September 2010- My mom suggests that I hurry in from Gallup if I don’t want to be stuck in traffic for hours. Normally, the drive from Gallup, N.M to Window Rock A.Z. flies by. Good songs play on the radio, the cedared hills and cleared coal-mined lands keep on rolling, and usually make the 30 minute drive feel like 5. For one weekend in September, the drive takes an hour and a half.
First, you stop behind a line of trucks, cars, trailers, vans. Some people are trying to get home. Some people are trying to get a grande meal at the Taco-Bell/ Pizza Hut at the first stoplight in Window Rock. Some people are trying to get to the rodeo. Even the people on foot walk just a little slower, taking in the traffic and neon lights of the recently-raised carnival. Heads turn to the right and left in search of the perfect parking spot. People rope off their sections of street. Hundreds of cars line the side of the road and I think about the madness of the Saturday-morning parade.
I’ve heard it’s the largest parade in the United States, with thousands and thousands of people in attendance from all hidden corners of the Navajo Nation and beyond. Floats are adorned with flowers, miniature hogans and rainbows. Horses walk tall beside them. Princesses and Princes sit on top of car hoods covered with pendeltons, their brown faces smiling. The Miss Navajo Nation contestants throw their best waves, shaking hands. Kids scramble for candy. Grandmas and Grandpas sit in their big fold-out chairs underneath umbrellas, smiling when parade participants, even some Arizona politicians, shake their hands. Burritos are hauled in coolers and everyone is puffy-eyed from camping all night and waking up at four in the morning to set out chairs. This only lasts an hour and the pile-up of cars, trailers, vans, trucks and horses beings.
It’s dusty. I find my uncle and ask if I can take a shower at his house just down the road and if he can drop me off at the fairgrounds afterward. He says “yes,mam” and I return to sparkling, but that only lasts for a second. I walk around to find my cousins and dirt sticks to my sunscreen on my way to the rodeo.
We watch women race for purses in the purse race. We watch horses and bulls throw off cowboys, even one cowgirl. We watch ladies and their horses race around barrels, and my cousin rolls her eyes. “Nifty could do better!” and “you don’t need to whip your horse. It’s you that’s weighing him down!” is screamed into my ear.
We get hungry and head back to camp. We sit on tailgates and watch people go back and forth. Carnival to the Rodeo. Rodeo to the Arts and Crafts Building. Carnival to the 4-H grounds. Bashas to the Pow Wow grounds. We have porkchops and tortillas and take a short nap to get ready to conquer the final night of the fair, Saturday night.
Saturday nights at the fair are always the same. You watch the feathers and ribbons spinning in the Pow Wow Grounds. You see who you run into at the carnival. I saw so and so with so and so. Maybe you go to the hip-hop dance, or listen to the unknown country singer that plays after the Saturday-night rodeo.
The best part of Saturday is finding the friends that you can sit in a truck with until 3 in the morning, laughing and remembering that after this night, it’ll be along time before you see each other again.
Pictures and information on the Navajo Nation fair are available at its website.