Our group walked through a flat, red-rock area in Arizona. There was nothing for miles. We’d just come through Monument Valley and stopped our six-van caravan at a dirt pullout to let 23 kids stand on the freeway and do “the Forrest Gump running pose” all together. Most of them really wanted to do it, it didn’t mater that many of them had no idea what Forrest Gump was. But it was Route 66 (or darn near) and there were so few cars, we set up adult lookouts, then cleared the kids to “go play in traffic” (shhh, don’t tell the school district) so we could get a pic of them all running in that same spot ala the important plot point in the film. I haven’t seen the movie in 20 years and it’s a little foggy, so we shot a couple takes, clearing them off to let semi-trucks pass, chimp shots and repeat. “Can you get one a little wider?” “Let’s do it again.” “Yaaaaay!!!”
It’s pretty amazing to watch kids who grew up in mandatory car seats and seat belts, who’ve never been on a bike without a helmet, who’ve never heard of Jarts or played at a park without supervision, run free on an active highway. I highly recommend it.
Shortly after that we pulled into another dirt flat of red rock. Two Navajo ladies emerged from a wooden shack (the only structure in view all the way to the horizon) and greeted us warmly. Christine was smiley and round with a long braid down her back. Marie was smaller, older, quieter.
Moments later they were telling us stories in the style of Navajo legends as we walked over the fossilized footprints of velociraptor and dilophosaurus. Colorful stories rolled forth about chases, rubbing bones in the dirt, and a print of the mighty T-rex, who may or may not have wandered through a group of velociraptor nests, scattering the smaller bipeds and crushing eggs as he went, “See the crushed egg here, preserved forever in the red earth.” Peyote was missing as far as I know, but the stories were thick and deep and rich.
As we were leaving, one of the girls in my van asked “What is that shape in the middle of the Navajo flag?” I explained the borders of the Navajo nation as we drove toward Mesa Verde. For the rest of the drive the kids discussed the idea of a nation. They wondered how it was formed, when it had grown in size beyond the original reservation boundaries, and then spent a long time pondering whether they had left their own nation when they visited this one.
Outside a gas station, a Navajo girl entertains herself on the pay phone. No adults around.