Mar 27-28 Roswell and Route 66

On a side note, we left Wilson-the-volleyball at the Carlsbad KOA recreation center; he needs to move around and he’s difficult to carry around on hikes – I’m sure he’ll be happier there playing with the kids.

We headed out to boondock at the Tumbleweed diner in Magdalena through our Harvest Host membership (pretty much out in the middle of nowhere). 

But first we decided to make a stop in Roswell to check out what all the hype was about.  We decided to tour the International UFO and Research Center.  Despite the kitsch most of us associate with Roswell, this center was well put together with extensive research on the Roswell incident and the ensuing cover up.  It’s fascinating that this incident needed to be covered up – I mean really – it wasn’t War of the Worlds and if aliens landed and were just checking us out why all the fear?   

The research and witnesses lent a lot of credibility to what happened and as far as we know it’s probably happened elsewhere.  Otherwise it was a fun adventure along with an entertaining mock up – a lot of effort went into all of this! 

We also decided to stop for a Sunday brunch at the Cowboy Cafe – if you are ever in town check it out – they also have dishes with my local favorite – you got it…..green chili!  My choice with the “Alien Omelette.”

We proceeded to our final destination through more high plains still wanting to know what people did out in this rather desolate land.  When we got to Magdalena and the Tumbleweeds Diner it certainly turned out to be a bright spot with it’s fantastic murals (note the spaceship that is ditched in the desert!). It’s about twenty miles from the Very Large Array (those big satellite dishes made famous by Hollywood) but unfortunately the visit center was closed so we decided to skip it.  

We overnighted in the diner parking area which is pretty much just an extension of the surrounding desert, it was super peaceful and we were streaming the Oscars but even that connection gave up after a while and all you could hear was the breeze.  In the morning we headed for Albuquerque and the Enchanted Trails RV park on Route 66.  It was close to the I-40 but it didn’t affect our sleep – you will find that is the case with most of Route 66 which is basically the I-40 anymore.  

We headed out early to get to the Petrified Forest with a stop in Gallup along the way.  I wanted to check out the Perry Null Trading Post as it has authentic art and I know the Navajo work and help run the place. I found a lovely turquoise pendant to add to my collection; the piece is inlaid with beautiful silver work and stamped with the artist’s initials and authenticity.  I wound up paying half price – I probably didn’t notice the sale sign.  Collecting authentic pieces gets the funds back to the Navajo.  I’ve gone into these other “trading posts” and have found southwest-themed merchandise made in India and China – no thank you!!

After two weeks touring New Mexico and all of its wonders we bid farewell.  We have seen so much of this enchanting state and it certainly delivered.  My only complaint would be the vast empty plains and the accompanying wind that was unrelenting, but the other endearing qualities along with the people certainly made up for it.   

Thank you Santa Fe, White Sands National Park, Carlsbad Caverns, Shiprock,  Bisti Badlands, and the Tumbleweed Diner for all the great memories.  

Mar 18 Canyon de Chelly

We arrived at the Cottonwood Campground outside of Canyon de Chelly – it was seriously windy when we left Farmington – gusts up to 55 miles per hour and then came the dust storms.  This we endured for about two hours and when we turned south in Arizona the winds died down and we entered a landscape much like Monument Valley meets the Canyonlands.  We stopped in Rock Point, still in Navajo territory, to get something to drink. As we drove through we were amazed at the formations in this otherwise nondescript area.  I suppose because it was still the Navajo Nation and they respectfully and quietly walk in beauty in their surroundings not wanting invaders to disrupt the balance.  Many of the homes are built in the traditional hogan shape – octagonal, some with modern doors on them – in honor of their traditions while flexing to modernization. There are no McMansions here, mostly converted double wides, some with corrals and livestock. 

We entered Chinle as the wind picked up again and stopped at Basha Dine’ – the Navajo version of Safeway – there are no grocery chain stores here – just the usual fast food joints.  

We arrived at the nearly deserted campground and found a sunny site.  After so many days of getting up early and hiking to catch the sunrises it was nice that we were going to be stationary for a few days.  

It’s still considered winter here and the trees are bare and I’m sure it’s prettier in the spring and summer as we are surrounded by cottonwoods.  The campground has flush toilets and sinks which is very convenient for a campground.   

As the day went on the campground started to fill up – another Leisure Travel Unity arrived and we had a nice chat!  The first one we’ve encountered at a site.  

The next day we had a leisurely day walking up to the Visitor Center and talking to the local ranger who gave us tour of the hogan they have on site.  It was great to be in one that was made out of traditional materials with its east facing entrance.  

Traditional Navajo Hogan

We booked a Jeep tour of the canyon (tsegi in Navajo) with Bobbie VanWinkle who was born in Spider Rock since you can only go into the canyon proper with a guide.  

Despite the Dutch name, Bobbie is Navajo and explained there are many mixed race families who live there, but you have to be married within a clan to reside in the valley. The ride was definitely four wheel drive terrain; through washes and up muddy inclines.  The towering rock faces did not disappoint – they looked as though they had been cut out by a carving knife; they were so sheer and flat with reds and maroon veins washing down the sides.  The floor is peppered with cottonwoods though they are not indigenous and the canyon should be populated by pinion and juniper much like the canyonlands.  

We quickly came across the petroglyph and paintings that were done in some cases a thousand years ago by the Pueblo tribes.  They are now Hopi and what the Navajo refer to as the Anasazi – the Ancient Ones.  

Kiva recessed in the cliffs

We stood witness to these ancient impressions that had survived the elements for centuries.  Then the ruins surfaced on the cliff sides – the kivas and food storage with more rock paintings protected by the sheer mesa cliffs. These dwellings are scattered throughout the canyon, most inaccessible except for the archeologists who frequent the area.  The canyon itself has worn away leaving the dwellings out of climbing distance.  The most accessible are the White House and Antelope ruins that are closer to the valley floor and fenced off to keep the usual miscreants from vandalizing the sites.  The White House ruins are named due to the white plaster that reflects the sun.  We noticed graffiti carved into the face of the ruins and upon closer inspection, one of the carvings was dated 1873!  So it was the earlier settlers defacing the ruins….

As we meandered our way through the mesa, I pondered the generations of seedlings now germinating, the shifting landscape providing glimpses into lifestyles still farmed by the Navajo in the same manner they have been doing for hundreds of years; wool still spun from weathered hands that tend the sheep.  The tribes could exist now as they had a millennia ago – clinging to the lost art of the land.  

The canyon remains a pristine outback not easily disabused by modernization – the vendor at the Antelope Ruins has no cell service and works on faith that you will Venmo her the money for the pottery you just bought. 

Stubborn to evolve or worried they could lose the thread of culture and place they have fought so hard to preserve?

A perfect day mingling with the ancients – under the same blue skies and mesas they embraced so long ago.  

Monument Valley Mar 9-12

The weather system that continued to blow through the Southwest followed us to Monument Valley and we found ourselves snowed in the first day with the visitor center closed; it was basically a white out and we were stuck indoors with limited wi fi.  It’s rare thing to see Monument Valley in the snow; we had been here before nearly ten years ago, though seeing it again after so long brought the grandeur of the place back into the mind’s eye. 

By late morning, the buttes were hugged by cloud cover that dissipated as the day went on, releasing blue sky that encouraged the melt.  As soon as the roads became passable we decided to visit the Goulding Trading Post and the flurries picked up again as we made our way back to the RV park.  We extended our stay an extra day as we had a horseback ride booked but that wasn’t going to happen so we rescheduled. 

Based on weather forecasts during our planning phase, we hadn’t planned to be in such frigid temps.  We had picked up antifreeze in Page as a backup plan and were certainly were glad we did.  We poured antifreeze in the tanks and set a warming lamp by the fresh water and water pump but despite our efforts, including running faucets in the middle of the night, our pipes feeding the freshwater froze; the temperatures plunged into the teens. In the morning we turned the rig around to get the now blazing sun against the water intake side to heat things up.  

We eventually ventured to the MV Visitor Center which was virtually deserted and poked around the shop and picked up a Navajo medicine man carving, our standard magnet, and a book on the Dine’ as I am forever fascinated by the culture.  

When we got back to BigB we coaxed the water through the pipes and were relieved when they started flowing again.  

We decided to drive up to Mexican Hat and encountered the site immortalized by Forrest Gump – the scene where he’s running through Monument Valley and decided he didn’t want to run anymore; people were standing in the road trying to get selfies, even though you’re not supposed to stop in the road they of course slowed down traffic.  It was the wrong time of day to get a photograph anyway.  

We decided to lunch in Mexican Hat at the same restaurant we ate at nearly ten years before.  Another Navajo Taco..

We got back for our scheduled horseback ride.  It had gotten up into the low forties and was sunny.  The KOA (a chain of RV parks) we were staying at had a horse stable attached to it.  We met Guy who was the older Navajo gentleman in charge along with Priscilla and Harrison.  Harrison was set to be our guide for the day.  He was 26 years old and his family owned a large chunk of land in the valley.  He was a mechanic who also specialized in training horses.  

We set out to ride along the mesa that skirted the buttes.  

It was great having a conversation with Harrison – I was more interested in what he had to say than the ride as the day was getting increasingly cold and was starting to chill my bones.  

The struggle with the younger Navajo generation as they want to see progress but the elders are concerned that they will go the “white man” way. Meaning they would lose their balance, and when this happens they suffer afflications that need to be healed by their medicine men and ceremonies.  I had noticed the large branches stacked up like tee pees and suspect those were the sweat lodges they used for purification and healing.  

There is also a conundrum of availability of basic staples closer to them instead of having to drive all the way to Page to get their shopping done at reasonable prices.  If they shop at Goulding they are paying exhorbinant prices for basic goods.  

Navajo country is such a spiritual and profound place and it could easily be overrun with opportunistic developers destroying what is dearly sacred (they have already experienced this creep with the Uranium mining). We rode through the ancient mesas, their recesses still covered in spits of snow.  

We finished the day feeding the horses carrots and I was glad to stretch my aching knees and looking forward to a glass of wine. Fortunately BigB wasn’t far away, set in the backdrop of the valley.  

I’m obviously feeling the bite from the cold

As I watched the day fade, the pink hues of twilight softened the deep magenta sandstone, the brushstokes of evening blended with the landscape growing deeper as the stars began to rise.  

It’s fascinating to think that this place used to be oceanic and these buttes were part of a watery underworld.  With the way things are going it might once again reclaim that heritage.  

This landscape is not a national park, it is part of the Navajo Nation. The massive red buttes stand guard in a sacred bond; a testimony to the endurance and beauty of the the Dine’.