the Ancient Ones

A Walk in the Footsteps of the Ancient Ones

Written by Bernice Notenboom
Originally published in National Georgraphic and by permission to Pure E Magazine 2006

A Walk in the Footsteps of The Ancient Ones




Pictographs painted on waves of desert varnish; red sandstone cliffs hovering over a fertile canyon; the amber glow emanating from tipis; the resonating beat of a drum or a Navajo elder weaving sunlight and lightening on her loom; taking a walkabout with a desert aborigine or learning how to play a didgeridoo.



Navajo Spiritual Guide


Navajo spiritual guide Winnie Many Horses meditates before commencing a sweat lodge ceremony in Canyon de Chelly.


A rich and educational cultural journey is the spark that brought Moki Treks to fruition. After years spent working for one of the world’s leading software companies, adventurer and travel-writer Bernice Notenboom left the stress of the corporate world to pursue her deep-rooted interest in the indigenous cultures of the world. This interest and Notenboom’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to create Moki Treks in 1995, a market leader and expert in trekking and native cultural tours. Notenboom saw the establishment of Moki Treks as a great opportunity to help cultures learn from and understand each other by eliminating stereotypical beliefs through interaction with the Native people.

Native Cultures & Tourism


Reflecting a strong ethic in sustainable tourism, Moki Treks works to ensure that native cultures benefit from tourism, encouraging travelers to appreciate endangered indigenous cultures and protect these cultures from persecution and extinction.


Aiming to raise awareness of native cultures, Moki Treks employs Native American guides to tell their stories and history passed down from generations before, share their secret places, and give travelers a glance through their eyes as caretakers of the land.


The Soul of Native America


From the stunning landscape of the canyons of the southwest, and the wild beauty found amongst the mountains, rivers and grassy plains of Montana and British Columbia, Moki Treks provides a rare opportunity to journey into the spirit and soul of Native America in ways not typically shared with visitors. To walk in the footsteps of the ancient ones with Moki Treks visit or let your mind journey into Canyon de Chelly with Bernice Notenboom’s Navajo experience from the October 2003 issue of National Geographic Traveler.




Serenity in Canyon de Chelly


A guest at a Navajo sweat lodge ceremony discovers inner peace through this timeless ritual.


My welcoming Navajo host Winnie Many Horses puts her hand on my shoulder and whispers, “Behave as you would in your white man’s church.”


Participation in a sweat lodge ceremony is not something to be taken casually. The experience can last up to four hours, and temperatures inside the lodge soar above 100ºF. Going to church seems a lot easier.

Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly


It is a hot July afternoon, and I have come to Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly to sweat with Winnie and four of her relatives. Standing against the canyon wall, the lodge is a dome made of willow twigs covered with canvas and topped with red Arizona earth. The opening faces east to greet the dawn.


A log fire blazes a few feet away. Winnie’s granddaughters toss in volcanic rocks from the nearby Chuska Mountains. When they glow red, Winnie signals me to take the pitchfork and lay them in the pit inside. She strips off her clothes and crawls into the lodge, sitting alone until the temperature is right before calling us in for the first of four sessions that will honor the spirits of earth, air, and water – the spiritual boundaries of Dinetah, or Navajo Land.


The Navajo Sweat Lodge


Symbolizing a return to the womb of Mother Earth and the innocence of childhood, the ceremony is meant to purify body, mind, and spirit. For the Navajo, the sweat lodge is a place of spiritual refuge and mental and physical healing. It is a place to get answers and guidance by asking the Creator and Mother Earth for wisdom and power.


I am the last to enter the lodge. In the sudden blackness I cannot see a thing other than the glowing red rocks, but my other senses sharpen immediately. I smell the cedar bark we sit on and feel the obsessive heat and the touch of the sweaty shoulders of the other women pressed against me. In her melodic Navajo tongue, Winnie begins her first song – for the Spirit of Canyon de Chelly, Spider Woman. The relatives join, and after a while I sing along with words I did not know I knew.


Between songs, the silence is broken by a raven’s shriek bouncing off the canyon walls outside. Winnie sprinkles sage and cedar needles on the red rocks, followed by water. My breath instantly goes shallow from the searing steam. But I start to relax as I inhale the sweet smell of cedar. Winnie gathers her strength for the last song of this session. Afterward, the blanket over the doorway flaps up like an eyelid and we crawl out. Dripping and exposed, into the hot bright air.


We take refuge under a shady piñon tree. The sun feels dry and hostile. I rub sage all over my body, which is rejuvenating. Later we burrow back into the sweat lodge for three more sessions. Winnie blesses me so that no harm will befall me while traveling home. At the end of the final session, she remains behind.


“She is singing a prayer of thanks to the spirits of Canyon de Chelly,” explains a granddaughter.

We have a final sage bath, dress, and stroll away arm-in-arm as sisters.

Reprinted by Permission in Pure E Magazine, 2006

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