Posted by: Bob McMichael | February 21, 2010

Southwest Road Trip

Leslie at Taos Pueblo

Leslie at Taos Pueblo

Just got home from a 3,033 mile road trip. Nine days. Boise to Roswell, New Mexico to Santa Fe to Taos to Navajo and Hopi country and the Grand Canyon. Lotsa driving, lotsa adventure. Mostly perfect weather. Rather than boring myself (and you) with a chronarrative of the trip, here are some notes, more or less in order of occurrence:

  • Middle of Somewhere

    The Middle of Somewhere

    On our first night we found ourselves camped down a muddy/snowy road near Canyonlands National Park. After discovering our camper’s coach battery – which runs the heater – had boiled over and croaked, I couldn’t get the van started. We awoke to a layer of frost on the inside of the windows, and imagined schlepping our road bikes up the muddy track to the pavement in the frigid morning and riding out to the “main” road to seek help. In looking through the owner’s manual I learned that the van would not start if the passenger seat was facing backwards (which it was). In a flash I had the machine running with heat not long behind. Soon after that we saw that we were surrounded by mule deer more numerous than I have ever seen. We joked about the two Boiseans who starved to death in the southeastern Utah high desert surrounded by hundreds of mule deer.

  • Idiot wiring battery backwards

    Idiot wiring battery backwards

    Make sure you know the difference between the positive and negative terminals of a battery. I wired up our replacement coach battery backwards, and wasted hours of my time and the time of many generous people as a result.

  • Aliens in Roswell

    Roswell's major export

    Roswell, New Mexico is – as we were warned – obsessed with the notion that people, especially tourists, are really interested in aliens. Wal-Mart has a huge painting of a UFO on its facade. Spending a couple days there didn’t convince me that it’s paying off.

  • Céilidh

    Céilidh in Roswell

    Friends and family – a cliche nowadays, thanks to the destroyers of civilization as we know it (cell phone companies) – are precious. We hadn’t seen Peter in years since he’d relocated to Roswell, and visits with my dad and Susan are rare. Although too short, we all made the most of our time together, some of which we spent talking on how we might increase the frequency of visits… Stay tuned.

  • Leslie and I did an out-and-back road bike ride on a straight, flat highway heading west out of Roswell. We both found it remarkable how polite the motorists there were. Despite having the “safety” of a rumble strip between us and traffic on the two-lane highway, even the huge eighteen-wheelers gave us extra room, often changing lanes. In 25 miles I counted only one vehicle that didn’t go wide for us. Conclusion: road bikers are their own worst enemies; where they are plentiful, as in Boise, there are enough of them doing stupid shit to annoy motorists (like riding two abreast in traffic, needlessly slowing down vehicles) that motorists have become un-conscientious toward cyclists. In Roswell, where cyclists seem to be a curiosity, vehicles seemed to respond accordingly to the massive difference in speed and mass between themselves and cyclists and went out of their way to avoid any possibility of an incident. It was refreshing.
  • Sam's Club Camping

    Serenity in the Sam's Club parking lot

  • “…motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for American Indians aged 5 to 44” (Indian Reservation Roads guide, part of the Federal Lands Highway program of the USDOT). Luckily we did not see any crashes. But the roads on the Navajo reservation, which comprises over 12 million acres in Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, are treacherous and in very bad repair. US Highway 491 between Ya-Ta-Hay and Gallup, New Mexico, for example, featured frequent potholes a foot deep, foot wide, and eight feet long. Hurtling down this road at night in dense traffic made me imagine I was doing the Super G with life or death consequences. Road maintenance on Indian reservations is apparently a joint effort between the US Department of Transportation and the individual governing bodies on each reservation, but we saw little or no evidence of repairs anywhere. And every road we took, without exception, struck me as very Third World.
  • Road to Second Mesa, Hopi
    Road leading to Second Mesa, where we learned you’re not supposed to photograph mesa dwellings

    Speaking of worlds, we visited Old Oraibi (pronounced oh-RAH-ee-bee), at Third Mesa on the Hopi reservation, whose 1.5 million acres sit like an island in the middle of the Navajo reservation. My mom had taken me and my brother here in 1970 when she wanted to find particular Hopi pottery makers whose work she was studying. It looked exactly the same. Old Oraibi is the oldest continuously inhabited village in the United States, dating back at least to 1150 A.D.

  • Somewhere near the spectacular Vermillion Cliffs I turned on the radio and found only one station, a public radio station broadcasting from somewhere on the Navajo reservation. We learned in Tuba City, which was named by a Mormon missionary to the area long ago, that Navajo is the white man’s name for these people, who call themselves Diné (pronounced dih-NEH), which means “the people.” We had stopped at a roadside piñon vendor, a nice woman with whom we chatted for quite a while. She said “Navajo” and I asked if it was pronounced with a long or short “a”, and she said, “We say “Diné,” with no bitterness. Listening to the radio, the live commentary was in the Diné language, and it struck me as amazing that in the middle of the largest Indian reservation in the U.S. I was hearing a language older than English, which is the most universal language in the world. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
  • Grand Canyon

    Humans in the presence of true grandness

    South Rim Sunset

    Sunset at the South Rim

    It’s hard to say anything about the Grand Canyon. First, it’s not a canyon. It’s a bunch of canyons each of which was the head of its class, the Summa Cum Laude of canyons. We hit the South Rim viewpoints in the afternoon under spectacular light conditions, and the effect was so awesome that I could hardly take it seriously. I began thinking of writing a press release from the National Park Headquarters informing the world that in an effort to generate more revenue for maintenance of our national parks the NPS had decided to offer sponsorship opportunities. Thanks to generous donations by sponsoring corporations, The Grand Canyon would now be called “The iPad Grand Canyons by Apple.” Yellowstone National Park would now be called “Starbuck’s Yellowstone Machiato Park,” and Arches National Park would be “McDonald’s Golden Arches National Bigmac Park.” Branding would be handled exclusively by the William Morris Agency, with oversight by Designer Emeritus Calvin Klein.

  • Angus & Leslie

    Angus & Leslie

    It’s good to be home. We missed our dogs, and – we like to think – they us.



  1. […] took a late winter road trip down to the southwest desert through the Navajo Reservation and then went smack into the heart of the Hopi Indian […]

  2. Hey Bob,

    i know it’s been a while but I was curious about the Allen bike rack you used to have on the camper you sold. Was it the 4 bike version and with 4 bikes could you still fold it down and open the rear gate? I can find the rack for sales but can’t find the actual part number you list so thougt I’d ask.

    Apprciate it!

    2002 MV weekender

    • Hey Nick, don’t know the part number (I think the link I had in my blog is dead) but we still have it. Yes, it’s the 4-bike rack that folds down, and it gets outta the way of the rear gate of the van. Good luck finding it; I know they still make it but am not sure who carries it…

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