driving NE on route 160 through the Navajo Indian Reservation, I knew that at some point soon I would need to stop driving for the night so I stopped in at what I thought was an abandoned motel but on closer inspection I realized it was open as was the cafe that adjoined it. I walked into the cafe/shop to buy a few things mostly because I needed to use the restroom and needed to be a customer. I purchased water, a Navajo weave basket and a few other random items. As I was at the cashier I noticed a local paper with the front page showing all the missing people in the area. Seemed like a lot of woman, children and a few men. I also was checking out their pricing for the motel and asked if they allowed dogs. Yes they do.. okay good to know as that is a difficult task to deal with while on the road and I knew if I drove farther north into Kayenta that the prices would skyrocket as it was a town closer to Monument Valley. I went back into the parking lot to try to decide what to do. The place looked sketchy or at the very least very run down and literally in the middle of nowhere. I walked around the back and there was a ravine with a large mountainous rock formation. Was stunning and I thought that this would be a good place to do some night photography…
So I walked back to the front and encountered a homeless woman and several stray dogs that hung around her who were extremely calm in their temperament. The woman asked for some change for coffee which I gladly gave her. The dogs were very curious and came around me which I pet although was nervous about fleas considering I was traveling with Rascal and all but I could not turn away from them. One female jumped up on me, she was so grateful for kindness. The woman was surprised that I liked dogs saying that most people didn’t like them.. how could you not, I thought..
I decided to stay the night, and soon after started to deeply be concerned about my decision. I walked Rascal around the back to stretch his legs a bit and so I could get another look at the scenery behind this one-level motel and on coming back to the front we encountered the dogs and woman again, which Rascal didn’t bark at surprisingly. I think he realized they were different from him. I don’t know, but they all just circled each other sniffing but were also hesitant and not knowing how to interact. I fed the dogs, continued walking Rascal then started to unload my car when a pickup truck with 2 very inebriated men got out… they weren’t just drunk, they were beyond and most definitely on something else. One had white foam coming out both corners of his mouth as he spoke. One of the women that ran the cafe came out and started to yell at him saying to get out and that they couldn’t be there in that condition.. a little bad for business, you think? So the one guy kept trying to ask me questions and I politely answered while trying to walk away and luckily Rascal was barking at this point, but nonetheless they saw that I was staying there that night, which very few people were, and it was a bit unnerving.
Anyhow, the place was a very basic dump and with no internet but allowed pets and all-together cost an outrageous $90. I was left with little choice as in Kayenta prices were at least double that. Pet fee, deposit, etc
I started to edit some photos as what else could I really do.. I also brought in my rubber flip flops which were wonderful to have on occasions such as this and also for camping (basically anywhere I wouldn’t want to step my bare feet on).
As the night got dark, there were noises outside and it got creepier, although very little people were staying there, people were coming to the cafe while it was still open. It sounded a bit rowdy and anytime someone walked past my room the dogs outside would bark as they positioned themselves right under the neon motel sign which was right outside my door. I was grateful they were there… in a way it felt like they were watching over me… or at least I like to think so.
I decided I wanted to go outside and scope it out as well as try to get some images of the dogs under the neon signs. As I was shooting I noticed a figure to my left about 20 ft. away. It was very still and silhouetted. I wasn’t even sure if I was seeing this figure correctly so turned around and tried to get my settings adjusted to shoot these pooches at night, but felt uneasy and turned around again and they were still there, unmoved and completely still. Well, I thought it best to go back into my room and lock up. So much for any possibility to shoot any night photography but I had this vibe that I could end up at the bottom of that ravine behind the motel; never seen again.
This was the only uneasy night I had in the reservation. The first night at a different location in the reservation was quite the opposite and was very cozy and friendly, so no, it isn’t an uneasiness because of it being in the reservation, but that particular spot was just outright spooky.
The rest of the night was restless but besides the dogs barking at a few randoms and some people coming in fairly loudly after 3am, it went on without any other events.
The next morning I felt horrible because I realized that the older woman had slept there under the sign as well as the dogs but in the evening I couldn’t see her because she was completely covered in blankets (in the photos later I could see her leg but at the time it was too dark and I was too nervous to notice). I offered to give her more blankets to keep but she said no she couldn’t take them. All she wanted was more coffee so I went inside for 2 large cups, fed the dogs again and was on my way.
Later I reached out to a rescue organization about the dogs but they said there’s little that can be done and they have very little help with an overwhelming amount of need for it. If someone was to pick them up, like animal control, they would most likely get put down. I thanked her for replying to my email, but the thought made me feel helpless. The dogs, the woman .. just out there surviving in the outskirts. I felt miserable at my inability to help.
I have very little as far as imagery of this day and night mainly because I’ve never been good at taking photos of vulnerable people. I feel too intrusive… a bit like I’m taking advantage, making light of or a mockery of their situation by wanting to do so. So I don’t do it. I would make a terrible photojournalist for this reason alone.
I’ll leave you with a few I do have…… (this stunning spot was behind the motel)
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