I’itoi Cave

Since I was a young girl I heard about a mysterious sacred cave in the Baboquivari Mountains on the Tohono O’Odham Reservation southwest of Tucson, AZ.  I have always been fascinated by the sharp contrast of the Baboquivari Mountain Range against the sky.Rising high above the desert Babo Peak  has been written about for centuries as a beacon for those who travel through the valleys.  Unfamiliar with the permits required for hiking  on the reservation, and not knowing the trails, I  searched and found an archaeological tour group heading to I’itoi Cave.  I was thrilled to finally climb that famous peak. The archaeologist and guide is Al Dart from Old Pueblo Archaeology .  The tour was so well organized and we felt like we were hiking with friends. His knowledge and passion  for sharing information exceeded our expectations. Highly recommended for a first look at any area one is interested in exploring! Traveling by SUV for12 miles on an un-maintained road, our group arrived  at the Baboquivari Campground Area to find campers taking down a tee pee from the previous night’s birthday celebration.  Al was quick to point out that the tee pee is not part of the Tohono O’Odham culture but had been used for this particular ceremony and overnight stay.  He went on to describe the history of the area in great detail.   Even at this early stage of the tour we could tell this would be a wonderful experience.

The campground area is beautiful and worth exploring.    Above us and surrounding us like a giant hug stood Babo Peak. The hike to I’itoi Cave is a little over mile on a trail rated difficult.  Fortunately our guide made frequent stops along the trek  pointing out both man made  and natural wonders along the way.  He included reading excerpts of  early European explorers during our rest stops.The views are spectacular and unspoiled from this vista. What a perfect day to hike.The cave has a tiny triangular entrance behind an outcropping of rock.  It’s a wonder anyone found it at all.  It is said  I’itoi  still lives there as protector of the Tohono O’Odham people.   Iitoi is sometimes referred to as “Older Brother”.  Some traditions have him entering the cave through a labyrinth and others refer to  him as the man in the maze.

We were met by the caretaker/shaman of the Baboquivari Wilderness Area who was waiting by the entrance.   He is said to be over 60 and makes the climb three times a week.

He told us stories about I’itoi and Eagle Man who had been sent to earth by the creator. Both of them were tasked with making  people so they each set out to  make people of different colors.  Eagle Man’s people did not survive but I’itoi’s purple people were strong and became the Tohono O’Odham.

When someone asks him the best way to enter/exit the cave, he laughed and said you can go in however you want, but  “there’s only one way out, head first, like being born”.

We took turns, 6 at a time went in.   G and I waited our turn and watched as each person came out of the cave differently… and yep, we all looked just like a birth.  Everyone re-entered the world differently.  Some  needed assistance to which helpers joked about needing forceps.   Other than the occasional awkward exit from the cave, it was quiet and peaceful, everyone speaking softly.The shaman/caretaker was asked why he let non natives enter the cave.  More specifically, why he would let Catholic or Christian symbols be placed as offerings. His answer was beautiful.  He said he had thought about it many times, and had meditated about it for a long time here in the cave.  He said he believes that there is one god, different to the different cultures, but still one.  He said their story is similar to a Christian story.  They share a flood story, and I’itoi died and rose again.   As long as people are respectful, he wants to share this sacred cave with the anyone seeking it’s peace.Finally our turn came. We aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the cave and I can see why.  Whether or not one believes in I’itoi as a deity or not, there is a unique reverence entering  the darkness.  A shaft of light is just enough to see the uneven walls of the cave and shines deep toward the sloping back wall.  What lies inside are the prayers, hopes and dreams of those who had come before.   I noticed a  faint scent of incense as I knelt down to add two little purple flowers that I had brought from home. I gave them my own meaning as I placed them in the fine dust on the floor so they would  just catch the corner of the sunbeam.   My own experience was energizing kneeling there on  the soft dirt.  Following the sun I exited out the triangle hole and slid back to the real world.Refreshed we all headed down the mountain to the next stop….Petroglyphs.There is an outcropping of rock on the valley floor peppered with petroglyphsProtected by an overhang they have been here for centuries.Some of the red pictographs are dated at over 5,000 years old. The whiter carved petroglyphs more modern, around 500 years and have Hohokam influence.Some areas had holes used for grinding. A new tradition to toss coins into them as a prediction of future events.As the sun faded to a glorious Arizona sunset it was time to say goodbye.

Renewed and tired we headed back to Tucson holding the Shaman’s words in our heart, we are all one people.

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New Year & I’m Alive

Feeling like I was wasting this beautiful Arizona weather we decided to go for a quick hike today.  It almost ended our lives.  Oncoming truck swerved out to pass heading for us head on.  G slammed on the brakes and swerved and I tell you it was only INCHES away.  The car he was passing had faces of shock, we were shocked too. We talked about it way too much as neither of us could believe we are still alive.   I think it is a perfect metaphor for the beginning of 2018. Hang on it’s going to be a hell of a ride!

Haunted Delivery

How many times has this happened to you? It’s late & you know your own house so why turn on the light right?  WELL becuase  out of the corner of your eye you COULD  see  a giant white  ghost lurking in the dark! 9feb3ad8-dfa2-4ba7-af18-bbb57c3f421cActually it’s a pool cover rolled up  in a bag that nevertheless scared the holy poop out of me. UPS  delivered the giant box after dark so G opened it up & put it in the kitchen to take out at first light. THE REST of the story is that  about a half hour later, I shufled back to the kitchen, left the light off and jumped again! Stupid haunted pool cover.   MORAL of the STORY: While it’s fun to have short term memory when rewatching a Netflix series, forgetting there is a spooky haunted pool cover in the kitchen is recipe for multiple frights. 

Ajo, AZ who knew?

A few weeks ago we accidentally poorly timed driving across the Mexican border and ended up crossing during the busiest Sunday rush.  Consequently we were delayed in line for over an hour.

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We had been in line for a while. Still a long way to go as I can’t yet see the Flags. Vendors walk along selling to captives of traffic. 

We had given away our  food that is illegal to bring back into the U.S. (which is pretty much everything we like)  We gave it to our friend Rosa who sells her delicious tamales on the beach.  Time meandered way  past lunchtime and we were hungry.   The few gas station stores along the route didn’t sound appealing. Well, mainly  because the LAST time G purchased a “Tornado Dog” (mystery meat wrapped in corn meal-supposed to be chicken) which led to  an uncomfortable evening.   The Tornado part of the title  lived up to the name.  We decided to drive the 10 miles west out of our way to Ajo, AZ.   Founded 1854 .1 (2) I told G “I can’t remember ever having been here  before”.  He tells me how he used to call on the Ajo when he was in sales  in the 70″s. He held up his arm, pointed to his armpit, and says “here’s Ajo”.         NOT true today!   2017-08-19_14-50-50_000Expecting the worst, I was  surprised at the cute renovations on the rows of old mining bungalows, restoration of Municipal buildings, and churches. 2017-08-19_14-50-32_0002017-08-19_14-50-38_000Perhaps the most impressive is the tremendous amount of street art.2017-08-19_14-41-30_000Not just art, each piece was meaningful and moving.  Spent so much time here studying them, wondering about the artist, feeling the pain expressed through this beauty. Viewing them I felt overwhelming sadness, pain, anger, happiness, beauty. I touched the hot brick gently perhaps trying to connect with the artist to hug them and thank them for sharing their soul. A few examples below.  2017-08-19_14-41-03_0002017-08-19_14-41-52_0002017-08-19_14-42-12_000Unfortunately there was not a fast food establishment and our tummies are  protesting noisily.  Perhaps lack of a modern drive thru fast food establishment is how it should be in this antique town. We stopped at the  a local spot, Agave Grill, an asian fusion restaurant and enjoyed the fresh food and local atmosphere. Full and satisfied G turned the RV around and headed east toward home talking  about how  Ajo. AZ was such  a pleasant surprise.2017-08-19_14-40-52_000MORAL OF THE STORY;  Don’t judge a town by the 70’s , OR- G’s armpit is more artistic and lovely than previously thought.2017-08-19_14-44-18_0002017-08-19_14-42-40_000