Monday, November 23, 2015

Get your kicks on Route 66

We decided to drive as much of old Route 66 as was practical for the trip home. Basically that meant New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma. We bought a Route 66 map.
We drove to the Navajo Flea Market on the north side of town. No one was there and the ground was wet and muddy from last night’s rain. Disappointing.  So we drove back south to 66. Driving through the old part of Gallup on 66, everything was closed for Sunday. We did find three shops selling Navajo goods open. It turned out that they were run by Middle Easterners. One even seemed to be playing a radio in Arabic. We wanted to deal with the orginal Navajo artists.
East of Gallup the road runs along gorgeous red rock cliffs topped by impressive clouds. Those clouds eventually yielded impressive rain.

We stopped at a Denny’s in Grants for lunch. There we got directed back to Route 66. The original road has long been abandoned but its route is frequently used for local roads. The connections are often poorly marked. Route 66 is a romantic and iconic part of the American scene, but it is hard to find and easy to lose.
We finally picked it up again in Albuquerque, where they make more of it. We split off and found a Cracker Barrel for the night.
We drove back to Route 66 (Central Ave.) and followed it through downtown. At Moriarty we lost trace of 66 briefly. Shortly we were back on I-40 (which here follows old Route 66). This is wide-open country. We watched impressive clouds build to thunderheads, then drop rain and lightning. Eventually we drove under one and that was it for sunshine for the rest of the day.
We got off I-40 at Santa Rosa. As usual, the route is not well-marked and we went about 20 miles in the wrong direction. Back at Santa Rosa, we found the right road (NM156) and proceeded to Cuervo. Thanks to this long diversion, we drove through the same thunderstorm three times. After Cuervo, the road gets wiggly again. That means that the map indicates that 66 follows short pieces of local roads and crosses I-40 back and forth. We gave up and got back on the freeway until Tucumcari.
Tucumcari is almost a ghost town. Most of the businesses are abandoned. We found a Chinese restaurant open and stopped for a late lunch. The waitress told us how to find Route 66 out of town and we followed it to San Jon. East of Tucumcari we saw a few fields — the first in a long time --- there is a canal going through Tucumcari. But soon it was back to sagebrush and a few cows.
East of San Jon a few miles the road turned to gravel. We managed to turn around on the narrow roadway and got back to I-40. It being late, we just pressed on to Amarillo and found a Cracker Barrel for the night.
Jean seemed to be battling a sore throat. We looked up a nearby Walmart for pharmacy and crackers. After some looking it turned out to be a Sam’s Club. Checking the Near You app we found a drug store and Jean got some allergy meds (per the pharmacist’s advice) and we hit the road.
We spotted a thunderstorm ahead (you can see them for miles) but it crossed ahead of us and we only caught a little light rain. Route 66 veers away from I-40 and we passed through a wind farm Those things are huge!

On the prairie you can see all kinds of windmills

   At Shamrock we spotted a fully restored 30’s era gas station and café — classic Route 66 stuff.

In the back was a Tesla charging station. What a contrast! 

There is an information center inside and we went in and signed the book. It seems that most of the entries were European, primarily UK. There were a couple of Asian as well.
We went to a nearby McDonald’s for lunch and encountered supreme incompetence. How smart do you have to be to work at McDonald’s? They got my salad wrong, failed to deliver the promised fries, and failed to include the cookies we paid for. Food was cheap, though.
Back on the road, we went in to Elk City, OK. There is a nice, big Route 66 museum there. It has a $5.00 admission fee, but we were only after an Oklahoma Route 66 guide we had heard about. It is very detailed but perhaps too confusing for our purposes. We also got diesel at a price 10 cents cheaper than from the same company (Love’s) back at the interstate. We tried to buy some rum at a liquor store but they didn’t carry Mt. Gay. It seems to be hard to find in the west.
Checked in at a KOA. Got pizza from the camp store. That was a mistake.
We started out by taking I-40 to Oklahoma City. Route 66 to that point is real wiggly, after that quite plain. Also, at Oklahoma City the route changes to I-44, which is a toll road all the way to Joplin, MO. Luckily, Route 66 diverges from the Interstate there.
After Oklahoma City we picked up OK-66, which is the modern version of old Route 66. It is easy to follow and except for the stretch through Tulsa, all rural. At Arcadia we came to Pops. This is a modern version of the classic Route 66 kitsch. The architecture is dramatic and there is a huge representation of a soda bottle in front. They advertise 700 kinds of soda.

There is a café, they sell gas, and there is a gift shop. Front and back are high windows filled top to bottom with shelves bearing and rows of glass soda bottles in many colors. The old days live again!

The drive through the Oklahoma countryside was most pleasant. We were trying to stay ahead of bad weather, and in fact, the cloud cover thinned out and the sky became almost clear.
In Stroud we found a bit of the classic Route 66 and had lunch at the Rock Café — a 1930’s eatery with solid stone walls.

Jean determined that we needed to leave Route 66 at Miami and take the last of I-44 in to Joplin, MO, in order to stop at Cracker Barrel. We got our turnpike ticket and headed east — but never saw another toll station, so we took the last of the toll road for free.
 Joplin marked the end of our adventure with Route 66. Except for visiting Gene’s cousin Harold, the rest of the trip was reeling off the miles until we got back home. Total time for the trip was 40 days, and total mileage 6,111.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Back in Navajo country

We had breakfast then went to the Wells Fargo in Tuba City. Jean got some cash, and I wrote her a check for $300 to cash, since we were both completely tapped out after Monument Valley.
Leaving Tuba City, our route took us through the Hopi Reservation, which is completely surrounded by the Navajo Nation. We stopped for a short nap and lunch at Second Mesa. The Navajos observe Daylight time, but the Hopis and the rest of Arizona don’t. So it is hard to tell what time it is when you are traveling around. I guess it depends on whether you consult your phone or the GPS. Which is the only explanation I can give for the log entry which shows that after a nap, lunch, and looking around in a trading post, we left Second Mesa ten minutes before we arrived.
Back on Navajo time, we went to Canyon de Chelly and checked in at the park campground.
There were a few sprinkles during breakfast, but nothing more. The real problem was the quart of milk we bought in Tuba City. We were totally unable to get the cap off. After half an hour of struggle I gave up and just cut a hole in the cap with my knife. After that we had to milk it like a cow to put milk on our cereal.
About 11:00 we left the campground to drive the “loop” road on the South Rim. The canyon varies from 30 feet deep to about 1,000 feet.

There are a number of small dwellings located in the cliffs.

The third outlook we visited was for Sliding House. This is for a cliff dwelling that was built on a sloping rock and ended up tumbling down.

 There is a short trail to the canyon edge. After returning to the Roadtrek, my heart was pounding. The trail was only about a quarter mile, with a climb of perhaps 40 feet.
When the heart rate didn’t come down after several minutes I took a Metoprolol. When things settled down somewhat, I continued to drive. We went back to the Visitor Center and I laid down with moderate pain in my chest and jaw.  I took a baby aspirin. After about an hour the pain went away and left me tired but otherwise okay.
At that point we headed out for Window Rock. We were driving in sun and cloud with a heavy storm off to the left. Eventually, after we turned east, we ran into rain, in and out. When we were out we saw a broad rainbow against the black clouds.
In Window Rock, we stopped at McDonald’s, where Jean got on and paid her BP bill. After that we went on to Gallup where we checked in to a campground for two nights. It turned out to be the same one we stayed in in early October of 2012.
In the morning we drove to Walmart for some prescriptions, etc. Then back to Window Rock to go to the Navajo market. It was cloudy with some rain; also there was a Navajo Fair in Tuba City, so there were very few vendors. Jean bought two butterfly necklaces at very reasonable prices.
Window Rock is the capital of the Navajo Nation. It is named for an arch next to the administrative buildings.

Navajo Nation Council Chamber building

Back at the campground, we did the laundry and spent some time in the office. Jean bought a ring and the clerk gave me a basic map of Route 66, which we hope to follow (as much as practical) on the way home.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

On to Monument Valley

14 October 
Bacon and eggs for breakfast, double yay! We left the campground late (11:20) and went to Gooseneck State Park. We found out about this small park from another Roadtrek owner we talked with at the Four Corners Monument. It is a few miles off the road, and we never would have known it was there otherwise. We paid the modest entrance fee (it is a Utah state park) and marveled at the deep canyon twisting around like a snake.

When this part of the country was lower and quite flat, the San Juan River meandered around pretty much at random. As the Colorado Plateau was slowly pushed up, the river kept cutting away at its bed  until this deep canyon was formed. 

Our next objective was Monument Valley, whose landscape was made famous when John Ford shot so many westerns there. On the way, we passed through the little town of Mexican Hat (also featured in Hillerman novels), named after an interesting rock formation nearby.

 We approached Monument Valley by the route seen in Forrest Gump, when he is running across country. 

In Monument Valley, you can drive a rough loop road through the area closest to the Visitor Center; or you can get a tour from a Navajo. They are called Jeep tours, but generally you are in the modified bed of a truck.
We arranged for a trip to the back-country. It is less commonly seen, but it includes some arches. It’s also very expensive ($160 for 1 ½ hours). And by the way, Navajos don’t take credit cards; it took all the cash we could scrape up between us. It is a 1 ½ hour trip on the worst road in the universe, with no stops until you get past the usual loop. We both felt like we’d been dragged through a knothole.
Our guide did stop to take a picture of us at the formation known as The Mittens

 I tried shooting on the run, which is wild but seems to work out okay at 1/1000 second. 

He took us way in the back, where there are several arches. I got several pictures. The arches are more impressive that the ones near Aztec, but still not as big is the better-known ones farther up in Utah.

  There are also some petroglyphs in that area.

We spent most of the afternoon in  Monument Valley, it is a fabulous place. We’ll pick up the story tomorrow in Tuba City.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Back in business

12 October

We laid low Sunday. The owner of the campground, who grew up in the area, gave us a  couple of recommendations for places to get the motorhome fixed. So in the morning we left the campground and got to Sweetland’s Automotive by 9:00. We ate breakfast in the Roadtrek while waiting for a lift to become available. They found that the hose going into the fuel filter was loose. The clips holding it were gone. The mechanic made a temporary fastening — with cable ties, I believe. Then they power washed the undercarriage to get rid of the diesel there.
About 1:15 we were off toward Navajo Lake. It took an hour and a half to get there. Everything in this desert is a long ways away. 

Navajo Lake is the second largest lake in New Mexico, which explained why we occasionally saw boats parked in people's yards here in the desert. I took some pictures, including this interesting scene on the way back.

How convenient to have a place to go out here in the middle of the desert.

We headed back to the Aztec Visitor’s Center. We arrived just as it was closing (4:00 o’clock). We wanted to see some of the 200+ arches in the area, so we got another Arches brochure (because we couldn’t find the first one). Then headed off to the first (and easiest) one. After six miles on a washboard county road in which things were shaken off shelves, etc., and 1.3 miles of dirt — rutted but smoother — we found it. Disappointingly, it is small and low. The arches hereabouts are not very impressive. I took pictures anyway, then headed for home.

 13 October

After a few chores, we left and found a Wells Fargo for Jean to do some business. Then it was off to the Four Corners Monument via Teec Nos Pos. This is a Navajo town that comes up occasionally in the Hillerman novels. We spent a couple of hours at the Monument, taking pictures and shopping the Indian vendors who were set up around the edge.

For those who may not know, the Four Corners Monument marks the only spot in the country where four states come together at the same point. Sometimes you see people contorting themselves in order to have different parts of the body in different states.

Then we drove to Hovenweep, where we spent about an hour. There is a fairly rough trail around the edge of the canyon, including a stretch where you go down into the canyon and back up again. I was too tired to do the whole thing, and Jean was spooked when a ranger told us he saw a small rattlesnake. The dwellings at Hovenweep are on the canyon rim and seem to be mostly towers.

We didn’t see any rattlers but there was a bunny rabbit along the path back to the visitor center.
After wandering around in the desert like the Israelites, we ran out of sun in Bluff, ID. We stopped in a campground there, where the owner was a woman of Norwegian heritage. We had an expensive but delicious dinner at a nearby steak house. We walked home in pitch dark (with a flashlight). It was so dark we could see the Milky Way and hundreds of stars.
We're really getting in to this area. What will tomorrow bring?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

On to Mesa Verde

Saturday, 9 October

      After breakfast, we left for Mesa Verde. It was an interesting drive to the park, but there was a fuel smell in the motorhome. We had noticed it before but couldn't find the source. Now it was stronger

This mesa greets visitors at the entrance to the park
       About noon we arrived at the park Visitor Center and planned our day. The entrance to the Visitor Center features a tall sculpture of an Indian with a backpack climbing the cliff using hand- and foot-holes. This is how the cliff-dwellers got to their fields on the top. 

      We learned that in the 13th and 14th centuries, the local population was about 30,000. Pretty amazing since the present population of the largest nearby city, Cortez, is only about 8,500. We chose the recommended half-day visit, and got some materials. 
From there it’s a one-hour drive, over a mountain, to the museum.When we parked and started to walk toward the museum, a Park Dep’t fire truck pulled up and a ranger approached us. The woman at the gate had reported smelling fuel and noticed that we were dripping as we left. The ranger spent a good deal of time looking with a flashlight and decided we had a fuel line leak, though he couldn't see it. Being diesel it was unlikely to cause a fire, but it needs to be fixed right away .
It wasn’t going to get worse just sitting there — it only leaks when the engine is running —so we went on to the museum where there was a good film and a series of excellent dioramas. We walked down the path to the Spruce Tree House ruins but decided not to go down. While it is short, it is fairly steep and we weren't yet accustomed to the elevation. I took a couple of pictures and we headed out.

  We started to take the loop road but changed our mind and headed for Cortez. In Cortez I topped off the tank to be sure we had enough to make it back home. On the way back we stopped to take pictures of Chimney Rock. 

There was a moment on the road when we could see Chimney Rock and the distant Shiprock next to each other. 
Since it was Saturday, we will have to sit tight until Monday when we could try to get the engine fixed.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

On to Indian Country

After Albuquerque we pressed on to the other reason for our trip. We were here to visit  Tony Hillerman country. We have read all of his novels about two Navajo cops and were here to fill in the landscape in which they are set.
 We drove north to Farmington, NM. We had a brochure from there that made it sound like a good base for general exploration. We also needed to stay put for several days so that a new Visa card could catch up with me, since the old one would no longer be usable in a couple of days. Checking ahead for campgrounds, we learned that none of the campgrounds in Farmington itself had showers. So we connected with a new one in Kirtland, five miles to the west. We ended up staying at that one for a week.
The first day was spent mostly catching up with various tasks and business that  needed to be taken care of. The next day started out the same; the shelf in front where the table is stored  collapsed (probably from rough roads) and one of the leaves was gouged by the screws that were supposed to hold it up. They were installing the laundromat in the campground, so I went through their scrap heap and found a couple of pieces of 2X4. After removing the offending screws, I dropped in the 2X4s and set the shelf on top of them. That helped but the table still sat too low. I went back to the scrap pile and found a piece of 2X6. It was too long, but the workers cut it for me. Very nice guys. That worked perfectly!
After a late breakfast, we headed out. The first place we went to was Hogback Trading Post that Jean had heard about. We had a long, interesting talk with the proprietor. That trading post has been in his family for something like four generations. There were lots of beautiful and interesting things in there, and Jean bought a couple for gifts.
One of the places that figures into Hillerman's stories is Shiprock. This is a large, free-standing rock that figures in Navajo history and religion. They call it "The Rock With Wings," and it is considered sacred. No one is allowed to climb it. Whites called it Shiprock because from certain angles it looks like a schooner under full sail.
It sits in the middle of a large, flat area just south of the town of Shiprock. We drove around it on a couple of roads to see it from several angles.

There are a couple of lava dikes extending out from it, especially on the south side.

 We were finally back in touring mode. The next day we drove to the town of Aztec, east of Farmington. We wondered about the name, since there were no Aztecs anywhere near this area. We found that early Spanish explorers often called any natives they met Aztecs. 
First we went to Aztec Ruins. Free seniors day, Yay! We saw a good film and toured the ruins for a couple of hours — very informative. This site is operated by the Park Service and is very well run and maintained. Aztec was an offshoot of the large Chaco Canyon settlement and the architecture is the same style. Typical of Chacoan ruins, it was a large, pueblo-type collection of apartments, as high as three stories in places. This large building faced a plaza that contained two large kivas.

One of the kivas has been restored to show what it was like inside.

These rooms, that include elements of the much older pit-houses, were used as ceremonial and community centers.
Unlike the later-period adobe pueblos that we usually think of, Chacoan buildings were made of stone with mud mortar. Roofs and ceilings were supported by timber beams, which often had to be brought in from the mountains, thirty miles away.

 There are many similar ruins scattered about northwestern New Mexico. Ancestors of the modern Indians conquered the desert, living off game and crops like corn, beans, and squash. Then about the year 1300 they seemed to just pick up and take off. No one really knows why. But their descendants are the Navajo, Hopi, and Utes who live scattered across the Four Corners area.
We had lunch in the Roadtrek and then went off to find Salmon Ruins (named for the owner of the land on which it was found). We missed it and had to turn around. We got there at 4:30, one half hour before closing — but we could walk the ruins after the museum closed. We paid our admission and got a guide book. This ruin was much like Aztec (both are Chacoan) but it had a well-restored tower kiva. It is privately owned, and the paths were rough and difficult. 

One of the kivas at Salmon ruins is on the third floor
This site had some interesting stone work, consisting of small stones placed in the spaces between the bigger stones. 

 Archaeologists have classified three different types of ancient stone work. I don't know if they represent different periods of construction or perhaps just different styles. 
After stomping around ruins most of the afternoon we were tired. Having to climb a hill to get back to the motorhome didn't help much. So we just went in to Farmington and found a Fuddruckers for supper. More old stuff tomorrow.