After the Grand Canyon, we were basically headed north but were poking around for interesting things to do before hitting the next major stop. Thus, a night in Tuba City. Oh, you’ve never heard of it? Right. Well, there isn’t a whole lot there. It’s in the middle of a vast tract of land in north eastern Arizona. It’s part of the Navajo Nation, an area of land covering almost 30,000 square miles between Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. This area is governed semi-autonomously with various agencies and layers of Native Americans ruling domestic matters, though the US Federal Government has plenary power.
The area is largely undeveloped, retaining it’s majestic natural beauty, unmarred by commercial interests at every turn. Although within Tuba City itself, there are the standard businesses you’d expect – grocery, gas stations, hotels, a few shops. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary, just not over developed or much of a town really. The term “city” is a stretch. But we didn’t go for the gas station or the Quality Inn.
Just before you get into town, there’s a spray-painted sign declaring “Dinosaur Tracks” with an arrow pointing off to a small collection of scrappy little huts and a few pick up trucks in the middle of an enormous, beautiful and otherwise untouched reddish-white rocky landscape. We took the turn, parked the car and were soon greeted by a Navajo guide who promised to show us around the dinosaur fossils still intact that litter the area. Really? Is this a touristy hoax? Well, we did our research ahead of time, and according to paleontologists from the University of Arizona (among others), this is no hoax. At some point in the far distant past, the scaly creatures who capture the hearts and minds of little boys (and girls, and okay, adults too) wandered all over this exact spot.
We followed our guide around for a short hike and paused at each track he pointed out. He carried a water bottle with him and sprayed each of the tracks to darken them in the hot, bright sun-soaked landscape. The relief from the water drew them out to a vivid contrast among the paler surrounding rock. He told us which dinosaurs the tracks were said to be from. He showed us what was supposed to be fossilized “droppings,” eggs, claws, and tail-drags. The kids followed quietly, almost speechless.
Impressed? Yeah, I guess you could say so. There’s something special about being in a place where you know with certainty that something else, something magical almost, took place. It doesn’t matter if it was a hundred years ago, a hundred thousand years ago or a hundred million years ago (or more). It was here. And you are here. That’s an experience that transcends study, or movies, or picture books. It launches you through your physical senses via your imagination into what was once very real, right in the spot where you stand.