Toward the Rising Sun
Shaun Martin keeps running tradition alive in the Navajo Nation
The Arizona wind swirls dust around us and the trail-side bushes quiver with sleepy snakes just waking up for spring ...
Photo by Chris Hunter
The Arizona wind swirls dust around us and the trail-side bushes quiver with sleepy snakes just waking up for spring. Trailing our Navajo guide and friend, Shaun Martin, Jeremy Duncan, Chris Hunter and I descend a steep, sandy singletrack into Canyon de Chelly*, part of the Canyon de Chelly National Monument just outside of Chinle.
Shaun stands six feet tall, with the wiry-strong build of an endurance runner. His steps appear effortless. Hardly missing stride, he kicks small rocks out of his path and occasionally retraces his steps to cover snake tracks with one even swoosh of his right foot; leaving snake tracks untouched is a bad omen in Navajo culture. Shaun stops occasionally, gazing into the canyon's depths as though seeing the towering rock walls for the first time. He explains the history of this ancient path, of the Navajo people who fled down these same trails 146 years ago when the United States Army raided their homes and forced them on The Long Walk*. He points to the canyon's cliffs and caves, places Navajos hid to escape the attack.
"The army tried to drive them out," says Shaun. "But many outsmarted them. They hunted at night. They moved quietly."
Shaun's shaggy hair is held back with a worn-out Harley Davidson bandana—the same one he was wearing when I first met him two years ago. He has run in it for eight years, the original vibrant orange faded to dull brown. He is handsome, with olive skin and square features. At 29, his face reveals the shallow lines around his eyes and mouth of someone who has spent his life on these trails, trails few outside the Navajo tribe have ever seen and will likely never run. No one is allowed in this canyon without a guide, and we are fortunate that Shaun has agreed to share these trails, sacred to the Navajo people.