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Posts Tagged ‘Navajo Nation’


When we put together the original itinerary for this trip we decided, in the light of the array of other stunning sights on offer, none of which we had visited before, we would omit the Grand Canyon. After all, we had been twice before, the South Rim in 1995 and the North Rim nine years later.

On the later visit, we had fl0wn in a helicopter down to the canyon floor for a short boat ride on the Colorado River. This had been followed by a hair-raising jeep trip onto the Havasupai reservation for lunch and, inevitably, a tour round the open air jewelry stalls.

But as this vacation drew nearer, we came to our senses and realised that we would be insane not to go, especially as we were staying two nights in Flagstaff, Arizona, a mere eighty miles from the South Rim. Downtown Flagstaff and nearby Sedona would have to wait another day.

And, of course, we were proved right. Much as we were mesmerised by Bryce Canyon and humbled by Monument Valley, this mother is truly the daddy of them all.

We set off on yet another clear blue morning and 66 degrees. Once through downtown we branched north-west onto the I-180 West. We had, at least for now, seen the last of the buttes, mesas and crazy sandstone rock creations as we received a ponderosa pine guard of honour through the middle of the Kaibab National Forest. The San Francisco Peaks lay behind.

At Valle we met the I-64 coming north from Williams and followed the I-180 due north. Reba McEntire sang Consider Me Gone on 92.9 FM Kaff Country Radio. The Flintstones Bedrock Campground with Fred’s Diner and a huge sign exclaiming “Yabbadabbadoo” looked inviting but we were anxious to get to our destination.

We approached Grand Canyon Airport, from where Janet had got a flight to Vegas on our first visit, on a stretch of highway adopted by “Elmina Freeman I Love You Mike Freeman”, one of the more bizarre romantic gestures I have seen. Shortly before Tusayan, at what appeared to be a relatively new complex of  hotels and other lodging, restaurants and trading posts, we re-joined the forest.

Using our America the Beautiful national parks pass once again we entered the park, but before taking that first momentous look, we called in at the Grand Canyon Village for breakfast. Parking at the Canyon Lodge information Plaza, we were astonished to see how the facilities had been upgraded since our previous visit to the South Rim seventeen years before.

On that brisk October morning, when we had first gaped in astonishment at that massive crack in the earth, we had been deposited at Mather Point for just a few minutes before being herded back on our tour bus for the trip to Vegas. My only other recollection, and one from which I still bear the mental scars, is of the birds, grosbeaks I believe, stealing our breakfast of warm mini-donuts. This time our granola bars (a sign of the changing times?) were stashed safely in our rucksacks on this occasion.

So we knew what to expect.

Wrong.

Nothing can prepare you, however often you might visit, for this most inspiring and uplifting of spectacles. The expectation alone in walking the couple of hundred yards from the plaza to your first sighting at Mather Point was thrilling enough.

But then – that view!

We talked to a couple from Florida who were halfway through a three month road trip to celebrate the husband’s retirement. They were also visiting many of the same sights as us, as well as driving through the midwest and the south (well, they had to in able to get home).

It had been exactly a week since our last serious hiking – in the Arches National Park. All our walking of late had been in largely urban settings. So we were a little out of practice, if not of breath. But the trails along the rim were paved, though for anyone foolhardy enough to do so, and there were plenty, there were many opportunities for hanging over the canyon on jagged precipices.

Initially, we walked east, the less populous route, but after about a mile and a half we turned back and returned to Mather Point. From there we headed west along the Rim Trail to Yavapai Point where the displays in the Yavapai Observation Station explained how the canyon may have been formed.

Now, the guidebooks suggest that the latter extract of the trail takes about ten minutes. That may be true – if you are running for a bus with no heed for the scenery. But every few steps brings another jaw-dropping vista or overlook at which you find yourself drifting off in a reverie, only to be woken by a Japanese voice asking you to take a photograph of him and his girlfriend.

Attempting to pick out teasing glimpses of the bottle green Colorado River as it weaved its way around the canyon floor was a fascinating exercise in itself.

As evidence of just how quickly time had passed it was now 2.30 in the afternoon, time to drive the 23 miles east along the Desert View Drive, stopping at Grandview, Moran and Navajo Points to gaze at the timeless, ever-changing landscape of the canyon.

At Desert View, the park’s eastern boundary, we witnessed a group of hikers taking the last few steps of an ascent from the canyon itself. Now that is what we will do on our next trip. If we can negotiate the Navajo Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon in a hundred degrees, this would be perfectly manageable. Perhaps not the gruelling, and occasionally life threatening, Bright Angel Trail, but certainly one that takes us down into the canyon – and hopefully back up again!

In the Ancestran Pueblo-style Desert View Watchtower – which has an excellent gift shop on the ground floor and three circular chambers above decorated with authentic Hopi murals on the floors above – we talked to the proprietor who had lived in West Yorkshire. His experience had taught him that the British were much more polite than his fellow countrymen, an opinion which, on balance, we were, in all humility, inclined to agree with.

Armed with a bundle of souvenirs from the Watchtower gift shop, we had a coffee in the nearby snack bar. With the sun already hinting it was ready to call it a day, we dragged ourselves, reluctantly, from the park.

Rather than double back on ourselves, we took the I-64 East to Cameron where we picked up the I-89 South just as we passed 2,000 miles for the trip. The revised route allowed us the opportunity to call in at the Navajo run, but virtually deserted, Little Colorado River Gorge. It may have been the time of day but we saw more abandoned, or perhaps closed, jewelry / pottery stalls on this stretch of road than anywhere else in the Navajo Nation.

At Elden Pueblo a giant stars and stripes flag with an imprecation inscribed below of “Romney Save the USA”, lay limp at the roadside, a premonition perhaps, despite the previous evening’s presidential debate, of the ultimate fate of his challenge for the highest office.

The welcome sign for Flagstaff pronounced it the “World’s First International Dark Sky City”, a worthy accolade and one, I think, its residents should be proud of. It made me like Flagstaff even more and resolve to pay it a longer visit very soon.

Given that our room, or should I say suite, was so comfortable and spacious, and that we had to pack and prepare for our last. and longest, day on the road tomorrow, we decided to have room service.

One of the reasons we had originally chosen Sedona over the Grand Canyon for this day had been the short drive from Flagstaff. In the end, we had clocked up almost 200 miles.

But it had been worth every inch.

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Buoyed by two good night’s sleep in Moab we were refreshed for what would be one of the longest road journeys – around 290 miles – of the entire trip before we reached our next overnight stop of Durango, Colorado. Two conscious decisions led to this – firstly, to make a detour to visit the Four Corners Monument and secondly, to ignore our trusty route planner’s recommendation to travel as far south on US-191 to Bluff before heading east, and cut off earlier at Monticello to pick up the 491. We were to make yet another detour, of which more later.

Having filled up at the Maverik gas station (this chain was a regular source of cheap fuel throughout the trip), we set off in the company of the customary blue sky (the rain on our journey into Moab two days previously had been a momentary aberration) and soon found ourselves alone on the road.

After 53 miles we took US-491 at Monticello as the Eagles sang on the in-car CD player “put me on a highway, show me the sign”. Well, the next sign we saw was one welcoming us to “Colorful Colorado”.

We had left, at least for now, the dramatic sandstone formations that had dominated the landscape for much of the past week. The area was a blend of flat pastureland and forest, dotted with the occasional homestead and small ranch, outside which horses and cattle grazed.

The Eagles were soon usurped by Kiss Country Radio 97.9 FM (“Keeping Cortez, Farmington and Durango country)”, which was to be our companion for the remainder of the day.

Dove Creek was the first town of any substance in Colorado with its business park and small airport. Further evidence of the growing number of grazing livestock was an advertisement on the radio for feed grains.

We were amused by a sign that announced that the Colorado Welcome Center was another 34 miles, an indication of the vast scale of this nation that you had to drive 50 miles before you could be officially welcomed to the state!

The San Juan National Forest which was to follow us all the way to Durango began to assume greater prominence as we passed the settlements of Cahone, Pleasant View, Yellow Jacket, Lewis and Arriola.

At Cortez, the largest town on today’s journey but one beset by roadworks, we eschewed the signs for Durango and branched south towards the Four Corners Monument.

Shortly afterwards, a low mountains range denoted that we were entering the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation. Once notable hunters, the Utes had been split up and relocated to poorer land by the white settlers’ westward expansion.

However, mineral leases and tourism had enabled them to build an impressive casino, hotel and resort (pictured above) where we halted briefly for free if indigestible coffee, restrooms and a futile flutter on the penny slots.

We managed to miss the turning for the Four Corners initially, but recovered the route within three miles. Had we taken the right road we would have avoided almost getting crushed by an immense truck turning left into the road at which junction we were sitting. The driver, equipped with almost obligatory drooping moustache and cowboy hat (not unlike the Dennis Hopper character in Easy Rider), did not seem amused, but his cargo of blindfolded horses appeared less concerned.

Crossing the San Juan River we arrived at the Four Corners Monument, the only spot in the U.S. where four states (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona) meet at a single point. Whilst that might sound glamorous, the reality is less so – it is a barren, hot (77 degrees) and dusty place, given over to the presence on all four sides of the ubiquitous Indian gift stalls (we were back in the Navajo Nation at this point).

That said, in addition to doing the tourist thing and having our photos taken spanning all four states (I was surprised we were not charged for the privilege), we picked up some lovely t-shirts.

So pleased with our purchases were we that we then contrived to leave them behind in our motel room in Durango the next morning. Happily, thanks to the kindness of the proprietor and a payment of £25 to UPS, I can now report we have just taken custody of them again at home.

We had to retrace our “steps” (around 30 miles) to traffic-ridden Cortez before continuing our journey to Durango on US-160 East. But lunch now beckoned. My vegetarian past cruelly cast aside, I had harboured a craving for a Wendy’s hamburger ever since our flight had touched down in Las Vegas eleven days before, and, as luck would have it, an outlet cuddled up to us just as we were pulling out of town.

I’m not sure this is what Jimmy Buffett had in mind when he sang Cheeseburger in Paradise but my double was scrumptious. Janet also enjoyed her crispy chicken sandwich. Our unfamiliarity with fast food burger joints was exposed, however, when we ordered two vanilla iced frosties, thinking they were coffees (a la frappuccinos), only to discover, not unpleasantly, that they were in fact milk shakes. And all for less than ten bucks.

With only 46 miles to Durango we decided to call in at Mesa Verde National Park en route. When we revamped our original itinerary to include the loop through New Mexico (Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Gallup), we had been required to drop Canyon de Chelly and Mesa Verde.

But it was not until now that we fully realised just how close it was to the road we were taking, and even though time would not allow us to explore it as fully as it deserved, it would be crazy not to spend a couple of hours there.

Mesa Verde (“green table” in Spanish), the only U.S. national park exclusively devoted to archaeological remains, was home to the Ancestral Puebloan people between 550 and 1300AD, at which stage they mysteriously abandoned the cliff dwellings that had been their home. Formerly nomadic, they had turned to hunting and lived in pithouses clustered into small villages usually built on mesa tops but sometimes in cliff recesses.

We can only speculate why they lived in these secluded alcoves. Perhaps it was for defence or it may have been because they provided better protection from the elements, or even for religious or psychological reasons.

Whatever the purpose, they are astonishing buildings, some of them remarkably well preserved.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t sufficient time to join one of the ranger-led tours into the best preserved cliff dwellings, but we did take the self-guided Mesa Top Loop Drive which afforded us some excellent views of both the internal layout of the pithouses and overlooks of some of the villages.

Leaving Mesa Verde we drove through the Mancos Valley with the San Juan Mountains overhead. Mancos proclaimed itself as “Where the West Still Lives”, a not unreasonable boast as the scenery was taking on a distinctly more cowboy country feel.  But this was clearly under some threat as a large picture of a cow was accompanied by the words “I’d rather be a cow than a condo”.

After checking in at the Econolodge motel in Durango we took the free trolley to the historic downtown for dinner at Tequila’s Family Restaurant, a beautiful tex-mex establishment with dazzling, colorful furnishings. My seafood enchiladas were the best I had ever tasted and the margaritas were delicious. And it was also inexpensive. The experience was topped off by our server, Hector, dashing back to our table before we left to thank us for his tip.

As the next day’s journey would be much shorter, we resolved to spend the next morning exploring downtown Durango before setting off for our next stop in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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We knew that visiting the Arches National Park obliged us to return to Utah. But we were not concerned as we knew that Moab, our base for the next two nights, was more socially enlightened than the towns we had stayed in at the beginning of our trip. It even had its own brewery!

Humbling and inspiring though our excursion to Monument Valley had been, our stay in the area was not an unqualified success. Being able to check in at noon at the Hampton Inn in Kayenta did not prove as beneficial as we had first thought. Our room may have been spacious, comfortable and well furnished but it was next not only to the lifts but also the 24 hour (sic) laundry and ice vending machine. You should be able to glean from that what sort of night’s sleep we had, or rather didn’t have. It was unquestionably the most, and possibly only, noisy room in the entire hotel.

We had also been advised at check-in that we did not need to reserve a table for dinner as the restaurant would not be busy. As we were late back from Monument Valley, it was 9pm before we were ready to eat. As we approached the lectern the signs looked ominous – the foyer was full of glum, exasperated fellow residents sprawled on armchairs and sofas.

Sure enough, we were told we would have to wait an hour. With alternative dining options in the vicinity severely limited we had no choice but to sit it out. It was indeed around 10pm before we sat down to dinner, to be greeted with the news that half the menu was no longer available. Even the consolation of a “proper” drink was lost on us as the beverage menu was entirely non-alcoholic!

And then we couldn’t sleep.

It was a pity that our experience of the Hampton Inn was so negative as it was an attractive place with a fine Indian gift shop. At least my complaint about the room did induce an offer of 50% off the (pre-paid) cost of the room by the manager, though it would require us to contact Expedia ourselves to secure the discount (which reminds me).

Our journey north to Moab meant that we would be travelling initially on US-163, the road we had taken the previous afternoon through Monument Valley. This afforded us the opportunity to marvel once more at the landscape.

But not before visiting the Navajo Indian Center, a complex of hard standing stalls selling jewelery and sand art, just outside the entrance to the Tribal Park. Once again, the retailers were all very friendly and genuinely interested in the details of our trip.

It was difficult to prise ourselves away from the area as every few hundred yards of road opened up new perspectives and photo opportunities. As we passed the sporadic, sometimes derelict, gift stalls by the roadside, it was difficult not to wonder whether their business was suffering from the competition provided by the Navajo Indian Center.

Crossing into Utah we passed Halchita and Mexican Hat, where we swung right over the San Juan River. The landscape took on a generally flatter look and the familiar “big sky” that was such a feature of this trip returned.

We joined the US-191 near Bluff as the skies, for the first time in the eight days we had been in the country, began to threaten rain and the temperature gauge dropped below 60 degrees. Distant flashes of lightning followed.

We resisted the blandishments of Blanding, even though it claimed to be the “Base Camp to Adventure” and boasted both a dinosaur museum and a Fattboyz Grillin’ restaurant.

We had become accustomed to roadside signs warning us to beware of animals crossing, but the flashing lights proclaiming “Car Deer Hits: 197”, followed shortly afterwards by the sight of one freshly slain, brought home the danger more forcefully. Dead wildlife by the side of the road was as common a feature of this trip as burst truck tires.

As the rain finally arrived and the temperature fell below fifty (half of what it had been in Bryce Canyon a few days before), we had lunch in Subway at the Canyonland Store in Monticello, which announced itself as the “Home of the Hideout”.

With a little over fifty miles to go I considered a comment made by an English woman we had met in Zion. She had complained that the road from Monument Valley to Moab was “boring”. Well, this may not have been the most spectacular stretch of scenery on the trip, but boring it was not. The road itself may have been straight but there were still sporadic clusters of red rocks amid the desert, which became ever more prominent as we neared our resting place. And there was that “big sky” – how could one ever tire of that?

As we approached Moab and the sky cleared, one of the increasing number of signs extolling the comforts of its accommodation offer was one for the Moab Brewery, that oasis of sophistication in an otherwise dreary state. More surprisingly, it stated that kids were welcome, hopefully not a comment on the strength of the beer!

We were greeted warmly by the proprietor at the Sleep Inn, though how the conversation got round to his enthusiasm for the seventies British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, I cannot remember.

Unpacking was peremptory as we prepared to stake out the Moab Brewery and a restaurant for dinner that evening. The only drawback to an otherwise excellent hotel was that it was a mile away from the centre of town and that, with a four lane highway and intermittent paths on either side, walking was an extreme sport. But when you consider that Moab’s modern renaissance has been borne out of its status as a haven for mountain bikers, rock climbers, jeep junkies, raft riders and hummer hammerers, I should not have been all that surprised.

We negotiated the short distance to the thriving Moab Brewery premises, sat at the bar and ordered a Lizard Wheat Ale and Scorpion Pale Ale respectively before returning to the hotel to prepare for dinner.

We ate later at the Blu Pig – Brews, Blues & BBQ restaurant where I had catfish and Janet enjoyed a mighty plateful of spare ribs, and we drank a bottle of – whisper it – wine, Beringer’s White Zinfandel to be exact. We then took our lives in our hands by venturing along, and then across, the highway in the dark for another glass in the Moab Brewery before retiring for the night.

How unlike our evening experiences in Hurricane and Panguitch! OK, Utah isn’t so bad after all!

And we slept too – after all, it was The Sleep Inn.

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Our visit to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park had been the most eagerly anticipated part of our road trip, and a week after we had flown into Las Vegas, the day had arrived.

Although today’s drive from Page, Arizona was only 104 miles, we were understandably anxious to get an early start to maximise our time in the Navajo Nation. So the trip to Glen Canyon Dam in the cool morning air was a brief one. Janet’s smile in the photo above pre-dated her discovery, several miles down the road, that she had left her Team GB baseball cap in the hotel.

Our customary diet of country and classic rock on the car radio seemed inappropriate for today, and we replaced it with Sacred Spirit II, More Chants and Dances of the Native Americans, the CD we had bought expressly for this leg of the trip. It was to play on endless loop for the next couple of days, lending a haunting, rhythmic backdrop to our travels.

As we headed east we began to encounter a sight that would become very familiar over the next ten days – tables by the roadside containing native american jewelery and, on occasions, pottery and rugs made by local people. Some of it might have been tourist “tat” but there is no doubting that the business is a valuable, even essential, addition to the local economy. On some stretches of road, however, there were as many abandoned as thriving stalls, though most still flying ragged American and Indian flags. More upscale trading posts, notably at Shonto, provided a shinier, and more expensive, face.

Much of  US-98 through Kaibito and Shonto was scrub and desert with occasional homesteads and trailers dotting the landscape.

As we turned onto US-160 the amount of traffic increased, though as on this entire road trip, such statements are relative – it meant that we were joined by a handful of vehicles travelling in either direction. Congestion is almost an unknown concept in this land.

That said, a huge Lux Bux America bullied its way past several RVs ahead of us as we bypassed the Black Mesa mine and Navajo National Monument.

Our overnight stop, the Hampton Inn at Kayenta, was 24 miles south west of the tribal park and directly on the route. We reached it shortly after midday, and as it was three and a half hours before our booked tour, we called in to check whether our room might be ready. After a half hour wait, during which we availed ourselves of the complimentary tea and coffee, we placed our luggage in the room and set off for Monument Valley.

Careful to avoid the cattle and horses grazing by the roadside, we took US-163, one of dozens of ramrod straight roads on this trip, joining a steady procession of tourist buses and Cruise America RVs intent on witnessing the archetypal western landscape. Low rise homes of brick and wood mingled with churches, including the Living Word Assembly of God and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and health, recreation and animal care centres before the scenery took on the familiar look of desert, sagebrush and isolated, thrusting buttes.

The mood in the car of approaching awe and solemnity was briefly shattered as a sign proclaimed that the highway had been adopted by “the family of Jimmy Krank” (this reference will sadly be lost on my American readers).

We entered Tsi-Bii-Ndzisgali, the Navajo for Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park meaning “the valley within the rock” ,with an hour and a half to spare. Although we were hungry we were more desperate for our first live view of that most iconic of movie locations. We may have seen it a hundred times on screen but nothing can prepare you for encountering it laid out before your eyes for the first time.

And there it was! The official leaflet proclaims it the “8th wonder of the world”. Those that have seen both compare it with the Pyramids at Giza, and the majority declare that it surpasses its Egyptian counterpart. I am content to take their word for that. Surely Wordsworth was stood here rather than gazing at Westminster Bridge when he declared “earth could not pass by a sight so touching in its majesty”.

Curiosity sated, our attention turned to lunch. Built less than four years ago in a style and colour sympathetic to its age old neighbours, the View Hotel provides luxury accommodation and stunning views. We found a table by the picture window overlooking the East and West Mittens and Merrick Butte, John Wayne’s favourite view, and ordered Navajo Tacos, fry bread with ground beef, pinto beans, onion and lashings of lettuce and cheese. Janet had the good sense to ask for the small plate whilst I succumbed to gluttony and had the large version, to the amusement I recall of the server, a decision I almost came to regret on the helter-skelter jeep ride in the backcountry later in the afternoon.

We assembled in the foyer of the hotel to await our guide. As the appointed time approached it appeared that we might be the only people on the tour. However, we were joined by another British couple and a mother and son from New York.  Larson, from Navajo Spirit Tours, appeared shortly afterwards to advise us that our guide, Miesha, was running a few minutes late and engage us in some ice breaking conversation.

Once Miesha had arrived and introduced herself, she drove us to the traditional hogan village, a group of sun-baked mud covered homes, built in harmony with the universe and all living creatures on earth. The large one in the picture, a female hogan, is used as a permanent home, and represents love, peace and kindness, whereas the smaller, conical version, the male hogan, is the location for ceremonies and for war plans to be drawn up (though not for some time I hope). Aside from their spiritual significance, they perform another valuable function in that they retain heat for long hours in the winter and can be 25% cooler than the outside temperature in the summer.

Our next stop gave us close up views, or as close up as visitors are, rightly, allowed to be, of the classic triumvirate of the East and West Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte as well as satisfying any retail urge we might have retained with a dozen or more tables displaying Navajo rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelets.

With the notable exception of the aforementioned, the most famous viewing spot in the valley is John Ford’s Point, the place where the great movie director, whose catalogue includes Stagecoach, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and The Searchers, would spend hours contemplating his life and work. More stalls and a caravan selling fry bread and cold drinks completed the scene. The lone cowboy in the photo above appears periodically to enable visitors to satisfy their fantasy still further.

The selling point for this particular tour had been the excursion into the restricted areas of the valley. The self-drive and basic tour options focused purely on the more familiar areas. We were heading into the back country! Shortly after leaving John Ford’s Point we turned off the well trodden road down a narrow path out into the area bounded by the Rain God, Thunderbird and Spearhead Mesas.

The journey was reminiscent of the previous day’s bone-breaking ride to Antelope Canyon as Miesha made the jeep lurch in and out of the dry, rutted terrain. But she delivered us into a quiet, magical expanse that seemed far removed, even from the vistas we had marveled at only a few minutes before.

Here we encountered wild horses, a small party on horseback on a day’s trail, spectacular rock formations and sporadic lush vegetation – and, above all, blissful peace.

We were afforded the opportunity to see close up some of the most celebrated, but less often seen, sights of the valley, including the Totem Pole and Suns Eye (both pictured below).

It is perhaps at this point that I should say a little more about the Navajo in general, and Miesha in particular.

Much of the appeal for me of this road trip had been the opportunity to witness both the landscape and culture of the native american, primarily Navajo, people first hand. But everything I had read in preparation cautioned the visitor on how to interact with them. I was a guest in their land, an impoverished one in many respects. My hosts held deep spiritual beliefs that were far from the mainstream of American life. Some individuals might be difficult, taciturn, even hostile.

It was essential, therefore, to interact with respect and humility – which I hoped I would have done without the friendly warning.

I can only say that I did not have a single conversation or transaction with a Navajo throughout the trip that was not friendly and respectful. Our guide in Antelope Canyon, Rosie, could not have been more helpful or informative. Every restaurant server, trading post or stall owner greeted us with a smile and showed an interest in where we came from and what we were doing in their country and were grateful that we were. Of course, they were aiming to part us from our money at the same time, but that never seemed the primary motivation.

Not only are their beliefs about nature and man’s duty towards it, highly attractive, and ones that western man had largely forgotten, but on an individual basis they were a joy to deal with, on this day and the coming days wherever we went.

Ah yes, Miesha.

When we first met her, and were about to board her jeep, she outlined the three hour tour we were about to embark upon. Ever smiling, quietly spoken, a little diffident perhaps with a girlish giggle at the end of most sentences, she was nonetheless authoritative and immediately gained my confidence.

Not only did she recount the history, myths and, of course, movie relevance, of each sight in the valley, but she regaled us too with stories about her life and that of her family, bringing out the basic principles of the Navajo way of life such as respect for nature, balance in all things, and one that struck me as so contrary to our British and American prejudices – reverence for the wisdom of old age (her grandmother was 99).

Everything she said reinforced her commitment to these principles. A modern 21 year old woman but one deeply rooted in the Navajo life. Hugely talented, she had traveled far with her flute playing and singing. Indeed, her rendition of two songs, one in Navajo and the other in English, whilst her small tour party lay on their backs looking up through Suns Eye, was the most affecting moment of the whole trip for me.

She even made a vain attempt to teach us some Navajo! I think Janet and I did get top marks as we did already know Diné (the people)!

A’he’hee Miesha!

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“Road Trip” – is there another phrase that better exemplifies the heart of the American experience? Apple pie perhaps? Have a nice day? Manifest destiny? No, none of those come close to capturing the same sense of freedom and adventure that is synonymous with the American Dream.

Well, dear reader, as you are a valued friend, I am inviting you to join my wife and I on our very own road trip of the American southwest over the next three weeks. Come with us as we criss-cross five states (Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico) and three time zones.

We’ll hear the siren song  of the slots in Vegas casinos, listen to the mournful wail of country music radio as we glide the endless highways, and gasp at massive, multi-coloured incisions in the earth’s surface.

We’ll meet peoples from the rich diversity of American culture, including Mormons and Native Americans.

We’ll take juddering jeep trips with Indian guides into the heart of their reservation where we will purchase Navajo and Zuni jewellery.

We’ll stand at the only point on the North American continent where four states intersect, and have our photo taken like the dutiful tourists (I prefer the word travellers) we are.

We’ll eat at authentic cantinas and  tacquerias and sleep in beds where once slumbered the the Hollywood stars of yesteryear.

We’ll even find ourselves standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, waiting, or at least I will, for a girl in a flat bed Ford to slow down and take a look at me.

The itinerary?

I write this in our hotel (Mandalay Bay) room where we spent last night after a tortuous 15 hours on a Virgin Atlantic plane and equally frustrating wait in line for the car hire. But a fine meal and live swing band in The House of Blues, followed by a solid night’s sleep, has us ready for the road this morning.

Today we drive to Hurricane, Utah for two nights, the base for our exploration of Zion National Park. We then move on to Panguitch, Utah, close to Bryce Canyon for a further two nights. Staying at Page, Arizona for another two nights will enable us to visit Lake Powell and Glen and Antelope Canyons.

The highlight will be our trip to Monument Valley in the heart of the Navajo Nation, iconic location of so many westerns directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.  A stay in Kayenta, Arizona that night will predate two nights in Moab, Utah, our base for Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

On the premise that we will be “red rocked out” by then, and that our hiking boots might have earned a rest, we will wind down a little at this roughly mid point. The sightseeing will become more leisurely as we move on to Durango, Colorado and then into New Mexico for stays in Santa Fe (two nights), Albuquerque and Gallup before driving Route 66 to Flagstaff, Arizona.

A two night stop there in which we will “pop over” to Sedona and the long drive back to Vegas, sixteen days after we left it, for the final four nights, the second of which will be my sixtieth birthday.

The rigours of the road will dictate whether we might take short detours to Los Alamos, New Mexico and the Mesa Verde National Monument.

Sounds fun?

So jump in the back seat of the car, tip your hat over your face, but not before grabbing a couple of Buds (or rather Sierra Nevada or Anchor Steam beers), kick off your cowboy boots, sing along to Hank Williams and Toby Keith, and enjoy the ride. It’ll be a blast!

Time to head out on the highway.

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