Friday 4/8: We flew 2.5 hours from Seattle WA to Albuquerque NM, losing an hour, and exchanging a warm sunny day in Seattle for cold and rain in the southwest desert. Our first stop was the local Costco; we were looking for a compact camera for Pat. We settled on a Panasonic Lumix with the encouragement of a passerby who had owned two of them.
Next, dinner. I noticed the Artichoke Cafe in the AAA guidebook; Pat loves artichokes, so we had to check it out. It turned out to be a small gourmet place owned by its chef. The host didn’t think he could seat us. While we sat in the anteroom, people with reservations arrived in droves. We gave up after a while and left to find a more ordinary, less popular place. While we were waiting on the corner for the light to change, the host hurried outside to tell us he had a table for us after all. Pat gave the artichoke appetizer a good report. We both had excellent grilled halibut.
Now we had to drive two hours west on Interstate 40 to Gallup NM. This gave us some time to learn about our rented 2015 Chevrolet Trax, a small SUV. I’d hoped it would embolden us to tackle the dirt roads some trailheads have. We found that it was a comfortable road trip car; but due to its designy windows it had large blind-spots, and the roll-over warning label on the back of the sun visor was disturbing. Other than occasional town lights, the night was inky-dark. We could see lightning flashes ahead, and soon a deluge hit us–like driving thru a car-wash. The rain stopped, and we paused at a truck stop outside of Gallup. When we came outside we had to run, because it had started again–big cold drops, and lots of them.
Saturday 4/9: A cool, sunny day. We drove north and west thru the large Navajo Reservation, passing a crowded fair and scattered prefab houses. In Chinley we stopped for lunch at a Denny’s. From our table we saw a large white dog in the parking lot; his fur was matted, his ribs showed, and one eye was red. A young couple with children went to their car. He gazed longingly after them, glanced at the restaurant and trudged away.
Canyon de Chelly
Canyon de Chelly (shay) National Monument is a cooperative effort of the Navajo Nation, which owns the land, and the national park system. It encompasses the same-named canyon and Canyon de Muerte. The two canyons merge in the west to form a wide, V-shaped valley, the heartland of the Navajo Nation.
We drove up the south rim of Canyon de Chelly, a steep-sided flat-bottomed oasis that meanders across the desert. Indians live and farm in the canyon; we read that they are not to be disturbed, and that an Indian guide is required for most off-road travel. We saw two trucks driving down the shallow stream that in places serves as a road. “No vending” signs warn peddlers away from parking lots and the rare public trails. However, Pat talked to a woman in one lot who was selling turquoise jewelry out of her car. We also met a travel nurse. Travel nurses accompany disabled people who need or want to travel. She told us that her agency had contracted her to a clinic in Gallup, from which she’d driven up to Canyon de Chelly for the day.
We hiked a public trail 600 feet down into the canyon to see the White House, a ruined Pueblo cliff dwelling. Crumbling adobe and stone buildings stood within a natural amphitheater in a south-facing cliff; more buildings, probably kivas or granaries, were on the ground below. Such ruins are not Navajo; they were built about 11 centuries ago by the ancestors of today’s Pueblo and Hopi tribes. Trees with lush green leaves grew along the placid stream, contrasting with the pink cliffs and vivid blue sky.