- Where We Started: Cortez, Colo.
- Where We Ended: Chinle, Ariz.
- Miles Driven: 357 (9,321 total).
- New States: Utah.
- States So Far: 17 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
You don't have to drive far out west to find yourself in a completely new world than the one you were just in. So, after starting Tuesday among the high mountain passes and mining towns of southwestern Colorado, we hit the rugged red rocks of southeastern Utah and beautiful canyons of northeastern Arizona before calling it a day. But the most interesting event of the day didn't have anything to do with natural scenery; it was a sticky canine situation in Monument Valley. But we'll get to that shortly...
We managed to stick to our new schedule on Tuesday, and were out of hotel around 10am. We needed to be out early, as we had an ambitious schedule that included four states and six different sites.
Our first stop was the Four Corners Monument, near Teec Nos Pos, Ariz. The only place in the country where four state borders converge, Four Corners is run by the Navajo Nation and is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. But it's a cool place to visit, as it's usually nice and quiet, with only a smattering of tourists. It's also in an open, flat area, so the wind is often pretty strong, as it was Tuesday. You can walk right out onto the area where the Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado borders meet, and pose in whatever silly fashion you prefer.
When we stopped by Four Corners in 2003, we got a great picture of Fred's butt in four states at once. We thought that'd be easier now, since Fred's butt is a wee bit larger. And while adding Hank to our family has been great in just about every way, having two dogs does make what used to be a simple photo op more complicated. On this day, the dogs decided they wanted to play in four states, not sit. So instead of a photo like this one of Fred from 2003...
We got this...
Next, we crossed the border into Utah and headed to Hovenweep National Monument, the site of some old Puebloan villages. Only one problem: I messed up and didn't realize you could only reach the villages via trail, and I hadn't budgeted time for a two-hour hike. So that one-hour detour ended up being a waste, and cost us at the end of the day. But, hey, I hear it's nice. Here are some photos from someone who actually went into Hovenweep.
After the Hovenweep misstep, we headed south through the amazing red rocks of Utah.
Eventually, we reached the Valley of the Gods in Mexican Hat, Utah. This mini-Monument Valley features all sorts of interesting rock formations, and was almost completely deserted. We passed only one car while on the 18-mile dirt road that spans the park, and saw only one other living human being.
A lone cowboy rides with his dog through the Valley of the Gods in Mexican Hat, Utah. Joan spoke briefly with the guy, and he said he was out there because he was trying to convince himself he was a cowboy.
After leaving Valley of the Gods, we made a quick stop at Gooseneck State Park. This tiny park, located atop a high hill, overlooks the place where the San Juan River has created a 1,000-foot canyon over thousands of years. By the time we arrived here, the wind had started to pick up pretty dramatically, to the point where it was hard to keep your feet planted. And when you're near the edge of the 1,000-foot drop-off, that's not a good thing. (Note: Fred and Hank stayed safely in the car, for those of you far more worried about them than us. That would be all of you, I believe).
We figured the winds were bad at Gooseneck because of its high, exposed location. But after making the short drive to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, it became obvious the winds would be with us for the rest of the day. So would the heavy cloud cover.
In the end, the clouds, winds and dust storms unquestionably hampered our return visit to Monument Valley. One of our favorite stops in 2003, it didn't quite have the majesty it did in 2003. It goes to show how much random weather conditions can impact an experience. Here's what Monument Valley looked like on our 2003 visit:
Here's what it looked like on Tuesday:
Impressive? Yes. Something you would never see on the East Coast? Correct. But it just wasn't the same as 2003.
Our visit to Monument Valley was also marked by what has to be the most bizarre incident of the FHMA tour thus far. One of the major stops on the scenic dirt road at Monument Valley is called John Ford Point, named after the famed movie director who filmed such classics as "The Searchers" and "My Darling Clementine" there. One of the structures at John Ford Point is a barn where horses are kept. Hanging around that barn are a bunch of wild dogs. As we steered into this turnoff to take some photos, our pampered, spoiled dogs saw these wild dogs, and -- from the safety of our car -- started barking at them like crazy. The wild dogs were not intimidated, to say the least. Not only did they bark back, but they ran up to the car and started jumping up to the window and snarling at Fred and Hank. Now, normally, this would be a relatively easy situation to resolve. But we had three things working against us: 1) these dogs didn''t seem to care about being run over, so they keep running in front of the car; 2) we were on an extremely bumpy dirt road that meant I couldn't really drive any faster than these dogs could run; and 3) there was a big truck coming the other direction on the narrow dirt road, which limited my ability to move at all.
At first, we thought these might be someone's dogs, and eventually the owners would come to get them. It soon became clear these dogs were wild, and no one was going to claim them -- or get near them, for that matter. So we settled into a routine: I would start to drive away, and the dogs would chase the car and jump up alongside the passenger side to try and get at Fred and Hank, who were returning fire from inside the car. Eventually, one of the wild dogs would run in front of the car, and I'd stop. The wild dogs would then run up onto the grass hill on the side of the road and chill out. I'd wait, and then start to go again, and they'd chase us again and run in front of the car. Now, the entire time this is happening, Fred and Hank are racing back and forth from the back seat to Joan's lap and barking in that deafening way that beagles can.
Anyway, this duel went on for about 2-3 minutes, and we really were not sure what to do. Eventually, an opportunity presented itself. The truck that had been coming toward me -- which, as it turned out, was filled with a few Navajo laughing at our plight -- had now passed. All my fits and starts had brought me to a place where the road ahead didn't seem too bad. So after the wild dogs had retreated to the side of the road to await my next move, I sat there and literally waited until they looked away from the car. The minute two of them were looking elsewhere, I gunned it. Joan caught the last few seconds of our getaway on video.
I probably got us up to about 30mph, which worked for about a half-mile before the road got rough again. It says something for the tenaciousness of these dogs that, even after a half-mile, I was still looking in the rear-view mirror. Turns out we'd finally lost them. For the time being.
We finally decided to head out of Monument Valley only to discover that the road we were on was a loop road, one that began -- you guessed it -- at John Ford Point. As we approached, Hank was laying down in the back seat, but Fred was sitting on Joan's lap. From a distance, I could see one of the aforementioned dogs sitting right at the end of the loop drive, as if he was lying in wait. Now, there are times where voice commands work for dogs, and other times where you just do whatever is necessary. This was the latter, so I told Joan to cover Fred's eyes until we were past. He fought it, but Joan blocked his view for long enough that we made it past what appeared to be this cute little dog, but was actually a ferocious little %^&*.
After all this, we still had enough time to reach Canyon de Chelly in Chinle, Ariz., but we really made it just in time for sunset, so we decided to put down here and see a bit more of this park Wednesday morning. But we did get a few cool photos.
After dinner, as Joan was checking into the hotel, I waited in the car. As I sat there, a stray dog wandered into the line of my headlights and stopped and looked at me. Now, we were 120 miles away from Monument Valley by now. But, for a brief second, I did wonder...
- The real hero of Tuesday was the car. In addition to helping us make our great escape from a wild pack of dogs, it also flawlessly handled long dirt roads at the Valley of the Gods and Monument Valley. And that's with an imperfect driver behind the wheel, to which Joan will gladly attest. I hate going slow, and dirt roads are meant to make you go slow. But the car held up fine. I can't speak for Joan.
- We began the day in Cortez, Colo., and one of the main roads in that town is U.S. Route 491. It used to have a different name: U.S. Route 666. I wrote about this in 2003, but figured the road's history was interesting enough, so here the item, as I wrote then:
- You hear lots about Route 66, but not much about Route 666. That's too bad, because there's a great story behind the latter. Because of the rigid structure regarding the numbering of federal highways, spurs of major interstates and U.S. highways always carry the base number of the main road, i.e. I-495 in Washington and I-695 in Baltimore are spurs of I-95. Thus, when spurs of the old U.S.-66 were created, the sixth one of those was U.S.-666, created in 1926. This being the number of the beast, this of course created a lot of issues, especially because of the superstitious nature of the Navajo Nation, through which much of the road passed. But despite all the controversy, the highway's name remained, despite talk that the number of deaths on the road was unusually high and the fact some people refused to drive on it altogether. Finally, just this year, on July 1, U.S.-666 officially was changed to U.S.-491, since the government decided the road could also be construed to be a spur of U.S.-91. For the whole story, here's a dry-but-interesting summary.
- The Valley of the Gods was located in Mexican Hat, Utah. Where did the town get its name, you ask? From this rock outside of town:
- Sign of the Day, from a port-o-potty at Four Corners:
It isn't that the sign is funny, but it's more of a language issue for me. Is "difficult" really the proper word here? How about one of these words instead: disgusting, unpleasant, god-awful, repugnant, horrific, revolting, etc.
- A gripe about Google Maps. At one point on the trip, I was using it to help me determine the time it would take to get from place to place. I quickly realized that it was giving me times that were completely crazy. An example: On Tuesday, when trying to determine whether it was worth it to try and make it to Canyon de Chelly before sunset, I used Google Maps on my BlackBerry to see how long it would take. The answer: 3 hours 31 minutes. I looked at my atlas, and convinced myself there was no way it would take that long. So we made a beeline for Chinle. And how long did it end up taking: 1 hour 35 minutes. Now, I drive fast, and there was no traffic, but c'mon, that's not even close. Turns out Google Maps was also suggesting a completely crazy, roundabout way to get there. Just for fun, I asked Google Maps how long it would take me to get to the Grand Canyon from Chinle. It said 5 hours 30 minutes. The car nav said 4 hours 10 minutes. My guess is we'll make it in 3 hours 30 minutes. Google Maps is a great application for finding locations and creating your own maps, but I'd be wary of using it for directions.
- Among the places we passed on our way to Canyon de Chelly: Chilchinbito, Ariz., which claims to be the home of "The World's Largest Rug." But the sign that boasts this is old, and it appears Iran is now the proper owner of the title. Sorry, Chilchinbito.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "Are You Lonesome?," by Elvis Presley. There's been no shortage of Elvis discussion in this blog, and we've even visited some Elvis-related sites, so I don't have much to add here, other than this isn't my favorite Elvis song. That would be "Can't Help Falling in Love."
- Most-Played Albums: Seeking some atmospheric accompaniment, we played "Koyaanisqatsi," by Philip Glass. Cool album. Later, we moved to Peter Gabriel, who in addition to his popular commercial albums, has also done some excellent soundtrack work for "Birdy," "Rabbit-Proof Fence" and "The Last Temptation of Christ."
- Breakfast: Unnamed Roadside Stand, Teec Nos Pos, Ariz.: One of our memories of going to Four Corners in 2003 was the stand where you could get delicious Navajo food. So we decided to give it another shot, and were once again rewarded. Joan got the Navajo taco, and I got the Navajo burger. Both use Navajo fry bread, which -- like most things fried -- is amazing. Navajo fry bread is used in ways traditional bread is, but can also be re-purposed as a dessert, topped with either powdered sugar, cinnamon or honey. Since we always try and experience other cultures, we also got Navajo fry bread with powdered sugar to cap the meal. Wasn't that nice of us? Jim Nutrition Rating: 1.5 stars (out of 5). I had just a burger with no fries. Then again, the fact the bread was fried sort of canceled that out, doesn't it? Restaurant Rating: 5 stars (out of 5). Absolutely delicious, just like back in 2003.
- Dinner: The Junction Restaurant, Chinle, Ariz.: It didn't seem to speak well for Chinle when we heard that one of the best restaurants in town was inside the Best Western. But we went anyway, and were pleasantly surprised. My weekly salad was excellent, and -- despite variety being the spice of life -- I got another Navajo burger. This time, it did come with fries and was a double burger, which I dutifully consumed. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1.5 star (out of 5). An extra half-star for the salad. Restaurant Rating: 4 stars (out of 5).
- Thunderbird Lodge, Chinle, Ariz.: I think it's obvious from this blog that Joan and I tend to be chain-hotel people. Why, you ask? First off, I've seen "Psycho." Second, chain hotels are generally fine and predictable. On a trip like this, there are already so many unpredictable elements, we see no reason to add them when we don't have to. That being said, Chinle seems to only have one hotel that accepts dogs, the Thunderbird Lodge, located in Canyon de Chelly National Monument. So, we took a deep breath and got a room. It didn't start well, as Joan had to talk to the world's most humorless front-desk person in order to get the room. And the first thing you see in the room is a big sign that says, "ABSOLUTELY No Pets Are Allowed In This Room." Now, we ABSOLUTELY told the front desk we had dogs -- and have the receipt where we paid $25 extra to prove it -- so we ignored it. The room itself was big and clean, but the bed was only moderately comfortable and the shower seemed to have two temperatures: ice cold and flesh-melting hot. But, overall, this room matched up to most of the budget hotels we'd used exclusively up until Tuesday. Hotel rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5, on the budget hotel scale).
COMMENT OF THE DAY
- Today: Grand Canyon and on to Las Vegas.
- Tomorrow: Death Valley National Park, and on to Los Angeles.
- The Day After Tomorrow: Jim heads to Austin, Tex., and Joan hangs in L.A., as FHMA starts two-day hiatus.
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTOS