It ended well: with us sitting in a nice Travel Lodge restaurant sharing a common meal of roasted chicken with a Harry Potter birthday party, but it didn’t feel good on the way to getting there. Arriving was the best part of the day.
We had decided to head south from Moab -- rumor and deductive reasoning said the road would be pretty, and since it was new to me, a bit of something different to tell tales about to others. (When traveling, I tend to tell the same stories about each milestone on the trip. If you travel with me two times, you only get one story, so it’s best to seek out new roads – best for everyone.)
We are headed south but it feels like we are just going down. To the right, uranium mining tailings and to the left, not much. There’s a big time headwind – I feel like I’m riding a motorcycle with a cracked windshield. The road just goes on – Monticello, Blanding, Bluff etc. We look for a place to stop and eat, but each town has little to nothing of interest. We stop and pee at a museum of something Utahish – we just use the restroom and don’t enter the actual museum. The wind blows grit into our eyes; the clouds are made of fine dirt.
We give up our plans to eat at Mexican Hat and start eating taffy from the glove compartment. I stop at a Shell station for gas and cokes – bored and chubby Indians stare at me. I don’t ask for directions – it’s all too obvious.
Leaving town, at the bridge over the San Juan River, we almost miss the abrupt left turn, and by some form of an accident, go straight into a roadside café/motel compound. We stop because it looks cool and funky, and because our expectations have been lowered, and because we are hungry.
I have Indian fry bread with beef stew—the bread drips Crisco, the stew is a soup. I look over to Mary and see mustard, catsup and pieces of pickles plopping on a plate – I’ve never seen more of a mess around her. I look away, and then get up to look at the pictures on the wall.
Most of the framed prints celebrate the new bridge over the river – they are dusty and forty years old. The old bridge had planks that you needed to line up your wheels on before you got on the bridge in order to cross without getting your car lodged unbalanced, and hanging on the wooden supports. Times have changed in Mexican Hat, but not much, and only once.
We finish lunch and get back in the car to keep heading down. Through the dust we can see Monument Valley in the distance. It never gets closer, though we are traveling on the road that has its name. Evidently, and at some vague point not obvious, you have to get off the road to get to the valley. We admire the view from afar, but have no interest in trading delay for pretty. We are going down with the road in a depression of ugly – not much seems redeeming in any spiritual way in the things we see, and the wind continues to blow dunes of sand across the road to try and twist us off our path.
We are headed to Tuba City. Mexican Hat had a rock formation that looked like a Mexican sitting with a hat on, so I look for a Tuba, but the land is flat – it looks like it was dug up, turned over, and then left in piles of uneven clods for the wind to turn into dust and blow away. It’s a drifty kind of country without form or function to nail it down.
We arrive at Tuba City and leave it as soon as possible. Our only stop is to urinate, which I do quickly and then wait by the car for Mary to finish. A smiling but drunken Indian walks up to me with his hand out – to shake or ask I can’t guess, but don’t care. I tell him I don’t want a friend as I look into his eyes – he jerks into an anger and curses me while sizing me up. I’m steady and big and he walks away while cursing me. I see Mary coming back and look around for the Indian to point him out to her – he’s gone, disappeared into the nothing – there is nothing around me to hide in – I’ve parked in a big plain of no thing, and he’s gone into it.
The only new things we have seen in Navaho Land are the government buildings and the schools. All along the way we have seen abandoned double wides with windows missing, as if plywood and nails to board them up we either unknown or the concept unheard of. I hope the brand new schools have teachers; it will take generations to fix what I see around me. The government buildings just seem a cruel joke for people who have lost everything they believe in.
From Tuba City, we dive to Flagstaff. After a few hours, we find we have ended up on Route 66 through osmosis or luck, and find a motel to stop for the night. We are exhausted, but head for dinner at the restaurant attached to the motel.