In Part II, Linda C. Smith, RDT’s Executive/Artistic Director, reported on the group’s visit to Fry Canyon Ruin, the precipitious switchbacks of Moki Dugway and a kiva at the Cave Tower Ruin before the dancers spent time doing improvisation, culminating in a shamanic healing ritual by one of the Native American guides, Ida Yellowman (Dine).
Here in the final installment, Part III, the group continues to the Moon House Ruin, The Procession Panel hike and a community gathering in Bluff, Utah, the kind of gratifying culmination you’d expect for a 4-day tour through the sacred lands of Bears Ears.
Wednesday, May 10th
7:00 AM We left the Recapture Lodge and drove to the Kane Gulch Ranger Station to get our Moon House Ruin hiking permits and to get detailed driving and hiking directions to Moon House Trailhead. Only 20 permits are issued each day and only small groups of people are allowed in the ruins at a time.
The Moon House was constructed about 800 years ago. The ruin’s namesake is a room with the moon painted on opposite walls. You reach the site by traveling about eight miles on a dirt road then hiking another mile or so to the edge of a canyon. A trail zigzags steeply down an old rockslide to the canyon floor, then the rock slopes ascend to a series of ledges where the Moon House was once home to 25-30 people. The beautifully designed ancient cliff dwellings afforded shelter and protection. The rooms offered privacy and yet encouraged a sense of community.
One dancer said that he felt like a child discovering: “The ruins felt safe and I could sense the people who had once lived in this beautiful and peaceful spot.”
On the return trip, rain turned the dirt road into slick red mud and the dancers into rag dolls trying to keep their equilibrium. Nature always rules. The sun returned and we searched for a spot to improvise. We were careful not to disturb the cryptobioic soils.
Nature always rules.
The spirit of the ancient inhabitants inspired a dance about working and singing and playing, a dance about dying and being reborn…and we were changed.
Thursday, May 11th
8:30 AM We piled into the cars headed for Butler Wash to visit a cliff dwelling and petroglyphs called The Procession Panel. We took US 163 four miles west of Bluff, turned right (north) onto Butler Wash Road and continued 6.1 miles to the trailhead. We searched for the cairns to guide us up the comb ridge slope all the way to the top. The journey was filled with discovery. Indentations etched in the rock were filled with rain and a series of small pools marched down the mountain face and ended in a sculpture garden oasis filled with flowering cactus and wildflowers. We found evidence of what looked like a very large cat who had left a footprint in the damp ground under a tree. Some of the dancers scurried to the top rather quickly while others could be seen perched serenely on rock thrones gazing into the vast space. The land was offering each of us exactly what we needed.
Distance: 2.8 miles (round trip) with an elevation gain of 510-ft. to Procession Panel high atop Comb Ridge. The petroglyph appeared to be a ceremonial gathering or migration story, showing dozens of human-like forms that converged on a central circle. Some of the figures carried staffs and two wore bird head-dresses. Some had their arms raised overhead and a group of five figures in a row seemed to be carrying torches while others had loads on their backs. Below the horizontal lines of figures were images of mountain sheep. One of the large deer or elk on the right side of the panel had a spear protruding from its belly. The panel was a kind of choreography, an ancient ritual etched in stone thought to be from the Basketmaker III Period. The artists who created the panel had a spectacular view from atop Comb Ridge. Our dancers climbed higher and created their own movement ceremony on a sandstone theater/plateau overlooking Monument Valley … breathtaking.
We returned to Bluff and prepared to attend a community event called “Healing in Motion” at the Bluff Community Center sponsored by the Utah Diné Bikéyah.
It was designed to be a gift to the community and a gesture to promote understanding. The designation of the National Monument is not universally supported. Questions of stewardship and ownership have become politicized. Some see the land as a resource, a land of opportunity to mine, graze, farm, build, extract and even plunder. Having spent just a few days in the area, these options seemed unthinkable.
The four-hour community gathering and presentation began at 4:00 PM. It was a generous welcoming. We heard more of the history of Bears Ears from the Native American perspective and listened to Sunny Dooley, a Navajo storyteller, weave a wondrous tale about ancestors and traditions. Performers from the Navajo, Zuni and Ute Mountain Ute tribes shared traditional songs and dances and even invited us to learn the Bear Dance. RDT and Zvidance responded with an improvisation and then everyone was served a delicious dinner. The beauty and generosity of the community event was an outpouring of love, and it deepened our understanding of the people who regard the land as sacred, the legacy of Bears Ears.
Friday May 12 … the culmination.
The plan was to begin traveling back to Salt Lake City with a few stops along the way. The trip evolved into a 10-hour adventure that included a visit to see the petroglyphs called Newspaper Rock outside of Moab and then to create an improvisation in the desert that summarized the journey. There was an outpouring of emotion. The experience had created trust and harmony. The two companies were now united by the experience, and they danced with respect for the land and for the people who love the land. There are no adequate words. We were changed. We were healed.
On the drive back to Salt Lake City, I carried an awareness of the sacred directions that Jonah had talked about. I hope to always remember the following: The East is the direction of the dawn, and it is our thinking direction. Think before acting. The South is our planning direction. Create a meaningful plan of action. The West is our life, where we do our living. See and listen. Enjoy every moment. The North is where we get our satisfaction and where we become determined to change things for the better. There are things to be done … so many things.
RDT dancers and Zvi gathered in the studio to create a sketch of the new work that will premiere in October. We felt mobilized by our experience.
The work has begun to translate our sensations and memories into a movement ritual and everyone feels a great responsibility. We hope to create a work that will respect the Native American culture and include many different realities about this fragile and important landscape, one that has inspired artists and hikers, families and adventurers for generations.
Our artistic journey has created questions and will create discussion. What do we regard as “sacred” and how do we protect and revere our heritage? The Bears Ears issues are not just Native American issues. They are everyone’s issues.
Two important books have just been published that offer a deep and poetic perspective to the Bears Ears conversation. Red Rock Stories and Edge of Morning published by Torrey House Press. I suggest that everyone read and then plan your own excursion into Bears Ears. Remember to ask the spirits for permission to enter this sacred place.
Enjoy with respect, and leave it as you found it. You will be changed.
Linda C. Smith is a founding member and now Executive/Artistic Director of Salt Lake City-based Repertory Dance Theatre.
To follow this unfolding project and to participate in the conversation, click here. You can also make a donation to #DancingTheBearsEars if you wish and be eligible for some exciting perks between now and the dance’s Salt Lake City premiere in October, 2017. One of those perks is a free hardback copy, compliments of Torrey House Press, of RED ROCK STORIES: Three Generations of Writers Speak on Behalf of Utah’s Public Lands for a $100+ donation, while supplies last.
“Utah has been my home for over half a century. Native Americans have inhabited these landscapes since time immemorial. The writers in Red Rock Stories capture that bond in essays and poems that run as deep as the canyons of the Colorado River.” —ROBERT REDFORD
Donate online here.