Who was it said, "I hate writing but love to have written"?
me too. I'm so bushed each night when trying to cover everything. Fortunately I have a cold six pack of Bid bottles here.
I rolled into the Navajo Nation three days ago in the late afternoon. The distance between discernible points out West can be daunting; you ride and ride and ride and it seems like your not getting anywhere. Lots of pretty scenery with NOTHING regarding Human Habitation to break it up. Raw Wildernesss... a full snoot-full.
Anyway I pulled into a little town called Kayenta in the northern center of the Navajo Reservation, the largest in the United States... home to something like 400,000 Navajo people in a huge area the size of Connecticut. I was excited to be there, partly because of an odd, mid-life desire to understand Native culture better... and secondly because Monument Valley was just up the road... a place I had considered running past ever since I left New York.
Great. Deep in Indian Territory... and this weren't no cheezey "casino reservation" up in the Catskills with a bunch of watered-down toothless freaks that look more like drunken Irishmen than Native Americans. No, the Navajo Reservation is the Real Deal; a major seat of Indian culture in America.
Problem was that all the hotels (3) in town were FULL, and I got "lucky" in finding a room ten miles outside of Kayenta in a real dump called "the Anasazi Inn", a collection of thin-walled rooms in what were essentially corrugated shacks. I wouldn't have minded this so much except that they GOUGED me NINETY-FIVE BUCKS for this leaky, hafl-broken room. Ah well... Grin & Bear it; I supposed that I had to pay back some ancesteral karma for all the rip-offs and tears the Europeans put the Navajo through. Went back into Kayenta and had steak fajitas at a nice little cafe called "Amigos" .. good taste but the beans .. well... let;s just use the word explosive.
Next morning I got up and out early, as I was told Monument Valley is best seen early morning. I rode out of Kayenta about 25 miles to the Welcome Center, (entrance fee a reasonable $5). The vista from the parking area was already spectacular... but I went over to a little outdoor booth manned by Navajo people, offering tours of the Valley. You couldn't drive it by yourself; there was no pavement and it's generally off-limits to non-Navajos.
I ended up taking a chance and spending a significant $75 for the "complete" 2-1/2 hour tour. A few European tourists (Holland, England, Austria) stood around the designated "Jeep"; an old 1967 Ford pick-up truck with the bed modified into sort of a Safari tour bus. There was a slight discussion about who would be our guide, and eventually a wiry young guy with very long hair, a natty black felt hat with Rock & Roll chrome studs, and pink colored shades jumped forward and we lumbered off into the Valley.
From the beginning I was blown away by the sheer scale and texture of the geology there. Any photos you'll ever see of Monument Valley simply can't convey the immensity... and profoundly magical feeling of the place. Each time the old Ford clanked around a sandy corner of a mesa everyone in the back would gasp in unison. Simply spectacular, and I realized quickly that the 75 Clams was well spent. I've dreamed of Monument Valley for years... and sudenly there it was, in full, red-cliff, monolithic spendor.
I also quickly realized that our guide, Travis, was an exceptionally cool rock & roller, and as such I asked if I could ride shotgun up front with him; he never hesitated: "Sure Bro!" he said, in a sort of Southern Californian accent, "Welcome aboard!"
One of the best moves I've made on this entire trip. Not only was Travis fully in tune with the magic of the Valley, (he took us to a number of places generally off-limits to tourists), it turned out he was a rock drummer who's played iun four bands, incluyding one that toured out East briefly, (Native Rain). We had a blast in the front of the truck... he was hysterically funny and a very, very sharp cat. Full-bloode Navajo, he was pleased to answer a lot of my burning questions regarding life in the Nation, as well as about the Spiritual nature of the Valley, ("VERY").
Here are a couple of photos... I have far too many; show you them later if you want.
Travis took us to a special place that was like a natural ampitheater in the rocks. Almost shperical, the acoustics were astonishing. We sat up on a ledge and Travis, (who'd brought a small traditional drum), waited until we had absorbed the utter silence of the place, then sang a sort of blessing in Navajo, while keeping a steady beat on the skin drum. It was simply chilling and beautiful... really the moment I'd been hoping to experience. Haunting.. especially considering something like 10,000 years that the Navajo and their predecessors, the Anasazi, had dwelt there. Travis showed us ancient Anasazi hand-marked pertoglyphs on roack walls. It was the coolest afternoon.... something I'll never forget.
On the way back Travis and I were yakking up a storm, mostly music talk, which we both agreed is the Universal Language. Along the way the old truck wouldn't start, and I jumped out with him and we ducked under the hood while the Europeans sat in the back confused. We looked at the tangle of wires around the battery box and both of us looked at each other and giggled; he was almost ready to accept that we were stuck out there (they'd given him one of the older machines). Finally we got it started and roared off across the sands, hooting ahd hollering.
Travis mentioned that there would be a Blues Festival of sorts in Kayenta that evening, and his band would be one of the groups. Because we had been talking closely for a couple of hours, I decided to take the opportunity to meet some local people.. and so went back and paid another hundred bucks for a hotel room.
A Navajo Blues Festival....
Around dusk I took my motorcycle over to the community center where the action would take place, and Travis' band was already playing. The outdoor venue had a small stage, decent sound system, and capable lighting set up. During the night I estimate there were a few hundred people in attendance; teenagers, parents with their little kids.. (super cute, and apparently very happy and well-loved). After Travis came off I helped with his drum kit and he later introduced me to a number of people who were involved in music: his brother Ryan.. tour manager Jo (Ann)... some of his band mates.. etc. It was a really special evening form me, and I found everyone to be very modern thinking and friendly to me...with the exception of on slightly drunk guy with his girlfriend who were hanging around by my bike. He wasn;t, like, threateneing...but he made a point of wwarning me that there were people around who "might try to take your stuff"... or create problems for me somehow. I didn't know what to make of him... everyone else I met had been so hospitable.. so I just chalked him up as a guy soured on outside tourists. Nobody gave me anything except shy smiles and hospitality. I feel very priveledged to have some of these good folk as friends now... we have all contact info.
At one point during the evening an adorable little girl, about two years old, came up to me and stared at me innocently. She then pointed meaningfully into the distance... towards the south. I pointed with her. She came back and did this same thing a couple of times... and finally I realized she was an angel who was directing the next leg of my trip. Southbound indeed
The next day I rode out past something callled Mexican Hat, an odd geological formation. I stopped at a roadside shack to buy some very reasonably-priced silver pieces for my nieces, adn had a warm chat with a young married Navajo couple. Very modern and easy going. I really got such a charge out of those folks I met there.
Out through the Reservation... and as I said, the Navajo Nation is vast. The landscape is wildly varied, but with these extremes of geological enormity and earth-hued vastness. Soon I was running through small, cottonwood tree'd villages with a gas station or general store. I came across some sort of a local festival... with a few small carnival rides and a whole lot of horse trailers... some sort of rodeo festival. I took a chance and motored on in... but quickly realized that this was a Navajo event, no tourists in sight... and although I'm quite sure no one would have minded, I felt like a New York guy on a Japanese motorcycle just didn't belong there. I kept rolling.
In the morning we got up around the same time and agreed to get coffee at a nearby Denny's. Had some laughs (pretty funny guys), and we ended up riding out past Albequerque together before I peeled off for the south. They headed for Amarillo and Points East. Good people, they are mover and shakers in a bike group of Free Masons. We exchanged adresses/e-mails... we'll be in touch. Two REAL bikers... not like the dozens and dozens of Europeans who rented shiney Harleys in LA for exhorbitant prices and were hanging around the hotels posing, blabbering away in French and acting tough.
I headed south on a small red-line route, breaking away fro m the two Masons at a town appropriately named Moriarty, for those of you into the Kerouac thing. The ride was warm and scenic, but flatter and a little ... greener. I went through some small ghost-towns (places that just didn;'t make it and might have only a gas station still open. I started seeing more and more Harley bikers rumbling around in all directions; when I reached a tiny spot called Willard there was a cafe/bar by the crossroads that was FULL of Harleys... maybe two hundred., with more arriving. I thought for a second about pulling in and enjotying the moment... but I was deep in the countryside on a Jap motcrcycle with NY pl;ates... and it didn;t seem wise.
A short time later I pulled up for gas at a nameless gas station that had a gravel lot and pumps left over from 1964... I was dismayed to realize that the whole driveway and pump area was filled up with Bandidos, a very serious biker gang, well known for their violence and "1%" attitude. I waited... very patiently...for all of them to fill up and move off on their own. A follow-vehicle was there, loaded with some serious, mean looking people, adn I thought, ahh... weapons transport. I slunk out of there quietly, making sure I was going the other direction. Remember; this is Waayyyy out in the vast countryside.... 50 miles between towns.... and as such you are extremely vulnerable.
Many, many bikes on thje road; some guy at a rest area told me there was a big rally nearby. This is the Wild Wild West; soon I was on the Mescalero Apache reservation... and there are some very dangerous people out here in the open territorties. I'm ususally not concerned with "bikers", but there are scary looking Mexican and Indian dudes on stripped-down Harleys that do NOT look friendly.
Alright. Went past Almogordo.. where they lit-up the first atomic bomb... but there was some serious police activity in the middle of town (with a helicopter hovering over a house), and they sent us on a detour. I could only take a photo of the plain where the bomb went off.
Eventually I got farther and farther south, towards the western tip of Texas and El Paso. Along the way there were all sorts of signs of the national push to contain illegal immigration; helicopters overhead, long barbed-wire fences running for fifty mile stretches... Homeland Security police cars... and scary road check points exactly like crossing a national border...well inside the US. I had to go through one tonight adn for some odd reason a dog nearby started barking at me loudly after I was quizezed by well-armed militairy people under a Quanset hut in the middle oif the highway. Woof.
Down into El Paso and it's a HUUGE city... but lovely colorful in the night, adn you can see Juarez Mexico stretching out in lights straight to the horizon. I made my way through El Paso on Rte 10, and ended up running right out of town... missed the normasl "hotel Row" (when you see the Hotel 6 signs you know you've found the Budget motels)... and just continued right out of town... into the darkness, now lit by a large, bright moon, shining brilliantly on the low, flat, puffy western clouds.. the shining lights of Juarez gllowing sharply across the Rio Grande Valley below... and I went farther and farther out of El Paso until I was back in total Wasteland again... and found myself high in some windy mountain range... finally arrived in this tin crossroads of ... uhh... Sierra Blanca... the White Mountain... and of course there's one motel here, just one... owned by, yup, a Hiundu inkeeper.
$45... no tax... clean and quiet.... say my prayers in fantastic gratitude for this unbelieveable, spiritual experience.... will attach more photos to this installment later.. takes soi fuckinbg long...