Million Mile Walker Dispatch, Exploring the Chaco Cultural National Park & Beyond, June issue 2023

Dear Friends and Colleagues from Around the World,


I want to share some of the stories from my recent trip through the Chaco Cultural National Park in New Mexico. The Culture Watch will introduce a must-read book after the Supreme Court decision to reject affirmative action and a remembrance of the passing of whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg. I’ll share some good and bad news in my Writing and Reviews. Voices in Action will include a memorable quote from one of the iconic travel writers. The Calendar will highlight the celebration of World Refugee Day and a PEN America event here in Phoenix.

The southern entrance to the Chaco Cultural National Park

As my wife, daughter, and son-in-law drove for hours on the dusty, rough, bumpy road to the south entrance to the Chaco Cultural National Park, I could appreciate why it’s considered one of the most inaccessible sites in the desert Southwest. As we passed several drivers changing tires, I also enjoyed my son-in-law’s high-clearance SUV. After visiting Mesa Verde, with the largest cliff dwellings in the country, and Canyon de Chelly, the vast National Monument in northeastern Arizona on Navajo tribal lands with towering sandstone cliffs, the Chaco Canyon was beckoning, as it was the center of Puebloan society, a religious and trading center on the Colorado Plateau, in the four corners area of the Southwest. Its trading partners included Indigenous communities in Mexico and Guatemala.

We started our journey in Window Rock, Arizona, the Capital of the Navajo country. Our first stop was the Navajo Nation Museum; the most memorable exhibit depicts the “Long Walk.” Between 1863 and 1866, more than 10,000 Navajo (Diné) were forcibly removed to the Bosque Redondo Reservation at Fort Sumner in New Mexico. The U.S. military marched Navajo (Diné) men, women, and children between 250 and 450 miles using the scorched earth tactics of Kit Carson, resulting in 3,000 deaths. Although the Diné were returned to reservations close to where they left, the damage was done.

From the 9th to 12th century, Chaco was the center of social, political, and architectural wonders, with engineered roads and a vast trading network. As we entered the visitor’s center of the Chaco Cultural National Park, we learned of a guided tour of the most celebrated cultural site of the Canyon, Pueblo Bonito, so we jumped back into the car and headed through the Canyon.

Pueblo Bonito

Pueblo Bonito was built close to a cliff face and contained almost 800 rooms, 32 kivas, and four great kivas. Because of room size, it is believed to have been used seasonally to house visiting participants in ceremonies, trade, and special activities. Over the years, expeditions found a cache of unique Chaco cylinder jars, remains of macaws, conch shell trumpets, objects encrusted with turquoise, human effigy pots, and painted and carved wooden flutes. Pueblo Bonito was home to various Indigenous groups, including Zuni and Hopi, so multiple languages were spoken. It was at the heart of a far-flung trading network with items from Mexico and as far away as the Maya in Central America (cacao).

We trekked through various sites and came across more kivas and petroglyphs. I learned a lot more from Paul F. Reed’s “The Puebloan Society of Chaco Canyon,” which I read and reviewed:


The Walker clan entered the iconic La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona.

We drove through the awe-inspiring Petrified Forest National Park to our final destination, Winslow, Arizona. After the traditional selfie, “On The Corner,” we checked into the La Posada Hotel and had dinner for “Father’s Day” in the Turquoise Room. The hotel was the last of the Fred Harvey/Santa Fe Railway hotels in 1930. It’s a masterpiece of Mary Jane Colter, one of the great architects of the Southwest. It’s on the State and National registry of historic places.

As we headed back to Phoenix, we commiserated on the Native American history we’d learned about and the geographic wonders of the Southwest we’d witnessed over the last four days. We came away with an appreciation of the complexity of cultures and history represented by the Native American communities in the Southwest.

Culture Watch

With the recent Supreme Court ruling rejecting affirmative action at U.S. colleges, this book becomes a must-read as the author examines the legacy of slavery in America and how history and memory continue to shape our everyday lives. Not surprisingly, this New York Times bestseller is one of the top banned books today. Here’s my review, which is one of 80 on my website.

Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg was our most consequential whistle-blower. The 4,000 pages revealed that we could never win the war in Vietnam, and yet, more lives were lost because our leaders were unwilling to acknowledge the futility of the fighting. Ellsberg also revealed that the President was considering the use of nuclear weapons. He passed away at 92, although his strong belief in transparency in governance and his bravery in revealing some of the most unsettling lies of government officials will not be forgotten:

My Writing, Interviews, and Reviews

 The Bad news is that Mimbres Press rejected my proposal for The Guatemala Reader: What You Might Not Know And Why You Should Care. They suggested a “copy and content” edit and a few other changes I’m unsure of. So, I’m back in the market for some editing and a publisher!

The good news is a twofer! My Saddest Pleasures: 50 Years on the Road, part of my Ying & Yang of Travel Series, was shortlisted for this year’s Peace Corps Writers Award. 1,500 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, including Paul Theroux and Moritz Thomsen, are published authors.

 Also, my book was added to the “local author’s” section of the Scottsdale Public Library. Our libraries are more important than ever in education, local involvement, and freedom of expression! There were 1,269 demands to censor library books in 2022, and 2,571 titles were targeted for censorship last year—a new record.

For two bonus book reviews, let me know if you want the entire June/July edition of the Arizona Authors Association newsletter, Authors Digest.

 Voices in Action

“Whatever the theologians might say about heaven being in a state of union with God, I knew that it consisted of an infinite library; eternity was simply what enabled one to read uninterruptedly forever.”

Dervla Murphy, Irish touring cyclist and iconic author of adventure travel books.


 My wife and I joined our daughter Nicky (far left), who has worked for IRC for over 17 years at Phoenix Community College. She helped organize a fantastic World Refugee Day event where the refugee and refugee support community gathered. The CEO of IRC/Arizona (Nicky’s boss) gave Ligia and me kudos for bringing up such a wonderful daughter. We also received accolades for Nicky from several of her staff at IRC and several leaders of the refugee groups. The assistant Mayor of Phoenix, who is from Iran, gave the keynote. The number of refugees worldwide is 60 million, so we have lots of work.

  • On July 11, I’ll join PEN Arizona and Palabras Bilingual Bookstore for a summer social and book launch of The Holy Days of Gregorio Pasos by Tucson-based author Rodrigo Restrepo Montoya.
  • On July 20, Phoenix Writers Network. Tiffany Hawk will help us write a book proposal that sells (I’ll drink to that!)

You can find my 75 book reviews and 28 articles, plus several videos, on my website, including a reduced price for my new book if you read it and pass it along to your local library “Follow” me on Twitter—at and Facebook at for the latest international affairs and literature. And, as always, if you’ve read “Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond,” rate it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and GoodReads, or if you don’t have it, please consider purchasing it or, better still, purchase my latest book, My Saddest Pleasures: 50 Years on the Road


Mark D. Walker

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