Ben and Dan: Guides of the Southwest

The differences between the Jeep tour we took in Sedona and the "open air vehicle" tour we took in the Canyon de Chelly were perfectly appropriate for each place; Sedona is a well-run tourist machine and Chinle is an off the map little town in the Navajo Nation, and our tour guides embodied these characteristics in an archetypal manner;

1) though they both have three letters in their name, Ben and Dan couldn't be more different as guides-- Dan was born in Connecticut but lived in Maine and also did some time overseas, as an itinerant musician and guide, and he kept up a steady stream of conversation, anecdotes, trivia, corny jokes, and interaction-- if you mention you're from New Jersey, he knows somebody in West Caldwell, if you mention you coach soccer, he played on his high school and coaches his kids team-- while Ben grew up and still lived in Canyon de Chelly and is a recognized Navajo guide, storyteller, and keeper of Navajo cultural history, but his style is just the facts (aside from occasional griping about the National Park Service and how they don't maintain the road and some of the sites as well as he'd like . . . he thinks there's some money somewhere, and he's been repeatedly asking them to trim the cottonwood trees that are blocking the beautiful colored antelope petroglyphs near the Antelope House Ruins);

2) Dan's Jeep is a dependable, well-oiled machine that conquered slickrock peaks, but Ben's "open air vehicle," which my wife wisely requested (because who wants to be cooped up in an SUV) is an old Dodge Ram Power 350 with a modified bed of bench seats, and while it's the greatest way to see the canyon, Ben had some trouble navigating the sandy riverbed and the truck stalled out several times, and the engine overheated twice-- luckily, we were in an incredibly scenic area, so it was no trouble to wait while he fixed the engine, but we really wondered if we would make it out of the canyon before sunset . . . and though his daughter had a brand new Polaris four-seater dune buggy, there was no way she was letting us use it-- she was headed out on the town (Denny's?) with some friends;

3) Dan's tour was definitely organized and built up to a great view, and he was well-practiced at his schtick, while Ben's tour ended at his house, where we got to play some two-on-two basketball with his grandkids . . . on the ride back, all the cotton-pods from the cottonwood trees were floating around in the canyon, and though it was 90 degrees, it looked like it was snowing; we really didn't know if we would make it through the sand-- but we did, and he dropped us at our hotel and then spent several hours fixing his vehicle in the hotel parking lot . . . while Dan dropped us off right on time, we took a picture with him and off he went . . . I think the kids will remember both tours, but I especially liked the trip through Canyon de Chelly, it reminded me of the time Cat and I spent in the Middle East, we were always a couple of clueless white folks being guided out to the ruins by the natives who still lived amongst remnants of ancient civilization, but were trying to maintain their own civilization on top of these relics . . . once again, for pictures, head to Captions of Cat.

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