I wanted to get out of Utah, but there was a few things still on my list. Luckily, they were on the road southwest to Arizona. I took Highway 163 out of Bluff and on my way, past Mexican Hat. There is an odd rock that sits precariously on top of a pile of rocks in the middle of the desert, here and looks like a man with a wide brimmed hat. Hence, the name. Otherwise, not much else except a couple of 1950’s motels and a gas station. I filled up here knowing I would be in the desert for while and you never know when you’ll find gas. Later, a friend on Facebook told me that there was a radioactive dumping ground just outside this town, so I’m glad I didn’t linger.
(Photo credit: Edmond Deraedt.)
The second stop on my exit from Utah was Goosenecks State Park. My Airbnb hosts had recommended I stop here and it was worth the few extra miles and the $5 park fee. Here, high on a bluff, you can look down into a deep canyon cut by the San Juan River over millions of years, and the snaking of the water has caused not one, but two horseshoes in the valley. It is quiet spectacular. Photos taken, I got back into the car and headed to my final Utah destination: Monument Valley.
On the way to the valley you pass mile marker #13. You’ll know it because groups of tourists have pulled over to take photos. Not just any photos mind you, but photos of themselves lying or posing or hand-standing in the middle of the road. Why, you may ask? Two reasons: the background is spectacular – in the distance are the bluffs made famous by numerous John Ford movies, but the real reason is this is the spot where Forrest Gump stopped running and turned around. Yes. And from here on into eternity, foolish tourists will stop, take a dare-devil run into the center of the highway, all for a photo on their Facebook post.
I couldn’t resist stopping to take a photo of the tourists and then I drove up the road to a better spot for a picture of the valley. At this pullover, there were several Navajo artisans who had set up shop to sell jewelry, pottery and art work. I didn’t have much cash, but Kalvin, the petroglyph artist, sold me a beautiful etching on a rock for $17 instead of the asking price of $20. He even threw in a piece of petrified wood.
Onwards down the road, I turned right towards Gouldings Lodge. Here Leone (Mike) and Harry Goulding first opened a trading post in the 1920’s, later followed by a rustic lodge to encourage tourism. It worked, attracting Hollywood to shoot the first westerns. Here John Ford, John Wayne, Henry Fonda and others stayed in little cabins and hung out at the campfire at night for the sing-alongs. It was charming and the small museum dedicated to the Gouldings and the westerns filmed here is highly recommended, especially if you are a film buff.
Once again on the road, I finally passed out of Utah. Big sigh of relief and I can’t really tell you why other than being an atheist in a very stringent religious state, makes me very uncomfortable. Especially, being a woman from a liberal state makes me suspect here, so see ya, Utah. Great parks, but come on and get with the 20th century.
In Arizona now, I drove thru Navajo and Hopi reservations towards Lees Ferry, Arizona, where I was booked for the night. My Waze took me through Tuba City, which is a proud Hopi city, and I was tempted to stop and go to their annual rodeo that had traffic backed up trying to get in. The res police were out in force directing traffic and it looked like fun, but also chaotic. Given I had at least two more hours of driving, I decided to push on.
By the time I rounded into the parking lot of Lees Ferry Lodge on Rt. 89A, the sun was starting to set and the Echo and Vermillion Cliffs were growing pinker and redder by the moment. I exited my car to find two lovely women sitting out in front of their motel room in the provided 1950’s metal lounge chairs. They were prepared for the 40 degree dip in temperature, which is common here in the desert at night, with warm blankets on their laps.
We greeted one another and they told me that since the office and restaurant/bar was closed until 5, I only needed to look for my room number on the sheet of paper posted on the door and the room would be open. I thanked them, unpacked a few things from my car and entered room #3, with cowboy theme decor. It was charming. A true throwback to a kinder age of road travel. The original building where my room was located, was built in the 1920’s, just as cars were becoming popular. Another wing was added in the 1950’s to accommodate the new post WWII prosperity and love for road trips.
Both buildings are constructed with the pink limestone from the surrounding cliffs and done in the fashion of a traditional Navajo house. It is a real roadhouse as well with a pine paneled bar, cozy booths, a bar with red vinyl seats, and of course, a pool table.
Back outside, I grabbed a beer from my cooler and offered my new friends one as well. Now, there were three. Ginger (Virginia) and Linda were sisters who travel together once a year. Ginger lives in Florida and Linda in Ohio, but they grew up in Iowa farm country. They were adorable and so friendly and fun. I instantly felt that I had known them before. They reminded me of my dear friends, Ginny and Julie, who are also sisters back in Boston. I felt at home with them.
Additionally, a man named Chris had joined our group. He was from Kansas City, traveling to New Mexico to volunteer for a week on the reservation. All three were in their late 60’s to early 70’s but had the energy of 20 year olds. Chris was a tall, lean man and carpenter who had been active in the union and the sisters were retired a retired teacher and antique dealer, respectively.
When I asked Chris about driving through Kansas on my way home, he regaled us with a story about driving thru “liberal” Kansas. Oh, dear, I thought. My first real Trumpster. I braced myself for a fight because he said “liberal” in such a derogatory way. He went on and on about the filthy conditions of the livestock yards in “liberal” Kansas and I wondered again, “why does he think Kansas is so liberal?” Finally, I had to say something.
“You know, you are talking to someone from Boston, don’t ya?” “Yeah, I know,” he replied. “Well, I’m pretty darned liberal, myself,” I said. At which point, Ginger and Linda started to laugh.
“No, Mel, he is talking about Liberal, Kansas, a town, not ‘liberal’ Kansas, an adjective,” said Ginger. I was so embarrassed. Chris, looked at me and asked “you thought I was right wing? I can’t be further from that!” I had to apologize for my ignorance and assumption. Once that was all cleared up and we had a good laugh, the four of us were bonded.
The conversation turned to Trump and our mutual dislike of the clown-president, and then we turned to lighter conversational topics having established a political bond. We all went over to the bar and had dinner and a few drinks and then I suggested a game of pool.
At first they were resistant since it was getting late, but then they said, why not, and we started up a game of Eight Ball, me and Ginger vs. Chris and Linda. It was so much fun despite the fact that we were terrible players with the exception of Chris. And now hooked, we played a second, this time setting up a team of all women vs. Chris. He still won! He was pretty good. Or as he said, the sign of a mis-spent youth.
After the pool, we all retired to our rooms and in the morning, I realized I hadn’t gotten a photo of my new friends. Unfortunately, Chris had already left by the time I made it over to the restaurant for breakfast, but Ginger and Linda were still here, so we had breakfast and later, I got their numbers and took a photo.
Earlier, Ginger and Linda had told me of a magical experience they had had the day before when they were sitting on Piraia Beach along the Colorado River. While they sat listening to the roaring rapids rush by, a Navajo shaman came to the same beach and climbed upon a rock. He had a raven’s head, feathers, and other items for his prayers. He performed a blessing ritual for his people, something he does every year at this sacred spot. Linda and Ginger watched, mesmerized, and later came up to him and thanked him, saying how lucky they had been to be there and witness this sacred ritual.
He looked at them and replied, this was not luck, but meant to be. Ginger and Linda were supposed to be there and had been drawn there to this portal of energy for a reason. When she told me this story, I had shivers.
Later, as we were parting, I hugged Linda and Ginger and said “how lucky” I was to have stumbled upon this motel and met them. Ginger looked at me and said, it wasn’t about luck. The portal that the Shaman had opened up and invited them in, had in turn opened up for me and Chris. We were all linked to this place at this time for a reason. Friendship and love. We had all found each other that night. And even if it was brief, it was meaningful and I will never forget the companionship and love that I felt that night from these three “strangers.”
This is why I travel. When you open yourself up to new experiences, places and people, you eventually will stumble upon this brother/sisterhood. It’s out there. You just have to be open to finding the portal.