Day 2: I had some strange dreams that night, and kept waking up every couple of hours. I'd put in for a 7 AM wake-up call, but it was Mountain Time, and I woke up at my usual (Oklahoma) time. The wake-up call came after I'd showered, packed, and was leaving the room. It was a crisp, beautiful morning, with a slight breeze. A bank of clouds clung to the crests of the mountains to the east, hanging on for dear life. The Sun had to push it's way over those clouds. When they finally yielded right of way, Albuquerque was drenched in bright sunlight. I resumed my journey, crossing the Rio Grande River minutes after leaving the motel. The climb over the westward ridge was uneventful. I passed the roadside vendors at Laguna Pueblo, but it was too early–they weren't open yet.

About an hour down the road, I stopped at the Sky City Truck Stop and Casino for a Dr. Pepper. I asked the girl at the counter how it was going. She said her shift just started, so she didn't know yet. Not quite an hour later, I crossed the Continental Divide. On the Pacific side, 126 miles from Albuquerque, I stopped at the big truck stop in Jamestown. It was the truck stop that had the smallest movie theatre in America. Mystery Science Theatre 3000's Kevin Murphy wrote about it in his book, "A Year at the Movies," only the truck stop had since been bought out by the Pilot truck stop company. They also made some changes: the smallest movie theater in America was gone. It had been turned into a video arcade. I have to say that was a little disappointing. The employees I talked to remembered the theater fondly. The restaurant still served a hearty breakfast.

Just after 10 AM local time, I made it to Gallup, and turned north on Highway 491 (formerly Highway 666). I was in unexplored territory again. The road took me through Gallup and out into the rugged wilds of northern New Mexico. I was lucky to find an oldies radio station. The road took me past small, rural communities; traditional Navajo hogans dotted the landscape. Fifteen miles out of Gallup, the road turned 2-lane, just after the Crownpoint turnoff. About an hour out of the town of Shiprock, I started seeing some amazing buttes and stone outcroppings. They'd appear as dots on the horizon, and as you went down the road they just kept getting bigger and bigger. I was annoyed at a guy tailgating me, until I realized much of the road was a "no passing zone." That didn't keep a motorcycle from Colorado from zooming past me on a straight section of highway. Shiprock itself appeared, and about Mile Marker 85 the road ran parallel to the monolith, straight to the west. It's not close to the highway, and there's power lines in the way, so good pictures are not likely from the vantage of the average traveler. I passed through the town of Shiprock just before noon local time, and turned west on Highway 64.

It was about 20 miles to the Arizona border. Just down the road from Shiprock, however, I noticed some cars parked on the shoulders ahead. The first thing I thought of was fishermen stopped at a creek– but there was no bridge. That's when I saw the skid marks scrawled across the pavement ahead. I pulled over. On the south side of the highway, the shoulder sloped off dramatically to the adjoining pasture. A small SUV, the windows smashed and roof caved-in, sat on the other side of the barbed-wire fence, facing east. It looked like the car had gone off the road, rolled and flipped before landing in the field. A woman still sat in the driver's seat. A guy that was there before me heard her say her neck hurt. She asked for a blanket, like she was cold. Was she going into shock? Just then, a police car arrived. It was the Navajo Tribal Police. A lady cop got out and asked me what happened. I told her what I knew, and she climbed down the embankment to the car. That's when I noticed cars coming from either direction on the road, making for a potentially dangerous situation. I got out on the center line and held out my hand to stop one car, and waved the other through. After a minute of this, another Navajo cop arrived, and waved me over. He said he had a "combative" prisoner in his car, and couldn't stop to help, but that he'd go drop off his prisoner and come back. In the meantime, he told me to keep directing traffic. So, I did. For about 10 minutes, I stood in the middle of the road, keeping the traffic going around the accident. The paramedics quickly arrived, and cut down the fence so that they could get to the lady. Finally, a third Navajo cop arrived to take over, and he said I could move on. I got to work with the Navajo Tribal Police! I was glad to help out... and for a guy who reads Tony Hillerman books featuring the Navajo Police, it was a real thrill. I hope everybody was okay.

Traveling westward again, the road took a sharp, unexpected dip, and the landscape looked like I'd driven into the Painted Desert– lots of colored rocks and unusual formations. I crossed the border into Arizona, and stopped at the tiny Teec Nos Pos Trading Post. There's not much there beside the store and the intersection. It was a general store, with a little bit of everything. I found a refreshing can of strawberry nectar, the same that my son and I found on the Outer Banks. From there, I turned onto Highway 160, headed northeast back into New Mexico. I didn't see any signs until I got to the Four Corners Monument. There was a charge to get in, but it wasn't much... kinda like the landscape around the monument. It had all the charm of a rock quarry, rugged, yet uninteresting. Some local craftsmen had set up some booths, and there was a little information center and some port-o-potties, but that was about it. The monument itself was a huge granite slab, with an "X" in the middle marking the geographic conjunction of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. A squat balcony overlooked the slab. I stood on the balcony for a minute, but there was only one other person there, and time was moving on. I was on a mission. I asked the guy if he would take my picture at the monument. He said sure. I went down, and took my juggling balls out of my pouch. I stood on the exact geographic center, and announced, "I will now attempt to juggle in four states at once!" And I started juggling. After a couple of passes, I yelled at the guy, "Take the picture!" "Keep juggling!" he yelled back. "Take the picture!" "Keep juggling!" He took a couple of pictures, which I hoped would turn out okay. When I went to retrieve my camera, that's when I noticed a small vacationing family about 15 feet away, laughing and applauding. I took a little bow, and then saw one of the guys in the back, with a camcorder. I imagined myself in somebody's home movie collection, something they'd drag out at Christmas and family holidays. "Hey, kids, did I ever show you my tape of the idiot...?" It made me really glad I didn't drop my balls.

Highway 160 cuts through the northwesternmost corner of New Mexico. In fact, so little of the highway is actually in New Mexico, that the state didn't bother putting signs on either end of the highway's route. At Four Corners, there's just one sign: on one side, it says, "Welcome to New Mexico," and on the other, it says "Thanks for coming!" From Four Corners, I went down the road.  I passed some impressive mountains, and in the distance I could still see Shiprock on the horizon. Over the Colorado border I went through Cortez, elevation 6,200 feet. In town, I passed the Anasazi Motor Inn, as well as signs for the upcoming Harvest Beer Festival. The Main Street Brewery had as it's logo a picture of the Indian figure Kokopelli, but instead of playing a flute he was drinking a beer. (Serving "Mesa Cerveza.")

Several miles beyond Cortez, I turned off the highway for Mesa Verde National Park. The guard at the gate told me it was 15 miles into the park to the visitor's center. What he didn't say was that all but about a half mile of that was uphill. The two-lane road wound it's way higher and higher up the mesa, through switchbacks and hairpin curves, climbing a thousand feet or more to the summit. On the way, I passed hillsides covered with sad, blackened trees– skeletons from a forest fire that swept through the park in 2000. The park itself takes up over 52,000 acres. Sweeping vistas appeared and disappeared on the side of the road. I was really high up. I finally made it to the visitor's center. There was a little museum, and then the ranger on duty told me about tours down into the cliff dwellings. I had a NPS Park Pass, so I got into the park for free, but there was a charge for tour tickets. So, I got one for a tour of the Cliff Palace, since a new tour was starting soon. I hit the gift shop for some stuff before heading down the mesa.

It was several more miles to the Cliff Palace. From the parking lot, a path lead down to a balcony overlooking the Cliff Palace. What a sight that must have been when people were living there! A ranger came, gave a little talk, took our tickets, then led us down a narrow stairway. We descended about 80 feet down a tiny pathway to the level of the cliff dwellings. In the shade of the overhanging cliff, the ranger gave another talk about the people who lived there for 600 years. There's a lot scientists have figured out about how those people lived, and there's a lot nobody is every going to know. When the tour group ahead of us had moved on, we got to advance into the Palace. The scale was humbling. That a people could build all that with stone-age technology –no metal– was simply remarkable. We got to look through some of the rooms and peek down into the kivas. The ranger told a story about an anthropologist who went to the Hopi Indians, the descendants of the cliff dwellers, and asked them: why did the residents leave? They had homes, they had established lands, why did they pack up and leave about 1200 AD? The Hopi chief said simply, "I guess it was time to go." What a wonderfully Zen answer! The trail led us through the dwellings and up the other side of the cliff. The climb was so narrow and rocky that you don't realize how high up you are until the last 10 feet or so, when you climb an exposed ladder over the top. I shouldn't have looked, but I did. Wow, we were high. On the way back to my car, I spoke with a surprisingly articulate 12-year-old. He was there with his parents, because he was homeschooled and they figured he needed some exposure to different cultures.

It took almost an hour to get from the Cliff Palace down off the mesa and back to Cortez. As I drove down the narrow, steep road, off to the side I could see the landscape roll away towards the horizon-- and way off in the distance, there was Shiprock, sticking up out of the Earth like the tip of God's Bowie knife. Going through Cortez, I got back on Highway 491, which I had left way back in Shiprock, and proceeded north. The sun was getting low in the sky. I drove through the San Juan National Forest, and passed miles of beautiful farm country. Fountains of water cascaded from long irrigation units over the green fields. I stopped for a drink in Dove Creek, elevation 6,800 feet. A short drive down the road, I crossed the border into Utah, a state I'd never been in before. At Monticello, Highway 491 ends, and I turned north on Highway 191 for the last leg of that day's travels. On the side of the road, I saw a deer and tried to take a picture of it, but didn't think I reacted quickly enough. I tried to take a picture of an unusual, kettle-shaped house-sized rock, but the digital camera screwed up again. The landscape started getting more surreal. The highway went right past Williams Arch. A housing addition was going up right next to the arch. Going into Moab, I arrived at the Lazy Lizard Hostel just as the last rays of the sun were fading in the west. I'd seen the sun come up that morning, and I watched it go down.

The hostel itself was very laid-back, like someone's big, rambling house they just opened up for friends to crash at. I had a separate room, which was just a room with a bed– no TV, no phone. Showers and toilets were in the next building over. Private cabins were a little more than what I was paying, and for a little less I could have slept in a dorm room with a bunch of other people. There was a laundry, if you needed to wash clothes, a kitchen if you had food to cook, and a living room where you could watch cable TV or a video. There was even a little Internet kiosk that allowed 10 minutes of access for a dollar. I took the opportunity to go through my luggage and do inventory of what I had. I packed six hats? What was I thinking? I had plenty of shirts, three pairs of pants, a pair of shorts and a kilt, but not nearly enough socks. I hoped I'd be able to run a load of laundry at some point. My body clock was way off from traveling and I didn't feel sleepy, so I went to watch a little TV. After ten minutes of "The Preacher's Wife" with Whitney Houston, I was sleepy enough to drop right off.
 
That's me, juggling in four states at once at the Four Corners Monument
The courtyard of the Lazy Lizard Hostel in Moab, Utah
The view from atop Mesa Verde
From the observation deck (top left), visitors to the Cliff Palace climb down to the buildings (bottom right)
The Cliff Palace, as seen from the observation deck
Exploring the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde
Satori (and me) enter Utah
 
Shiprock, New Mexico shopping center. 
(I figured, where was I ever gonna see a sign like this again?)
Williams Arch, outside Moab
 



 
  Prologue -- Day 1 -- Day 2 -- Day 3 -- Day 4 -- Day 5 -- Day 6 -- Day 7 -- Day 8 -- Day 9 -- Day 10 -- Day 11 -- Day 12 -- Day 13 -- Day 14 -- Epilogue
 
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All original content (c)opyright 2004 by Tim Frayser