Friday, August 28, 2015

Traveling Through Red Rock Country

Full moon rises over red rocks, southwest Colorado

August 28, 2015

Today was a day with a little of this and a little of that. But first, I want to catch up with something I forgot yesterday! When we were in the Painted Desert, we stopped at an overlook to see Newspaper Rock, a large rock face which is covered with pictographs. They date back centuries. There was a scope to view the details of the pictographs, but my camera has an awesome zoom lens, and I captured photos which I think are as good as the ones in the park brochures! Here are a couple. I can’t believe I left them out of yesterday’s blog, so here they are.
Newspaper Rock
OK, so today…. We woke up pretty early this morning. I could have used more sleep—I was up until midnight last night catching up with the blog! But anyway we did wake up, so we had some breakfast, showered, and went back into “downtown” Holbrook to deal with the leaky tire. It took a little while just to get the tire off the RV, but once we did, the mechanic determined that the problem was not the tire at all, but the tire tube extender used to fill the tire with air. For only about $42, we not only got a new part, but Joe picked up a new tire pressure gauge, which was also something he had wanted to pick up at some point.

So it was only just past 10:00 Arizona time (which is 11:00 Mountain Daylight Time) when we left Holbrook. I had spent some time with the maps while the tire was being dealt with, and had decided to take a route through northeastern Arizona to the Four Corners Monument, even though it would be longer than going via I-40 back to Gallup, NM, and heading due north from there. My rationale was 1) we could stop at the Hubbell Trading Post, 2) some of the route was dotted (meaning it was a scenic route), and 3) we’d much prefer to avoid the interstate if possible. As it turned out, we were pretty much ooohing and aaaaahing over scenery all day.
Roadside scenery
Our route (US 191) took us through Indian territory—I think mostly Navajo (it is hard to tell from the maps.) It took a little over an hour, driving on a pretty road with some great scenery—more “painted desert” landscapes—but  almost no other traffic and no intersecting roads, to get to the Hubbell Trading Post Historic Site. We drove over a one-lane bridge and noticed a small mud-brick visitors center to our right and a long building ahead of us, with a parking area in front of it. We parked at the far end, near a stable (two horses) and corral. We walked to the other end—there seemed to be only the one door facing the parking lot, so that’s where we walked in.  The floor was creaky and not quite level, and as our eyes got used to the darkness inside, we realized we’d walked into a “store”, at least that’s what it seemed to be. What it actually was was the original Hubbell Trading Post, which still operates the way it always has—it is the oldest continuously operating trading post in the Navajo territory.

Original Hubbell Trading Post
What this means, we found out, is that this “store” is actually a source of supplies for the people who live in the surrounding area, and many of them continue to trade their goods for store credit. Besides grocery staples of all kinds, there were two more rooms, which contained jewelry, rugs, and handmade items of various types (musical instruments, children’s toys, etc.) These goods are traded for store credit, and then the Hubbell Trading Post sells them to tourists. Although we looked at all the items, many of them are quite expensive and we weren’t actually planning on shopping. We did, however, pick up several kinds of food items, including a box of traditional Navajo tea made from a shrub called greenthread (I will be tasting it while I type this) and a few other things that looked yummy.

Turned out, we were hungry! No wonder everything looked so yummy. So we went back to the Samantha (the RV) and had some lunch before going to the visitors center, where we probably should have started. It was only after reading the history of the site and learning how it functioned that we truly appreciated the store we had just been in. We read about the family of J.L. Hubbell, who ran the Trading Post for three generations before selling it to the government in 1965, with the stipulation that it continue to be run in the traditional way.  Members of several tribes, including Hopi, Navajo, and Pueblo, operate the Trading Post now. Most (if not all) other Trading Posts have become convenience stores.

Joe checks out the bread oven
Also on the property was the original home of the Hubbell family (but it was closed—they give tours but we weren’t there at the right time), a “guest Hogan” which is currently occupied, most likely by a park ranger, a vine-covered pagoda, an old brick bread oven, and a chicken coop. There is also a large corral with a small herd of churro sheep. One of the mainstays of the Navajo economy is weaving, and the sheep are integral to that occupation. There is a weaving room in the visitors center, and we saw looms and read about the sheep, how the yarn is woven, and the background of the colors traditionally used (it turns out, the deep Navajo red color was a specific preference of Hubbell, and his customers purposely used it in order to make their goods more attractive to him.) We strolled around for a little bit, looking at the buildings and animals (besides the two horses we’d seen earlier, the chickens, a turkey which kept gobbling at us, and the sheep, there was a llama in with the sheep). 

We left the Trading Post and continued on Route 191 to the town of Chinle. This is the location of Canyon de Chelly National Monument. I have heard that it is extremely beautiful—but we arrived at 4pm, and my guidebooks all said that each of the rim drives took about 2 hours. Joe and I went into the Visitor Center and talked to the ranger there, but after thinking about it, we decided we would have to skip seeing the canyon on this trip—we wanted to continue to Colorado. However, we did need some groceries, and Chinle is the largest town in the area. Sure enough, there was a supermarket as we headed out of town, so we stopped there to pick up a few things.

It seemed that everyone in the entire area had the same idea—the parking lot was hopping and the store was very busy. There was a line of folks waiting outside a check-cashing window, and we decided that everyone got paid today (Friday) and that accounting for the bustle both inside and out. 

Navajo Supermarket in Chinle
We always like to go into grocery stores in different parts of the country and see what they have that we might not see at home. Sure enough, the first thing we encountered were HUGE bags of flour. Then I noticed bags of corn husks—Joe says they are used to wrap lots of foods with. He had purchased a cookbook of Native American recipes while we were in the Canyon de Chelly Visitor Center, and the subject of lamb jumped out at him. We both went “Mmmmm”, so when we saw a butcher counter with lamb, he bought some (it was sold by the pound, not pre-packaged, so they cut it into chops for him while we waited.) The thing that tickled me the most was the fact that all the departments had the names not only in English, but in Navajo! I surreptitiously took a few photos while we were in the store.

By that time, it was almost 5pm, and we hit the road in earnest. It didn’t take long to remember reason number 2 for taking this road—suddenly we started seeing fabulous formations of red rocks, and we entered a magical land of eroded sandstone castles. They were some of the reddest rocks I have ever seen anywhere, and they were magnificent. We oohed and aaahed for the next two hours, even as the landscape changed a bit and became greener as we approached Four Corners Monument.

It was getting late and the Monument was closed when we got there, so we didn’t get the opportunity to spend $5 to stand in four states—Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico—simultaneously. Not long after, however, we DID have to stop. Once again, we encountered red rocks in the distance, but this time the full moon was rising over them, and it was the most exquisite thing we’d ever seen! I was taking pictures like a crazed person, and when a pull-out appeared, I made Joey stop the RV. We stood there for about 15 minutes, watching the shadows move over the rocks as the sun went down, and the moon grew brighter. Even after we finally continued on our way, I was taking more photos—the moon was amazing! The rocks were gorgeous! Definitely what we came out west to see, but the moon was just an added bonus.

By this time it was 8pm, and we really needed to stop for the night. I’d been kind of hoping we might get to Mesa Verde National Park earlier, so we could camp there. But by this time it was truly dark, and I remembered from our trip in 2007 that the park would be a little way past Cortez (our goal for tonight) and then going in and finding a site would not be easy, despite the light of the full moon. So I found an RV park in downtown Cortez—it is not beautiful but it was certainly convenient, being right on the main street in town. We pulled in at about 8:10, and that is where we are now. The town’s visitor center is right across the street, and tomorrow morning we will go over there and see what we want to do next.
PS: Note on the taste of the greenthread tea: It is a pleasant, grassy taste.

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