On my fourth road trip day retracing Native Roads, I combined Chapter 12 with 13 to get to as many sites as possible in ten days. U.S. Highway 160 east from Kayenta to the New Mexico border is pretty much straight as a string, and some points along the way you can see from a distance, like “Baby Rocks.” Without this book I would have driven past many legendary landmarks without realizing it. Baby Rocks is a good example. Quoting Fran Kosik’s original Native Roads text:
“This assortment of spires and knobs to the south resulted from the erosion of the Entrada Sandstone was formed during the Jurassic Era. Navajos use this mesa to teach their children values. One story tells of a big sister who refused to give blue corn bread to her baby sister. To put an end to the big sister’s fighting and selfishness, the Holy People punished her by turning her to stone here, where she lives as one of the Baby Rocks.”
After Treasure Chest book rep John Heider showed me what Anne Hillerman wrote about it in Tony Hillerman’s Landscape, I made sure I had plenty of time to experience the Teec Nos Pos Trading Post, which is only a few miles from Four Corners National Monument. Teec Nos Pos (pronounced teesh nahs pahs) means “cottonwoods in a circle” in Navajo. It is among the most active trading posts still around, combining a general store, butcher shop, sheep shearing pens, and trade center for local artists with a fabulous rug room that includes traditional and modern styles of basket weaving, folk carving, dolls, jewelry, textiles, and much more.
I bought a beautiful bola tie at this trading post. The bola tie is definitely one of a kind because of its fire agate center stone. I was delighted with my tie, but even more so when I got back to work and Heider said he had wanted to buy that tie for quite some time. When I learned I was going to be visiting more than a dozen excellent trading posts on this trip, I created a wish list. I finally decided on a ring, a bola tie, a belt buckle, and a watchband. I completed my list and then some, but probably spent all the money I earned on the trip while I was at it.
From Teec Nos Pos Trading Post I headed off to Four Corners National Monument. The big metal disk that marks where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah come together is not exactly where the geographic parallel and meridian intersect as it was originally intended. A spokesperson for the U.S. National Geodetic Survey said the current marker is probably 1,807 feet east of where modern surveyors would mark the point, but in 1925 the Supreme Court ruled that the legal borders are the ones set by the original survey, regardless of its accuracy.
Since I was updating Native Roads for accuracy, I had to stop at the Mexican Water Restaurant and sample their Navajo taco, which the second edition rated as good. I found it to be better than good, so I gave it a “great.” Native Roads says it’s not the real thing unless you use Blue Bird Flour. A Blue Bird executive agreed, saying that without the Navajo people, they they’d be out of business.
After lunch, I backtracked west on U.S. Highway 160 to its junction with U.S. Highway 191. Parts of highways 191 and 491 used to be U.S. Highway 666, nicknamed the Devil’s Highway because of the Biblical reference. The route numbers were changed in the 1990s because of superstition and sign theft.
From here I left Chapter 12 and started on part of Chapter 13. I don’t recommend this. Fran Kosik has artfully planned each chapter as a perfect day trip. You may wind up finishing in the middle of the afternoon, but that depends how much shopping, eating, and sightseeing you do along the way, and when you feel like getting started.
Route 191 runs north-south amid some beautiful red rolling hills, with red mountains in the background — even prettier topped with a few inches of snow. I went past Chinle, south to the Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado. When I tell friends about my trip, they often ask if I’ve been to the Hubbell. I love to ask, “which one?” I’ll talk about the other one in a future blog — if you just can’t wait to hear about it, you can always buy the book now.
I first visited the Ganado Hubbell with my folks in the 1970s. Maybe I was there in the 1950s as well, but too young to remember it. People often ask me how I got so interested in Arizona history and I always blame it on my parents. I’ve been back to the Hubbell several times since then, but I was definitely surprised to see a llama in the front pasture this time!
The Hubbell is amazing. Rugs and baskets hang everywhere, from walls and even ceilings, plus there are lots of artifacts dating back to the post’s construction in 1878. It’s also a National Historic Site. The collection of rare books in the rug room — many first-edition Zane Gray westerns written about this area — was an extra treat for this book fanatic.
After a quick stop there I backtracked up to Chinle to check in for the night. It was almost sundown, but I headed out to Spider Rock anyway. I took Canyon de Chelly’s South Rim Road and then several miles on a side road out to the Spider Rock viewpoint. The path was icy, but I couldn’t pass up a chance to see what has become a meditative center for me. I remember getting so much inner relief one year that I promised I would not wait too long before visiting again.
No revelations or big releases this time, but I was surprised to meet a Navajo artist, Marc Begay, Sr., and his cousin, who were just coming in from a cold, wet day of art sales on the edge of the canyon. I bought a beautiful painting (an impulse buy, not on my list). Marc said his grandmother had a farm at the base of Spider Rock, and he has painted her sheep in center of the painting I bought, as well as some of the pictographs found on the canyon walls.
Then it was back to Chinle for a drive-through Burger King salad, a far cry from Kayenta’s gourmet meal the night before, but a satisfying end to a fascinating day.
Jim Turner is an historian, editor, teacher, researcher, and author. He received his masters degree in U.S. history from the University of Arizona and is now an editor for Rio Nuevo Publishers. He writes history articles for various newspapers around the state, and his pictorial history book, “Arizona: Celebrating the Grand Canyon State,” was named a “Top Pick” for Southwest Books of the Year by the Friends of the Pima County Library. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.