The first day of my ten-day trip retracing and updating Fran Kosik’s excellent guide book, Native Roads: The Complete Motoring Guide to the Navajo and Hopi Nations, took me from Flagstaff to Page. The second day was Page to Keams Canyon, then backtracking to Tuba City for the night.
By this time I fell into a routine of editing photos after dinner and posting the best on Facebook. The next morning after breakfast I’d write up any changes that needed to be made to the manuscript and review my stops for the coming day. I didn’t have a co-pilot, so I wrote large one-line instructions to myself in a spiral notebook that I could glance at while I was driving.
I didn’t have a lot of miles to travel for the third day, so I got to poke around Tuba City in the morning. No big brass musical instruments there, it’s named for Chief Tuuvi, a famous Hopi leader.
The Tuba City Trading Post, established in 1870, hosted notables like Teddy Roosevelt and Zane Grey back in the day. This large octagonal-shaped building is well-stocked with a wide variety of items from clothing to books, as well as the ever-present jewelry and rug displays.
Next door to the trading post is the Explore Navajo interactive museum, an amazing piece of architecture built for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately it’s closed in January, so it goes on my list of things to see when I follow this book’s directions again, preferably in April or May next time.
The museum has an exhibit describing Navajo astronomy, which I was introduced to while editing the recent reprint of Sharing the Skies: Navajo Astronomy by Nancy Maryboy and David Begay.
After a little shopping (a healing hand key chain, a man-in-the-maze pill box, and some post cards) at the Tuba City Trading Post and Van’s Trading Post (the newer one, which is more like a supermarket with everything from saddles to the latest fan magazines) it was back on Highway 160 northeast to Kayenta, my stop for that night, then right on past it, north on Highway 163 to Monument Valley and beyond.
About seven miles north of Kayenta, Agathla Peak towers 1,500 feet above the horizon. This 25-million-year-old huge volcanic plug is the most prominent in the Navajo Volcanic Field, second only to Shiprock, one hundred miles due east in New Mexico. According to Navajo legend, Agathla Peak is the center of the world. Kit Carson named this “El Capitan,” and it was known that way into the 20th century, but it is mainly called by the earlier name now. My friend Bob Broder, former University of Arizona chief photographer, gave me a lot of tips on how to take photographs. I took this shot from many angles, and finally wound up squatting close to the ground to get the best shot.
Since I’d already been to Monument Valley in 2009 while working on my book, I cruised on through this time, but I added a description of The View Hotel, a beautiful resort where all the rooms face Monument Valley. Since it opened in 2008, it wasn’t mentioned in previous editions of Native Roads. I didn’t stay there in 2009, but had a wonderful dinner there on the Fourth of July. The restaurant is on the second floor and has a wonderful balcony overlooking “The Mittens,” Monument Valley’s best-known formations.
Of all the tricks Bob Broder taught me, the most import was probably “wait for the right light.” I sat down and ordered my meal around sunset, then went out to the balcony to take a picture of the Mittens. I came back and ate my salad, then back out for another photo. Back in for the main course, then back out for more pictures, same shot over about a one-hour span of time, until it was too dark to shoot. Of course you have to be in the right location, and order some beautiful white fluffy clouds as well, but everything worked out fine.
Bypassing Monument Valley this time, my journey was taking me to the Goosenecks on the San Juan River, near Mexican Hat, Utah. I’d never heard of them, let alone been there, but once again Fran Kosik’s directions led me right to them. Just as I was crossing the San Juan River on a winding road through red rock cliffs that reminded me of Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, I looked up to my left and there was a giant frozen waterfall towering a hundred feet above me!
It was getting late, and I needed to get to the Goosenecks while the sun was still good, but in my typical almost-native-Tucsonan fashion, I said to myself, “If that’s still there on my way back I have to take a picture of it.” Silly me, I’m used to snow melting in a few hours after it falls in the Old Pueblo, so it never occurred to me that this was January and the waterfall would probably be there for months!
The Goosenecks were just as impressive as the Horseshoe Bend, but without the hike. It’s not as close to a main highway, but there’s a parking lot there and some campsites throughout the park. It’s known in geological terms as an “entrenched meander,” an apt phrase for the story of my life as well.
Like the Horseshoe Bend south of Page, it was a bit scary on the edge. I think this is the place where the signs warned about the overhangs, which meant that there was only about 30 feet of rock underneath your feet and then a thousand foot drop. Once again I lived life on the edge, but just for a few minutes. Like most of the scenery in Native Roads, you have to experience it yourself to appreciate the grandeur. And it’s easy to find the best spots with this book, places that are a little out of the way but well worth taking the time to visit.
So it was back to Kayenta, to the Hampton Inn, around sunset. The place was empty in January, but they have a beautiful dining room, gourmet food, and Navajo waitresses dressed in traditional velvet blouses, long skirts, and turquoise squash blossom necklaces, very classy and definitely not what I expected. The perfect end to another perfect day, three in a row with seven to go — continued in the next blog . . .