RED VALLEY, Ariz. – Looking back, Karen and Timothy Benally “didn’t have a clue.”
They didn’t have a clue, that is, that they would one day share a life as researchers, writers, builders and owner/operators of a bed and breakfast.
Long story short, Karen is an Anglo originally from Haslett, Mich. and Timothy is a Navajo from Red Valley, Ariz.; they’ve been married for more than 20 years.
The Benallys recently opened an intricately designed Navajo/Anglo brush of beauty called Sage Hill Bed and Breakfast, which is nestled among stunning coral-colored sandstone formations against the backdrop of the majestic Chuska Mountains in Red Valley, Ariz.
Sage Hill offers an array of down-to-earth amenities surrounded by the magnetic allure of natural surroundings. Guests are tantalized by silver-green sage and pinon trees silhouetted against the rolling hills, breathtaking sunsets and crisp, clean air.
One of the most appealing qualities of the bed and breakfast may be the bookshelves filled with thousands of books the couple has read over the years. Virtually every room is filled with an exceptional collection of books – from their Navajo and Native American collections to their Southwest anthropology, mystery, travel collections and children’s books, books on gardening – the list goes on and on. Interestingly, a towering bookshelf was one of the first things they built.
Karen said she enjoys the privacy and open space living on the Navajo Nation, but hungers for other company every now and then. Hence, they now have a B&B. It’s a vision they’ve shared for more than five years, and is now a reality.
“We want people to stay awhile,” Karen said. “We love having people here, and will be more than happy to show our guests around.”
The colorful landscape of Red Valley translates into a picture perfect retreat that will surely rejuvenate your mind, spirit and body, and a warm welcome is only the beginning. So why don’t you recapture your sense of wonder and indulge in the embodiment of this Navajo and Anglo interpretation of timeless allure.
Sheer relaxation and a brush of cultural beauty is what you’ll find at Sage Hill B&B. You’ll experience a sense of peace and tranquility. This is where Navajo tradition meets modern luxury; it is a hidden haven of solace just off the beaten path.
Ever since Timothy can remember, he wanted to capture the rich history of the Navajo people, particularly of his 103-year-old grandmother. Meanwhile, Karen didn’t have a clue that she would one day be interviewing Timothy’s grandmother, with Timothy’s help, of course.
Before Karen and Timothy met, Karen was pursuing a Ph.D. in human development and social policy at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. while Timothy was working at what was then Navajo Community College (now Diné College) in Shiprock, N.M.
Northwestern University had a cross cultural program where students stayed with Navajo families for several months while earning college credit. In 1984, Karen accompanied Northwestern University students to Arizona while simultaneously conducting her first year of research on the Navajo Nation. It was then she met Timothy’s grandmother and began doing life history research.
After her first summer there, Karen’s professor advised that she change her major to anthropology and continue her research on the Navajo Nation. She returned to the nation several times to complete her multi-generational study of a Navajo family and, during her third year, Timothy began to assist with her research.
Around the same time, Timothy began working on his degree in writing and literature at Goddard College, in Plainfield, Vt. Karen and Timothy are now published authors and have worked in a variety of jobs from teaching to administration. Timothy is also a Korean War veteran.
As a child, Karen said she had never heard of Navajos. She was only familiar with a stereotypical image and thought all Native Americans looked like Plains Indians.
When she first entered the reservation, she said, “It was like going to a foreign country.”
It wasn’t long, however, before Karen took a liking to Timothy’s grandmother, the Navajo people, the cultural landscape (so different from where she’d grown up), and Timothy.
In 1989, they got married in Walla Walla, Wash. where she taught anthropology at a local college. After encouragement from family members and friends, in 1993 they had a traditional Navajo wedding in Red Valley, where Timothy grew up. The celebration included more than 300 people from the surrounding Navajo communities.
They began weaving their lives together in a 12-foot by 20-foot two room home without running water or electricity. By this time Timothy was director of the Office of Navajo Uranium Workers, and Karen was working for the Navajo Nation Historic Preservation Department. It seemed like only yesterday as they reminisced about the times they hauled water for drinking and read books using kerosene lamps. In 1993, they finally got running water and electricity.
“It was a lot of fun in the early years,” Karen said.
“She made our first Thanksgiving turkey on an outdoor grill and cooked my birthday cake that year in a reflector oven in our wood stove,” Timothy added.
Karen said that although she had to make some adjustments, living without indoor plumbing was not something new. When she was young, the house she grew up in didn’t have running water. “It was a work in progress,” she said; it was finally completed after she grew up.
Growing up in a rural area helped Karen learn a little about housing construction. “I can visualize how things will look when they are torn down and reconstructed.”
She and Timothy set goals every year to take on another project. “It’s been addition after addition after addition. We’re never not busy,” Karen said.
Today, they live in a two story home filled with Navajo cultural enchantment and a grace of rustic charm. The walls are plastered in rich colors; the floors are covered with saltillo tiles. Many of the rooms are punctuated with oil or acrylic paintings created by Karen or are accented with nature photographs she’s taken.
When Karen isn’t painting, taking photos, or cooking one of her many delicacies, she finds time to tend to their herb garden and orchard, which is peppered with plum, apple and peach trees. She also enjoys reading, writing, teaching and traveling.
Timothy, on the other hand, is responsible for all the exterior projects at their home and ranch, including building additions to the barn, laying stone walls and installing fencing.
In Navajo culture, it is said that a man’s place is outside of the home, while the woman is responsible for the inside. Sage Hill B&B is thus an elegant reflection of Navajo and Anglo harmony in motion.
Looking back, Timothy said it took some time before he could fully understand Karen.
Their home is surrounded by a fence, unlike many of the nearby homes in the area.
“She wanted another fence inside the exterior fence,” he said. “I asked her why she wanted another fence and she said she wanted to define her space. … that’s unheard of in Navajo culture. We don’t say we want to define our space. Out here, everyone shares the land. But eventually I understood what she was talking about.”
Karen now has a fence that surrounds her garden of many herbs, trees, plants, flowers, goldfish pond and deck.
“At that point I thought her world was complete. However, it wasn’t really complete until we got satellite Internet.” Connecting with family and friends is now only a click away.
For more information about Sage Hill contact them via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.