August 29 – September 7 The Navajo Nation by way of Texas

We hadn’t really intended to do much in the way of sightseeing in Texas:  We have to pass through Texas to get to New Mexico and it was still hot and sticky. We stopped to stay at the KOA in Brookeland, and then at Lake Medina just outside of San Antonio – tragically the lake had dried up. Otherwise we had long days of driving in between a few free days that were primarily consumed with working on our Visa documentation, reading and doing swimming aerobics. 

The Visa process has required plenty of documentation including medical insurance, national background checks, letters from our bankers including French translations.  We are hoping we are ahead of the game before our appointment on September 26.

At Lake Medina we at least had a campground with a lovely smell of pine and curious herds of whitetail deer.  They are everywhere and while sometimes we peaked their curiosity, they mostly were “meh” at our wanderings around the camp. 

A campground full of deer

We headed out through the flat landscape to San Angelo where we were met by a monsoon and flooding.  We stopped at the Roadhouse Steakhouse for Tex Mex in as a last hoorah and waited out the worst of the storm.  I had a six ounce steak and Bob had a half slab of ribs which were humungous!  We’re in Texas after all!

We navigated streets that were thankfully, only partially flooded. We were getting alerts on our phones about the flash floods and it was really coming down in torrents – though we were thankful for no hail.  We spent the rest of the day huddled in the RV watching 80’s movies and reading.  The rain dissapated later in the evening and cooled things down.  

We left the next morning excited to get back to the high desert of New Mexico and out of the unrelenting humidity that had plagued us for the last month.  We stopped in Carlsbad and walked along the Pecos River though the sun was pretty intense so we headed out to the Coyote Flats RV park on the outside of town – it was primarily a parking lot outside of Carlsbad, but we were close to the laundry and showers.  

We were heading to Fort Sumner to check out the history of Billy the Kid and get a feel for the Navajo Long walk. But since Roswell was on the way we of course had to stop off and take another look; we had been there during our Southwest trip in the spring but didn’t spend much time there. We had some coffee and picked up some more alien kitsch while in the shops. It’s always worth a couple of hours. Grogu was excited; it was his second time here and there was a huge baby Yoda display in one of the shops….it was such an inclusive environment👽

We arrived at Fort Sumner early in the afternoon after passing through endless plains with some cattle.  The elevation increased and the humidity dropped dramatically.  It was a Sunday so the Basque Redondo museum was closed, but the Billy the Kid Museum was open and had excellent artifacts and even a movie that the proprietors insisted was the most accurate history of “The Kid.”   We spent a fair amount of time poking around the museum and the drove to Lake Sumner State Park where we had partial hookups. 

As it was Labor Day weekend the park was pretty busy, but not packed.  It’s pretty remote with Albuquerque several hours away.  Folks had their jet skis and boats out on the lake and there was a pervasive smell of  camp fires and barbecues – the former smelling like Pinyon incense.  We couldn’t believe our luck; we got a spot with a view of the lake so we set up the chairs in the shade of the rig and took in the evening, surrounded by mesquite, juniper, prickly pear and cholla.  

I realized we were in a “dark sky” region, so committed to getting up later in the evening to see what the cosmos was offering up.  The half moon faded and around 2:00 a.m. we were able to look at a blanket of stars and galaxies.  Many of the RVs were still lit up detracting from the darkness, but I committed to another evening of stargazing the following night.  

Dark Skies in New Mexico

We decided to take the nature hike around the lake the next morning before it got too hot and we definitely finished well before noon.  It was Labor Day and everyone in the park started to make a mass exodus home, something we are all too familiar with and now, for us, it’s just another day.  By late afternoon we were the only RV left in this particular campground (Pecos) situated not far from the camp host.  It became deathly quiet, almost eerie as the wind gusted and the lake grew silent.  

We spent most of the day working on our Visa’s related activities, huddled in the air conditioning – to escape the intense midday heat.  By late afternoon we spilled outside to the sound of the wind and the occasional incursion of human traffic heading out.  Otherwise there was a beautiful balance of a temperate climate and solitude that we have rarely experienced since leaving Western Canada.

This park was pretty large and was surprisingly now empty.  You won’t hear us complaining!  

As I contemplated my solitude, I tried to imagine what it was like for the Navajo as they were forced to walk hundreds of miles to a part of New Mexico that could not support their way of life.  Hundreds died – all part of the “Manifest Destiny” of white man staking the claim to these new lands at the expense of the Native Americans. 

Soon, the quarter moon rose over the horizon, a faint sentinel that transitioned into a blazing lantern, a prelude to the impending harvest full moon of September 10.  Even with its halfling presence, you can see where you are walking; the desert becomes a lunar scape as the stars emerge.  

At around 4:00 a.m. I rose around and went outside after the moon had sunk below the horizon.  I stood in the cooling breeze, gazing at billions of unhindered stars, trails of dust and galaxies, feeling somewhat dizzy and displaced as I tried to reconcile my place in the cosmos; my mind just can’t seem to grasp the context of such infinite surroundings.  I cherished this moment of undisputed solitude; we were off the beaten track, slumbering in the slipstream of New Mexico stardust – steeped in the magic that makes this land so enchanting. 

I later awoke to a blinding sunrise that sent shocks of orange light through the rig. 

Sunrise at Sumner Lake

We had a long drive so set out at a reasonable time, heading for Gallup. After a few hours we stopped in Albuquerque to get propane and check out the Old Town area.  It’s a charming tourist site with plenty of shops and restaurants set in traditional adobe style like those found in Sedona and Santa Fe. 

As we approached Gallup, the late afternoon sun lit up nearby rock formations and decided to pull off and poke around the park.  This area is close to Monument Valley and peppered with the rounded haystacks common to the CanyonLands. 

The Boys in New Mexico

After amusing ourselves, we finished our day at the Holiday Inn next on the famous Route 66. 

The following day we went to Window Rock to visit the heart of the Navajo Nation.  We stopped at the museum that had an incredible display depicting the Treaty of 1968 and other artifacts related to the tragic Navajo Long Walk.  Then we wandered into the photographic display of – ironically – a Japanese American named Kenji Kawano who had been photographing the Navajo Code Talkers for decades.  Many of the pictures had a synopsis of their service in the Pacific, fighting in the same Pacific theater as my father.  It is an astounding display and how prophetic to think there was someone interested enough in their history to cover such a legacy over such a long span of time.   

Navajo Code Talkers Exhibit

We visited their museum’s accompanying zoo and botanical garden to learn more about the animals and plants that were part of the Navajo Dine culture.  

We then stopped by the Navajo Arts and Crafts Enterprise to browse through authentic Indian items; I picked up a gorgeously crafted bracelet and pendant;  they will always remind me of this beautiful people and landscape and I take comfort knowing that the money will get back to the artist.  

Finally, something that has been on my bucket list for years – the Window Rock Tribal Park and Veterans Memorial – the epicenter of the Navajo Nation. This is memorial is adjacent to the Navajo Nation Tribal Council and surrounding government entities. It was hot and quiet as we arrived around noon, but I ignored the sweat rolling down my face; considering what the Code Talkers and others, such as my father, went through in WWII. Window Rock itself is a sacred site, fenced off from those who decide they want to disrespect the sacred Indian rules and climb it – much the same as Shiprock. It’s a place everyone needs to visit – only 30 minutes from Gallup; to pay your respects and expand your horizons beyond the gob-smacking landscapes.

Navajo Code Talker Memorial

We had a farewell meal at the El Rancho Restaurant located in the historic hotel of the same name – my experience would not complete without some Hatch Green Chilis!!! The hotel sports celebrities such as John Wayne and Errol Flynn and a cast of thousands whom had filmed in the surrounding area and had been guests back in the hey day of Hollywood westerns – they really ham it up! But otherwise the hotel is steeped in local Indian and cinema history.

The Historic El Rancho Hotel

The next morning the sky blazed magenta as we gathered our things from the hotel and bugged out; we had our last 400 mile stint of the trip to get to Zion – meaning we wouldn’t be doing much more than 200 miles any given day until we were back in Portland. We had driven over 20,000 miles since the last time we had entered New Mexico in late March! Instead of snow and freezing winds 😅 the wildflowers were now in full bloom and the passing rains had stirred up the distinct scent of desert sagebrush.

We took the Arizona Indian 56 to the 160: These turned out to be spectacular backroads that lead us through Navajo ranches; we passed one gentleman herding his sheep – a tradition that dates back centuries. I felt as though I had been transported to a different time, something untouchable suddenly became tangible…the moment was surreal. We soon found ourselves back on the main road and onto Page, where we passed over Lake Powell bidding a fond farewell to the Navajo Nation as passed into Utah.

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