Kayenta's famed Golden Sands fighting for its life

By Glenda Rae Davis
Navajo Times

KAYENTA, February 9, 2012

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(Times photo - Glenda Rae Davis)

Manager Billy Crawley II and his brother, Chandler Crawley, stand in front of the Golden Sands Café in Kayenta.

The impending demise of a famed Navajo-owned restaurant in Kayenta has owners and community members in disarray.

The Golden Sands Café, owned and operated by Genevieve Gray's family, is set to close its doors on Valentine's Day after receiving an eviction notice from the Kayenta Township. The township controls the land on which sits the café and the family's house behind it.

The Golden Sands is one of the most enduring and well-known roadside diners on the Navajo Reservation and is beloved by locals and stars alike, as the memorabilia on its walls attest.

But Gray told the Navajo Times last year that over time it has lost business to the fast-food stops sprouting up along U.S. 160, the main drag, and the business is way behind on its tax and lease payments, according to the township.

For Billy Crawley II, who manages the place for his mother Genevieve when he's not on tour with his band, Ethnic De Generation, the restaurant has always been home.

When news of eviction came, he said he could not think about not returning there during breaks from his music tours.

"I was here at the café when my mom showed me the letter. I was on my way to California for a short tour with my band," said Crawley, 32, who is Táchii'nii born for bilagáana.

While in California, Crawley said he was constantly thinking about what was going on back home.

"I went to the ocean, gave my offering and prayed," he said. "I asked for guidance because I didn't know what to do. Then I knew what had to be done."

Crawley posted a comment on his Facebook page explaining what was going on with the family restaurant. Soon hundreds of comments flooded his page with statements like, "Golden Sands is Kayenta" and "Golden Sands is home."

And so he decided to act, mustering his contacts in the music world for a benefit this Saturday, Feb. 11, in front of the restaurant that he titled "Save Golden Sands."

The dreadful letter

On Jan. 25 Gray, 54, received a letter from Kayenta Township stating that her family and business must vacate the site by Feb. 18.

For the past three years Gray said she had been trying to set up payment plans with the township office. Every time she'd reach an agreement with the town manager, a new one would take his place and she'd have to start over, she said.

"I've been through five managers. Every time we came to a solution or payment plan they would get booted out of there," Gray said. "I'd talk to the next one and then he would get booted out of there. And every time I ask for the amount I owe they give me different amounts. At one point they gave me four different amounts."

Gray said the township office estimates that the café has revenues of $50,000 per month, adding, "I can only wish that I make that much."

In fact, she has said, the business has been hard hit by the recession and the increase in competition.

But $50,000 is the amount on which the township office based its payment plan for her, Gray said, and it was unwilling to negotiate a lower amount.

Kayenta Township Manager Andre Cordero declined to comment on Gray's statements, citing potential litigation against the township by the café owners.

"All I can say is that they owe the office $227,000," Cordero said.

Gray and her family cannot believe the business that they have called home for the past 25 years would close down.

"We gave a name and soul to this place," Gray said as she wiped tears from her cheeks.

A large part of history

Bill Crawley, 77, entered Golden Sands Café and headed straight for the Logwood stove, one of many antiques in the restaurant. Crawley, originally from Flagstaff, was married to Gray when she bought the place.

His son, Billy II, asked him to recount its history, a story the elder Crawley was willing to share.

"It all started in 1910 with John Wetherill, who was the first white man to move to Kayenta," he said. "Wetherill started a ranch where he fed people and it became a destination for people to come out and stay and see Monument Valley."

Wetherill also established a trading post in Kayenta.

In the late 1930s two Hollywood A-listers, director John Ford and actor John Wayne, came in to shoot the movie "Stagecoach," and it helped Wetherill's business, Crawley said.

"Because of this they had a lot of guests and it became a little lodge," he said.

The Wetherill family owned the lodge until 1945, and after them came several different owners, including the Babbitt brothers of Flagstaff.

In 1959 Bill's father, Dillard Crawley, took over the lodge and added a restaurant. Around this time uranium ore was found near Kayenta and "they had a lot of trucks coming in and out of here with uranium and the restaurant became popular again," Bill Crawley said.

During Dillard's era, people stayed at the lodge to see Monument Valley and the movie industry started making more Westerns, prompting the family to expand into catering the movie sets as well.

In 1976 the original restaurant burned down and the remains were sold to a family who rebuilt the restaurant at its current location a year later. After that came a succession of owners, ending in 1986 with one who was unable to pay the taxes.

Gray went to the Navajo Nation offices in Window Rock, then in charge of business-site leases, and got the lease put into her name.

A year later she opened it as the Golden Sands Café, and over the years the diner has continued to be an iconic stop for stars, including many in the music world, passing through the reservation.

Saving the Sands

"It's up to me to save my family's restaurant and Kayenta's restaurant," declared Billy II.

Posting on his Facebook page, he rallied close friends, family and other supporters to help raise money for the Golden Sands.

"Save Golden Sands" will start at 10 a.m. and continue until 7 p.m. outside the restaurant, which will be open for business throughout the day. Admission is free to the all-ages show.

In addition to Crawley's own band, the lineup includes host emcee James Bilagody, The Plateros, Chucki Begay and the Mother Earth Blues Band, Heavy Metal Blood Drive, DJ Abel Rock, magician MYG Blade, and comedians James Junes, Pax Harvey and Ernest Tsosie III.

A total of 16 artists are donating their time to the benefit.

Underworld Productions of Gallup is donating its time and equipment to run the stage and sound system, Crawley said.

Along with the show, Crawley intends to raffle items donated by community members and friends, including an original painting by well-known underground Navajo painter J. Smiley, a turquoise necklace, men's turquoise pendant, and woman's beaded earrings. J. Smiley plans to do a live art project during the event.

Crawley intends to take the proceeds from the benefit to the township office on Monday.

"We're gonna present it to the right people and hope it helps. We ain't going down without a fight," he said.

Donations can be sent to Wells Fargo Bank, where a "Save Golden Sands" account has been set up, or to Billy Crawley II's PayPal account edg247@hotmail.com.

Information: 928-697-3684 or www.facebook.com/pages/Golden-Sands-Cafe/190059704372169.