamez Springs and Santa Fe back onto the reservation life, this time in San Carlos Apache, where we were honored to stay with the former chairman, now council member, and Wendlser Nosie.  During our first day with him he took us to the Geronimo project, which is a memorial site set up in honor of the past of the Apache and their hardships in effort to help heal the past from past traumas against their people.  When not with Wendsler, we attended the local Veterans Day Paraide and other festivities such as the Miss San Carlos Apache pageant, the rodeo, and carnival.

Wendlser proved himself to be a consistently friendly, generous and heartfelt man, and at the same time fully filling to not beat around the bush when talking about the reality of his people and the history of his tribe in relation to the US government, other tribes, and even those in his own tribe that worked against Geronimo and his forces back in the late 1800’s.  We had many conversations about sacred sites and the importance of conserving them, such as Mount Graham and Oakflats, which both are subject to threat of destruction to an astronomical observatory and copper mining respectively.  We learned that every year he and his family put on a sacred run event with volunteers from all over the world to create a relay that ends at the top of Mount Graham, despite the numerous times he and others have been harassed and given resistance from both the University of Arizona and the Vatican, two of the biggest investors and supporters of the observatory at the top of Mt. Graham.  Mt Graham is considered a very sacred site, holding a very special mountain top spring that still flows water, to the Apache people, though its area is officially off the reservation.  We left Wendsler and family after very intimate and intense conversations with them.  We are grateful to have spent time with them.  We wished Wendlser well on his upcoming journey the next day to Washington to lobby with other native tribes all over the country to save Oakflats,  which is under threat of massive mining by Resolution Copper. More to come in regards to this interesting story, but for now, I pass it off to Conner to tell more about our next adventure, starting in fact at Oakflats, and diving deeper into a nearby canyon with our friend Mateo…


We visit the Geronimo Project, created and led by Wendsler. Conner reads plaques honoring the different voices and memories of tribal youth and elders.
Parting picture with Wendsler, former Chairman now Council member of the San Carlos Apache tribe. Thank you Wendsler for taking us into your home and showing us your land and community.
Needing a belt for over a month, Tim Tom now shows off his new custom made gift from the team.
Disembarking from an unusual ship at the Veterans Day fair at San Carlos Apache. Conner finally found the UFO he’s been looking for.

Due to budget cuts the rest of this post will not be written with punctuation STOP To combat this I have taken to using stop in all capital letters in place of the period STOP Ive been tasked with the duty of telling the tale of our journey through Gaan canyon STOP We began our adventure meeting Mateo our contact for this canyon escapade STOP We met at the Oakflats campground and after a short introductory conversation we took to the van again and headed off down the road STOP No one would have believed that in the first years of the twenty first century that mankind had roads that where so poorly maintained that they caused more than one terrifying pants wetting and set a large van with at least a thousand pounds of gear inside of it up on two wheels a few times STOP

This sort of road cannot be described  in mere words so I will try and describe it in vivid metaphor STOP Imagine a lake of still water so perfect and clear that all of the stars in the night sky reflect of it so perfectly that you could aim a telescope at and see as far as the horse head nebula STOP Now imagine a plane the size of Alaska hurtling through the atmosphere and slamming in to the lake at terminal velocity turning the contents of the lake into a tidal wave of boiling water STOP Now imagine driving on that tidal wave in a van the size of an termite being tossed and thrown across the wave like a piece of corn popping on a trampoline STOP Now imagine all of that but ten times worse STOP That will give you a close to accurate picture about how our decent down that terrible road went STOP

After arriving at the bottom of the the road we took a few hours to cry and thank whatever respective divine force we believe in for letting us live STOP We began to make camp dodging cow pies as we went STOP We ate made a fire and went to sleep STOP The next day we awoke early to begin our decent into the canyon STOP It was simple enough at first STOP We walked along the road for all of five minutes and then abandoned the trail to begin bushwhacking our way into the mouth of the canyon STOP A note to all those who take the road less traveled STOP Always where long sleeves STOP The brush was like most plant life in Arizona STOP Spiky and wanting to kill us STOP Despite its malign intentions it was all quite pretty to look at STOP

The canyon itself differed from the rest of the desert in a few key places STOP One it was inside of a canyon two it was as green as the mountains of Vermont STOP It was like walking through an Irish glen but instead of looking up to see some sort of fairy creature or looming potato famine you saw the steep walls of the cliffs stretching out in all directions merging into hills covered in cactus STOP Our hike went on with very few casualties STOP Then at long last we made it to our destination STOP A series of pools flowing through the canyon STOP These deep canyon pools where dark and foreboding STOP We took a brief lunch break atop a short cliff looking down into one of the pools STOP Then we suited up or in some peoples cases suited down STO

We dawned harnesses and tossed aside our shirts STOP With a strong feeling of adventure we one by one jumped off of the cliffs into the cold water below STOP It took no time at all to swim across the first pool STOP We all emerged shivering and soaked through STOP It was then we learned that we had to cross another pool dive off another cliff and then cross yet another pool STOP This news was rather disconcerting to all of us soggy students STOP But we continued on only slightly daunted STOP Each descending pool was chillier STOP Then at another long last we made it to the edge of a cliff face looking down a hundred feet into another deeper pool STOP

It was a bit of a shock when Mateo told us we were also going to go into that pool STOP Yet it was a little bit of a relief when he stated we where repelling down and not jumping into a pool of indeterminate depth without any sort of medical attention for miles around STOP Repelling down the side of the cliff was incredibly easy STOP It was just absolutely terrifying STOP Leaning off of a cliff and walking slowly down knowing that the only thing between life and death is that rope in your hands STOP We made it down without much pain involved STOP The final pool was perhaps the coldest STOP It was near freezing and caused mussel pain in the mere moments we spent swimming across it STOP

There was a small celebration at the bottom that was cut short by the realization that we had to get back up and out of the canyon STOP For the sake of time and effort I will simply say we made it out safely STOP The hike back out took longer as the sun had set and we trudged back through the darkness cold wet and sore STOP Much like a wild night on the town STOP The camp was still there when we returned and that was nice STOP It was an early night that night and we all slept well STOP Unfortunately the poorly paved road was still there on our way out STOP It was just as bad going out STOP


Our descent hike into Gaan Canyon.
Benji and Angie at prom with Gaan Canyon backdrop.
Belayed by Mateo our hardy guide through Gaan Canyon., Sir Erich climbs up a challenging 15 foot waterfall.



Our last stop on the last leg of our outward journey from Gaan Canyon…a little trail happy we were.

Okay, Benji back, and budgets have been refilled and I will take it from here with full punctuation.  Thank you Conner for now making the memoirs of this crazy journey to and from the canyon more memorable than the experience itself.

After waking up from our adventure down in Gaan Canyon, which I must say was personally one of the most magical places I have been to, we headed back up the infamous road, by far the most treacherous we have experienced thus far and thanks to gosh we made it back up with relative ease- somehow.  We headed straight for Superior, a mining town near Oakflats and Gaan Canyon that had a population of 5,000 at the peak of its time but is now down to 1,500.  Mateo set up a presentation and question session with Resolution Copper- the mining company that has already spent over a billion dollars in investigating the huge ore deposit of copper that lies over 7,000 feet below the ground.  Such a mining endeavor of this magnitude would desecrate acres of land, causing pollution to the local area, recession of land, and negatively affecting underground water systems and aquifers.  We found out that underneath the ground lay a copper ore deposit the size of a mountain, with a volume the relative dimensions of one thousand feet high by six miles long.  According to Resolution Copper, all of this would be taken out to be processed above ground, leaving a massive cavity thousands of feet below the surface that would eventually cave in, leaving large expanses of land receeding into the Earth-body, creating a crater on the surface and disrupting habitats and all life in the area.  All of this and the repeated Apaches cry for protection of the sacred ancestral lands of Oakflats, which lays directly over the mine deposit, as well as the surrounding area, and the mining company still wants to push forward.  This land is protected under the government, so the first step would be for the mining company to offer a land swap, offering in return other environmentally protected areas the mining company has boughten up in order to trade for the plot of land directly over the ore deposit.  Already eleven times a land swap bill has failed and still the mining company, along with Congress people and lobbyists, keep pushing through, claiming that the mine will bring jobs to the area and economic prosperity.  This is an altogether separate can, which will not be opened at this moment, but would like to share a simple observation we made recently while passing through an old mining town.  From the simple drive through Superior on our way to the meeting where a lot of this information was presented to us, it was clear that such economic boost from mining may sound promising, and perhaps for a time in the remote past had some affect, but as the yields of the mine decline so do minor and temporary benefits of the surrounding area,. Aside from the economic and social influences, what is left is a landscape scarred by the once was and now gone efforts of a handful of humans trying to make a profit.

After the meeting we head for the White Mountain Apache reservation where we would spend the next two days helping clear trails for a pueblan ruin site that dates back several hundred years.  To remind you, the pueblo an tribes are most related to the Hopi and Zuni, yet still the Apaches in the area were maintaining this ancient site.  Simple days of clearing brush and shooing out horses that got into the protected area.  We also toured through an amazing mountain evergreen forest and a beautiful waterfall.

While wiring at the ruin site the first day we get a phone call from an excited Mateo.  He tells us about an article he found just after waking up.  Turns out that just around the time we were meeting with the mining companies representatives, the house of representatives pull of the land swap bill due to Native American loddying and protesting.  Wendsler was the main force behind that effort and they succeeded.  The land swap is forever banished.  Though the mining company still might mine in the area, it is now severely limited in the area it can mine, perhaps to help lead them to the decision to pull out all together in the area due to the fact they are now given access to much less of that copper ore body than they originally thought.  We were happy to know that Oakflats and the area around, including Gaan Canyon, places we were just before, are now safe from the mining companies exploitation of Mother Earth and Her precious body.

What a week threaded together with synchronicity, hospitality, adventure, and sacredness.

Thank you Wendlser, thank you Mateo, thank you Gaan Canyon.


D-Jane and her White Mountain Apache rainbow glam shot
Mountain forest waterfall on the White Mountain Apache reservation