Today was going to be a travel day. My ultimate destination was the BLM site Six Mile Canyon in New Mexico which was a touch over four hours from FR-525— which I really hated to leave. However, I was going to add about three hours to my ride with detours through Rough Rock, Arizona and Canyon De Chelly in nearby Chinle, Arizona.
Back in the late 80’s I spent about four months at the Navajo community school at Rough Rock as a boring, self-conscious English teacher. Actually, I was a student teacher with big idealistic views about changing the world, which was quite unfair to those Navajo kids who really didn’t need any more whitesplaing from a guy who really didn’t have his own house in order—let’s just say the 80’s wasn’t my decade—(you can read about how I sucked in the 80's and more in The Last Playlist). Needless to say, I cringe when I think about it now and wish I could get a do-over for both those Navajo kids and me.
Despite my poor performance in the classroom, I loved the experience. Coming from wintery Buffalo to the dry, hot western landscape of Arizona was a revelation. In Western New York you spend a lot of time indoors. Of course, there were exceptions. As a kid I played in what we called “the fields” where we caught grasshoppers and the occasional rat. There was also outdoor sports. In fact, going out to play in the morning one of my mom’s mantras was: “Don’t come home unless you’re bleeding.”
|Kit Carson Rock|
Nevertheless, during those long winter months you had to manufacture your amusement. And, as I got older that only increased as the winter months were spent in bars and libraries. Out west, the possibilities seemed endless from kayaking, hiking, hunting and fishing or just looking up at the wonderous night sky. I’ve been able to embrace the winter weather in Western New York in a more positive manner as I’ve gotten older but there are still limitations. Out west the winter doesn’t shut you down like it does in Buffalo. Though climate change is wreaking havoc in the summer months, when I was here in the 80’s Al Gore was only starting to ring the climate alarm bells.
Off Rt 160 in Kayenta I turned onto BR59 and took the forty-minute ride into Rough Rock. The road in didn’t seem much different than it did thirty-five years ago but the little town was much different. Back when I was here in the 80’s it was basically the school, dorms, a trading post and some cheap ass government housing. Now it was built out more with barns, additional housing, a large resource center and a football field. There was still some poverty but overall from the short ride I took through there it seemed to have advanced greatly. I didn’t have the fortitude to go into the trading post and try to explain to my connection to this place from thirty-five years ago but I was glad I came and got a look.
Leaving Rough Rock along Rt. 191 into Chinle someone was on my tail pretty good, so I didn’t pull over and snap any of my own pictures of I refer to as Kit Carson rocks. Back when I was here in the 80’s I asked one of the dorm moms returning from a field trip one day what the name of these giant beautiful formations were and with a wry smile she said Kit Carson rocks which I’m pretty sure was bullshit. These dorm moms didn’t engage me much but when I asked about the formations she went on and on about it, smiling the whole time.
At the end of 191 where you took a right into Chinle there was a little mom and pop gas station that sold the best burritos. They were bean or beef for ninety-nine cents. Despite sitting in a plexiglass box under a warming light, these were delicious homemade treats, not that chemical filled processed bullshit that sit on the rollers at 7-Eleven. I was so hoping that the little mom and pop had survived but there was a Speedway there in its place.
Like Rough Rock, Chinle had grown exponentially since the 80’s and now had a Denny’s, Subway, and a Chinese place called King Dragon among many others. It seemed like they were capitalizing on Canyon De Chelly which was now designated as a National Monument.
I could be wrong, but when I was here in the 80’s I don’t remember any of this being developed. Along with some other student teachers, (Mark Johnson, Ernie Guerra, Amy, Sharon and a pretty blond girl—wherever you are) after stopping for a couple of burritos the car we would ride out to Canyon De Chelly, park our asses on rock, smoke a little something something and watch the most amazing sunsets as the sky turned every hue of the kaleidoscope. It was fabulously peaceful.
|Canyon De Chelly|
But now it was all developed with various lookouts and information centers and such. It was no less spectacular when I went out and looked into this amazing geological creation, it was just more commercial. Though I couldn’t hang around to smoke a little something something, like Rough Rock I was glad I stopped and took another look.
From there I continued on along 191 through the Navajo Nation seeing many political signs for the upcoming elections. Seems there was a big presidential election coming up on the reservation between Jonathan Nez and Buu Van Nygren. Every intersection along Rt 264 right up to Rt.40 in New Mexico was overrun with political signage.
It was a nice easy ride but by the time I got to Six Mile Canyon, the BLM site I had picked for the night I was quite tired. There were no signs designating it as a BLM site, but Google said this was the place so I just followed along going upward is search of a passable place to spend the night. Along the dirt road which was in excellent condition there was a small herd of black cows. As I approached slowly, they exited the road fanning out onto the grassy incline. Just past the cows was a nice flat pull off next to another road that was kind of rocky and continued upward. Rather than tempt fate I decided to park the van here and call it a day.
A few minutes later, just as I was setting up my chair outside the van, a guy on a four-wheeler being chased by a lean German Shepherd looking dog was coming up the hill. I knew it, this was someone’s private property, and they were going to bounce me. But the guy was just out exercising his Belgian Malinois, which was the kind of dog Navy Seals uses on its missions. The guy's name was David Miller and he confirmed that I was indeed on BLM land.
Besides confirming this was BLM land he suggested that I go up the dirt road another five miles where there some “pretty pine trees.” I deflected because I wasn’t going anywhere and asked about his dog which wasn’t very friendly. That’s when he told me it was a Belgian Malinois. He talked about how smart the dog was and if it didn’t get its proper exercise it would became restless and destructive.
We parted ways and I poured myself a drink and put on Outlaw Country, which had on the Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale show. They were featuring an artist I had never heard of before named Daniel Tashian. Tashian had all this great music including an album he did with Burt Bacharach. About an hour later, into my third cocktail I see this headlight coming down the hill and its David Miller and his Belgian Malinois still running by his side. Amazing.
How we got here...
An Ode to Fire and Donna
Chronological Posts From The Road
Going Mobile: What We Learned
Our Rig: A Pictorial Essay