Wandering to a Navajo Rug Auction in Crownpoint, New Mexico

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Last month the dogs and I wandered into Navajo Country to attend the monthly rug auction at Crownpoint in northwestern New Mexico. Rather than rush to the auction and back, we gave ourselves the day to see what we could see.

The first things we saw when we got off the Interstate were the colorful flowers decorating the cemetery in the small settlement of Thoreau. I love visiting cemeteries as they vary so much and can tell so much about the community they serve.

As you can see this is a very new site and the flowers are still very fresh.

As you can see this is a very new site and the flowers are still very fresh.

I know that Chicago, where I was raised, has many amazing cemeteries and monuments. In one of the older cemeteries the monument of William Hulbert, the founder of the National League, is in the shape of a baseball. In the cemetery where Al Capone is buried along with many other ethnic Italians, many of the graves have a picture of the deceased etched into the headstone.

This is the tombstone in the shape of a baseball. The city names on the baseball are the cities in the National League at the time of his death. The other side of the baseball has Boston, Providence, Wocester, and Troy. If you're a baseball fan, you know that the league membership has changed dramatically.

This is the baseball shaped tombstone of William Hulbert in Chicago. The city names on the baseball were members of the National League at the time of his death. The other side of the baseball has Boston, Providence, Wocester, and Troy. If you’re a baseball fan, you know that the National League membership has changed dramatically since this monument was built.

This tombstone is also in Chicago. It is the grave of George S. Bangs who invented the railway post office. The railway post office has gone the way of so many things from the not too distant past.

This tombstone is also in Chicago. It is the grave of George S. Bangs who invented the railway post office. The railway post office has gone the way of so many things from the not too distant past.

Meanwhile back in Thoreau, New Mexico, the graves were covered with flowers and usually had something representing who the deceased was at the grave site. A few of them had the flag of their favorite football team flying above the site.

The person buried here was a veteran.

These gravesites in Thoreau with the American flags are probably for veterans.

There is a good chance that a Dallas Cowboy fan is here.

There is a good chance that a Dallas Cowboy fan is here.

After visiting the cemetery, we continued through spectacular countryside on our way to Crownpoint. Just before reaching town, we decided to check out the Chacoan Great House of Kin Ya’a a mile or so off the road to our right.

The countryside near Thoreau is more spectacular that this photo shows. ectacular some this countryside

The countryside near Thoreau is way more spectacular that this photo shows.

That's Kin Ya'a off in the distance.

That’s Kin Ya’a off in the distance.

Kin Ya’a is one of the many great houses built during the height of Chacoan culture almost one thousand years ago. The center of Chacoan culture, Chaco Canyon, is only 30 – 35 miles from Crownpoint as the crow flies.

Ironically the Navajos, who live in the area today, are not descended from the people of Chaco. Navajo ancestors moved into the area after the Chacoan people departed.

Rather than drive on a rough dirt road that was heavily eroded from recent rains, we parked the car and walked to Kin Ya’a. And it was a good thing we did. The roadway was literally paved with potsherds. The potsherds had drifted down from the surrounding hills and ridges.

Here is a concentration of potsherds on the dirt road.

You’re probably looking at two dozen or more potsherds on the ground.

And here's a closer look at a potsherd.

And here’s a closer look at a potsherd.

One thousand years ago those hills and ridges would have been covered with homes made of adobe or stone. And with every rain, pieces of broken pottery wash out from the former homes and float down to the dirt roadway.

As an FYI, if you take this walk, please leave any pottery where you found it. It belongs where it is and is not yours to take. It is also illegal to collect artifacts from an archaeological site or area.

After a half hour or so walking we reached the great house at Kin Ya’a to check out the intricate stone work. What’s always fascinating about Native American archaeological sites is that they were built by hand with stone tools without the aid of draft animals to do the heavy lifting. It’s amazing what the native populations were able to accomplish with the tools available to them.

As you can see we are now closer to the great house structure. The tower was part of a kiva (ceremonial chamber).

As you can see we are now closer to the great house structure. The tower was part of a kiva (ceremonial chamber).

Here's a closer look at the stonework. All of these stones were shaped by hand with stone tools.

Here’s a closer look at the stonework. All of these stones were shaped by hand with stone tools.

Here is the inside of the tower kiva. Think of the work it took to build this. And think that there are many similar structures in the greater Chacoan area.

Here is the inside of the tower kiva. Think of the work it took to build this. And then think that there are many similar and much larger structures throughout the greater Chacoan area.

After Kin Ya’a, we then went on to Crownpoint. It was still early and I decided to walk through the grocery store. If you have read The Gentle Art of Wandering, you may recall how walking through a grocery store can reveal so much about local and regional cultures. In Navajo Country, it’s the pallets of 20 and 50 pound bags of flour for sale along with large tubs of lard that is unique to the area. The grocery store in Crownpoint even had hunks of fresh lard for sale in the meat market.

Both 50 and 20 pound bags of flour can be bought in Crownpoint.

Both 50 and 20 pound bags of flour can be bought in Crownpoint.

And if you do not want to buy a tub of lard, you can buy fresh lard in the meat market.

And if you do not want to buy lard by the tub, you can buy fresh lard in the meat market.

With our still having plenty of time and it being too hot to take the dogs for a hike, I thought we could use the time to find some kneel-down bread.

A few years ago I read an article in the newspaper about kneel-down bread being a Navajo Country specialty and figured that this was our best opportunity to get some. It is only made in late August and September when the corn is harvested. When I asked about kneel-down bread in Crownpoint, I was told that I had to go up towards Shiprock, along the San Juan River, because it was too dry to grow corn in the Crownpoint area.

Since we had some time before the rug auction, we headed north toward the San Juan River to look for kneel-down bread. We finally found a young Navajo couple selling kneel-down bread from the back of their car on the road between Farmington and Shiprock.

There's the famous Shiprock off in the distance. Fortunately, we did not have to drive that far to get some kneel-down bread.

There’s the world famous Shiprock off in the distance. Fortunately, we did not have to drive that far to get some kneel-down bread.

Our long detour was finally rewarded.

Our long detour was finally rewarded.

They told us that to make kneel-down bread they have to grind up fresh corn (this is where the name kneel-down originates) and add a couple of ingredients to make a dough like batter. They then fill a corn husk leaves with the batter, wrap it up tight with more corn husk leaves, and place it in a fire pit. They cover the fire pit and let the bread bake until it is done.

They told me that the bread they were selling had been taken out of the pit only an hour ago. I bought six loaves and they were still hot. I opened one of the corn husks to give it a try. It was different but good. The bread was way too dense for making a sandwich, but it had the perfect texture for eating with stew. As for its taste, it was very earthy and tasted like corn. It is a true local delicacy that would be perfect on cold day with a thick soup.

Here's how the kneel-down bread looked in the cooler in the back of the car.

Here’s how the kneel-down bread looked in the cooler in the back of the car.

Here's a loaf of kneel-down bread still wrapped in corn husks.

Here’s a loaf of kneel-down bread still wrapped in corn husks.

here's the same loaf of bread with the husks removed.

Here’s the same loaf of bread with the husks removed.

With our kneel-down bread mission accomplished, it was back to Crownpoint for the rug auction. The monthly auctions are held in the gymnasium of the local elementary school. The weavers show up a couple of hours before the auction to check in and to have time to display their rugs. While waiting for the auction to begin, you can check out the rugs, talk to the weavers, and buy a Navajo taco from the school cafeteria.

Here are some potential buyers checking out some of the rugs.

Here are some potential buyers checking out some of the rugs.

And if you're hungry, you can buy a Navajo taco in the school cafeteria.

And if you’re hungry, you can buy a Navajo taco in the school cafeteria.

And finally at 7:00 pm, the auction begins.

And finally at 7:00 pm, the auction begins.

The overall experience was very cool. I am not an expert on Navajo rugs and cannot tell you what to buy or the best way to buy one. But buying at an auction does give you a chance to meet the people who make the rugs and to learn something about the story behind the rug. Even if you do not buy a rug, and I didn’t, it is a great place to go for a wandering adventure.

If you’re interested in attending the Crownpoint auction, please click here for more information.

4 Comments

  1. David.

    If you haven’t already, be sure to include Jacksonville, Oregon for your wandering through a cemetery. When I lived in Oregon I was able to visit the cemetery several times. So fascinating, this is a 1800’s cemetery. Whole families are buried in a fenced area with a tower in the middle with the names and ages of the deceased and the cause of death. So many deaths at very early ages, and even the deaths are recorded there caused by the Indians. I spent lots of time just wandering and reading the tall tower with all the names of the family. Sometimes, several had died on the same day from Indian attacks or a war. Beautiful town too. Love Oregon.

  2. I enjoyed this post very much, David. “Kneel down” bread sounds intriguing! I was in that part of NM when I drove up to Pagosa Springs on Labor Day weekend. It was a new experience for me of how “pastoral” our state can be. Thanks for sharing all your keen observations.

  3. Great post David. Reads and looks like a very full day with lots of discoveries.

  4. I love walking through old cemetary’s when I lived in Germany I did this many times and to see graves that are from 1600 is amazing.

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