Day 4 – Heading to New Mexico by way of Northern Arizona
55954 odo 9:08 am
We left Sedona to head East to New Mexico and I was hoping to stay at Chaco Culture National Historic Park tonight (the map said there is camping there or close by…). I don’t usually like to back-track when I am driving but we ended up doing that to go back up 89 to get to US 40 and Flagstaff rather than going out through Sedona back to 17 N. Within in a few miles we ran into traffic that was completely stopped. There was a huge crowd at Slide Rock State Park which opened up at 9 am that morning. Slide Rock is a natural water slide in the side of the hill. They had blocked off entry into the park from our side of the road so people were going up and doing a u-turn at the end of the waiting traffic which just meant that our side stopped too. After making our way through that, it was smooth sailing up to Flagstaff and across the desert. But, it’s never a good sign when you start seeing signs for Road Work Ahead. And it’s definitely not a good sign when it says “Road Work for next 74 miles!”
One thing that struck me funny about our adventure in Arizona and in Sedona in particular was the use of roundabouts in Arizona. I’ve driven in Europe and England where roundabouts are used effectively. The roundabouts we encountered in Arizona were not effective, they confused people and made every bit of entering stop. Why not just put in a 4-way stop if that was your goal? The roundabouts in Europe are very effective for the traffic going straight (kind of a touch and go with the roundabout) and the circle is wide so that you can merge and not run into anyone. But the ones in Arizona had a huge middle with one lane around the whole circle, meaning everyone had to stop, circle slowly and then find the road that they wanted. What a complete waste of money in making those “improvements.”
We filled up in Winslow, Arizona. 56036 odo. We had to take a picture of the Winslow sign for our friend and colleague, Winslow Chapman. The boys got to drive in the back of his truck when we visited him in Florida at Thanksgiving so they think the world of him. Taking pictures from the backseat proved challenging sometimes but after a bit, Jasper and Bryce figured out how to put the camera on no flash which worked better with the windows up.
At this point we turned north to go to Canyon de Chelly (doesn’t rhyme with Jelly, but is pronounced like Shay, who knew). The green part of the map turned out to be the Navajo Nation with no road signs except for occasional hand-painted stakes, pointing random directions. Somewhere after a stop for a bathroom break for the boys, I started to second guess my choice of roads and felt slightly panicky about getting out of there and back onto a major freeway. It was eerie to see so many state parks closed (some for repairs, some just closed). Two of them were Homolovi Ruins St Park and Jerome State Park (back down by Sedona. The painted desert was spectacular in its vibrant colors. I hadn’t planned to take any dirt roads but that’s what was on the map between us and Canyon de Chelly. Thankfully, the road I ended up on never turned to dirt. We passed several churches of different religions, one school, and one small store. If you needed milk, you had better have a cow, otherwise, you are driving for quite awhile to get it. I guess you don’t make unnecessary trips into town living in the Navajo Nation. The specific road into Canyon de Chelly was very dusty and there were tons of dust devils and dirt clouds everywhere and in one part tons of sand drifting across the road. I truly felt like I was in the middle of nowhere!
Once we arrived, we chose to take the South Rim drive and stop at all the lookouts. Some were amazing – the White House stop looked like a post card with a fake diorama. Tons of hawks flying around to make you pay attention to the edge of the canyon! The boys finished the Jr. Ranger program (which was one of the only ones so far to make them gather a bag of trash along the way) with a little bit of whining and some lunch. Some of the views from the lookouts reminded me of what Angels Landing at Zion looked like – 360 degree views from a point that was isolated in the middle of the canyon and was only accessible by a trail that seemed only passable by billy goats. Stunning views. Indians were at every stop trying to sell beaded jewelry – nothing that interesting. Seemed like stuff form china rather than true Indian works of art. I guess they have to make a living some how. I wish I had snapped a picture of one of them. One other thing that surprised me here was that someone had planted peach trees in the area many, many years ago – there was one in front of the Visitor’s Center.
We were advised that if we were going to Chaco that it was only accessible by dirt roads and there were two ways in – from the North on a 13-mile dirt road and from the South on a 21-mile dirt road. If we had gone North, I would have wanted to stop at 4 corners. I decided it was going to be too close to dark by the time we got there to want to be on dirt roads, even if we were in an SUV. So, we went back down the road we came in on and went to the next main paved road and stopped at the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site.
One thing I love about the National Park system is that you never know what you are going to find – of course, in places like Yosemite and Yellowstone you expect to see brilliant geological formations and natural beauty; but then you stop at some of the slightly out-of-the-way National Monuments and you get into the more interesting stuff.
Hubbell was definitely interesting. It is the oldest, continuously operated trading post in the US. The Jr. Ranger program was one of the better ones because it asked what if questions as well as the historical time line kinds of questions, along with word puzzles. In the museum/book store, I couldn’t pull McKinley away from the weaving loom, so I decided to go back in the trading post to look at the Navajo rugs. I thought I would find him one for his birthday to give him an example of what weaving looks like when finished. I looked at rugs and most of them were $250-300, but then I found one that had a really nice, quilting like pattern in back, white and red ( no browns or grays) and of course it was $1,295. Not what I was expecting, at all… Needless to say, I am still on a quest to find one for him.
The kids were mostly fascinated by the root cellar being built underground for food storage in the winter. While there, we discovered two new things about the Jr. Ranger program here – one, they gave out a flat piece of 11 x17 paper that turned into a Jr. Ranger hat – we hadn’t seen those in all of the years we have been doing these programs. The other thing they had at the counter was a banner in the shape of a ranger badge for kids to pin their ranger badges on. I solved that problem years ago when I made felt banners that looked more like a family crest for the kids to put their badges and pins on. But it was nice to see that the NP was making one available more generally.
When we decided to leave, Jasper decided he had to go to the bathroom, so the other two got to peruse the trading post for a bit longer and get some gum and candy. I bought a Navajo Cake (having no idea what it was, but wanting to try something native to the area). I couldn’t believe that the Hubbell trading post had Brown Sheep yarn for $3.75 a skein. Not that I needed more yarn (I had already brought two knitting projects with me) – but that was a good deal.
Continuing on to the next National Monuments and trying to find the camping site to stay the night was next on the agenda. We headed over to Gallup, New Mexico. The road quality improved significantly once we exited the Navajo Nation and the number of pick-up trucks diminished too. A few miles alter we left Arizona behind and entered New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment.I have always thought that was a bold statement to put on your license plate. Who’s doing the enchanting and what is so enchanting about New Mexico? We were about to find out…
Gallup was a complete bust unless you were trying to buy fireworks at a significant discount (today was after all, July 4th and there was a high likelihood that they would be used immediately). The kids, of course, lobbied to buy real fireworks not the smoke bombs we had tried a few summers ago in the midwest. Recalling the thumbnail that had been blown off by an M-80 when I was about 10 years old and the aftermath, I declined to buy any fireworks.
At this point the sun was sinking and I wanted to get to the camp site before it was dark. I really don’t like picking camp sites in the dark, so I try to avoid having to do that. I wanted to have a quick dinner, fill up and go find a camp site. But the only thing that was open in town was fast food places. We end up stopping at Sonic drive-in – ugh, greasy, fried food… the kids loved what they ordered (which included ice cream) and I loved the onion rings which tasted very sweet like they had been dipped in cookie dough batter rather than the usual breading. My Dr. Pepper tasted suspiciously like Diet Coke, so I avoided that and tossed it at the first opportunity.
The last stop before filling up was to find a grocery store and get the ingredients for s’mores and stuff for breakfast. Finally some fresh fruit – cherries and grapes, as well. I drove out of the grocery store parking lot looking for a gas station between there and the freeway and it turns out I drove right past the only one; another u-turn in the same spot we had done one to get to the grocery store – now Gallup is really starting to bug me. The first part that bugged me was that the two places I tried to go for dinner were closed. Making fast food the only quick option.
At the gas station, it was Bryce’s turn to help out. Once we had the gas pumping, we cleaned the windows and tossed trash from the back seat. While I was cleaning up, a very weathered old Indian man in a plaid shirt, jeans, and a cowboy hat came up to ask asking for help in words we couldn’t hear or understand. We declined and he returned to a shade tree next to the gas station with two others just like him. Then we had a long talk about hobos – my kids are obsessed with hobos. They aren’t homeless, or down on their luck to the kids; they are hobos. I think they just like to say the word.
We continued on to El Morro to find a camp ground before it was completely dark. More Indian nation roads, very few signs, I keep hoping I am going in the right direction because the GPS isn’t that much more detailed in the Indian Nation. We passed many run down, abandoned places. I pointed out a bunch but the kids weren’t listening – they were onto what ever movie was next in their queue. Bryce did disconnect long-enough to take pictures of the sunset. We found El Morro and turned in to see what it was all about and find teh campground – there were no signs to indicate camping. After driving a short way in, there was a sign to the campground. Only 12 spots and only 5 people there – we had many choices – we chose close to the bathroom so the kids didn’t have to wander far. We drove around twice and picked a spot next to a guy with a campfire going and a guitar (we knew we would have to make friends to cook our s’mores because we didn’t have a place to put the firewood in our very full truck).
We put our tarp and sleeping bags out and got clothes for the next day and stuffed them in our bags to keep warm. It was decidedly chilly there after the sun went down and had lots of bugs. They were especially attracted to me and Jasper and the s’mores. We joined Bob and Debbie next to us for Sangria (bonus) and s’mores. They treated us to a mini-concert on the guitar. Bob also played the harmonica and Debbie played the flute. It was very relaxing and peaceful watching the stars come out and singing. We heard many sounds that night including fireworks. The sign coming in had an additional sign on it today “No Fireworks.” So, we didn’t actually get to see any fireworks on the 4th but we could hear them far away in Gallup.
One of the things I wanted to do on the drive across the country is introduce the kids to some classics – classic poetry, classical music, and classic books. The music and books were loaded onto a designated family iPod. But with their movies, I haven’t been able to command enough attention to put on a book or music. But I had brought an actual book to read at bedtime – the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. After everyone was snuggled into their sleeping bags, under the millions of stars, I started to read about Huck Finn – only this really giant bug that pursued us at the fire with our s’mores was really attracted to the light. So, our book reading ended when that giant, very loud bug flew up under my collar and with me writhing around to get it out of my shirt… The head lamp was extinguished and we looked for shooting stars instead.
NH, IA (not many new ones today)
Interesting Things we spotted today:
Babbitt Tank Wash
Buffalo Range Road
Photo Enforcement Zone – not sure what this was, no explanation was provided; was it for speed?
Two Guns (town name)
Trucker Flat Wash – the kids were fascinated by the dry rivers; I just liked their crazy names.