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Turquoise Mountain  (11,301)
Known to the Navajos as  Tso odzil,this sacred mountain was fastened to earth with a stone knife and covered with a blue sky blanket decorated with turquoise, white corn, dark mists and female rain. A turquoise basket with two eggs of the Bluebird was placed on the highest peak, and covered with sacred buckskin. These were to be for feathers. Big Snake was to guard the doorway of Turquoise Boy and the Girl Who Carries One Grain of Corn in the south.


            Mt. Taylor was formed by extrusive vulcanism 2 to 4 million years ago.  Originally called San Mateo to honor the publican who knew Jesus, it was renamed for General Zach from Kentucky after the Mexican War. This mountain is a magical place no matter what you call it. Built up of many successive lava flows followed by ash flows, the Turquoise Mountain erupted repeatedly for two million years, building lava domes and sending out lava flows and huge clouds of volcanic ash. Today the mountain has numerous peaks and an interior valley like Mount St. Helens. This geometry suggests that, as in the case of Mount St. Helens, Mt. Taylor has been the site of tremendous lateral explosions, completely blowing off the top of the mountain. The large volume of debris in the surrounding San Mateo Range suggests that this has happened more than once, with the volcano rebuilding itself each time.

According to the Navajos, Turquoise Mountain is also the home of the chief of the enemy gods or monsters. The literal translation of the Diné word for monster is "that which gets in the way of a successful life."  This corresponds nicely with the concept of 'obstructing demons' which are spoken of in the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. According to Esther Yazzie, Navajos believe that one of the best ways to overcome or weaken a monster is to name it. "Every evil - each monster - has a name. Uranium has a name in Navajo. It is leetso -  meaning 'yellow brown' or 'yellow dirt'."

The Navajo creation story actually mentions a certain material,  cledge which comes from the underworld, and was to be left in the ground. The legends state that cledge is a yellow substance. Through their songs and stories, the Diné express that they had a choice between using the uranium or the yellow corn pollen and that they chose the way of beauty, the way of life. Uranium was to remain in the ground. If removed, it would bring great suffering, death, and destruction to the world.

In 1941 a mineral called carnotite was found in the Carrizo Mountains, near Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo reservation. Carnotite contains both vanadium and uranium. Vanadium was used to create a hard steel alloy for battleships and was mined from 1942 to 1945. They also used the uranium, mining eleven thousand tons during WWII.  Sources were located in the Grants Mineral Belt, on or near the Navajo nation and Laguna and Acoma Reservations. From 1946 to 1968 thirteen million tons of uranium were mined. The majority went to the Atomic Energy Commission.  According to Manuel Pino, "In those early years of production, uranium development was a pick and shovel operation. The Indian miners were virtually miners canaries, who were sent into the crude, unventilated mines called 'dog holds' immediately after dynamite blasting. There they breathed radon gas and silica-laden dust." Over a period of two decades, fifteen hundred uranium miners were used on that work. Today more than half these miners have died from cancer and respiratory diseases.


Englemann Spruce
extends from mountains near the Mexican border into Canada

Torma Offerings
traditional Tibetan goodies for the local deities


Perched on volcanic tuff
over two thousand feet above the western plains of the New Mexican desert, on La Jara Mesa (8555), Padma Rigdzin checks out the pumice mines and springs around Lobo Creek with binoculars. View faces west.

Kunga writes: Looking out from the lower slopes of Taylor.... the desert...the small evergreen trees, the hills...  We had climbed up on to a peninsula of volcanic material, where the main plateau broke off into cliffs of lava beds. This was the day before doing the peak and we went up there just to get a look at everything and to be together. The climb was a challenge and the rocks and plants were interesting, but what really blew me away was the vastness of the empty spaces. This was not even very high upon the mountain, but the view was extraordinary. It seemed like my mind expanded into the greater space so completely that mere thinking could not obscure the obvious greatness of reality anymore.  Penetrated by the clarity of the tingshas ringing as we sat upon a cluster of jagged black rock, looking down our camp far below and the people who had remained there, smaller than ants...

 Padma Yiga


Zoeat 14 was the youngest one on the summit that day


Camp at 10,000 feet

Among the Aspens, North America's most widely distributed tree. The Quaking Aspen plays an important role in the lives of an estimated 500 species of animals and plant. Unlike conifers, they support a diverse understory of grasses and shrubs which provide seeds, berries, fungus, and chlorophyll-rich underbark. Each lateral root on an Aspen contains thousands of budding sites. One botanist found 600 of them on a single 18-inch section of root. When stimulated by injury or loss of the trees above, the response is invariably vigorous and explains why Aspen dominates so much of Turtle Island. Seeds germinate best in mineral soil, and once the seeds sprout, they need access to unrestricted sunlight.  These conditions are just what one will find after widespread fire or denudation by glaciers. One ecologist counted the equivalent of a million suckers per acre in some regenerating stands. Backed by the reserves of a mature root system, young Aspens can outcompete any plant growing from seed, and they compete with one another in their first five to ten years. Asexual reproduction yields genetically identical groves in which all the trees are clones. It has been estimated that most of the clones in the Great Basin are at least 8,000 years old.

When we started climbing I had no idea what was happening. This place was so much bigger than I had imagined. For a while it seemed like we were just walking around the mountain. Then we started going up. At one point we got seperated. Chodon, Miguel and myself headed straight for the peak, or what we thought was the peak. Every hill we crested revealed another and higher one. It was amazing! Moving across steep sloping grass lands edged in forest... I saw a coyote across the knuckle and it saw me before trotting away, down the mountain. We were just barely in view of each other now; although there was nothing but space between us, we were getting too far apart to even see each other!  I felt like I was in a movie.  We drew close back together soon after and then hit the peak where I was confronted with the most beautiful vision I could have ever imagined. A continuous panorama of the earth broken only for a moment in the northwest by some dark evergreens. Beauty beyond description. If you ever get a chance, climb it on a clear day and see for yourself.

-Padma Kunga





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