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WORDS FROM FRIENDS

RIDING THE BACKROADS

Shiprock from Beclabito, NM–an iconic image from childhood

Whenever I can, which means when time is not of the essence, and it rarely is anymore, I drive the back roads. I especially detest driving on I-40, which is the most direct route to many places for me; it is croweded with 18-wheelers serving the country from East to West and back again. As I take up my nomadic life, I've become even more committed to not using the Interstates. I used to take I-40 to the Mesita exit, 40 miles west of Albuquerque, pick up Historic 66 and drive it to Continental Divide (the actual name of a place) where 66 ended, then pick it up again at Iyanibito when driving to Gallup. Now I go through my old stomping grounds of Cuba, NM, then Crownpoint, Mariano Lake, Pinedale, and Churchrock–an extra 71 miles and so worth it. The drive is relaxed, never once touching an Interstate and offering vistas of great beauty.

 

Sunday I left Albuquerque for Flagstaff, Arizona and took a most satisfying, round-about route, first to camp at Quaking Aspen in the Zuni Mountains for one night. I got in a couple of short hikes before a welcome visit from my brother Rick. We chatted at my campfire while he fixed his supper (I'd already eaten), and before he left, he played me a three-number concert on his mouth harp--a Celtic piece, an Inuit number that was hauntingly gorgeous, and "Amazing Grace" by request. I delighted in the stars above the pines and had another walk in the morning.

 

I had some errands to do in Gallup before taking off for the home of my friend who lives in Tse Daa K'aan, just east of Shiprock. From Gallup there's no Interstate, so I took the most direct route–NM Highway 491, previously named 666. I love this highway, as the entire road represents memories, among them: Tohlakai, where my father was missionary for six years; Sheep Springs where we turned off every summer to go to Cottonwood Pass Campmeetings; Toadlena, which is the address that appears on all of my University of New Mexico transcripts because my parents lived there after I left home; Table Mesa with its redundant name where we had a picnic on my 4th birthday. Gloria and I talked shop (writing) and many other things, including shared memories. We ate dinner at Mikasa Japanese restaurant in Farmington and afterwards walked Main Street downtown.

 

Yesterday I headed for Flagstaff, traversing the Navajo Nation through Beclabito, where I played in the red canyon with my friend Marlene and ate her mother's fry bread; Teec Nos Pos, which I think of as "home-not-home;" on through spectacular country like Antelope Canyon, which I'd driven through before but didn't remember and was blown away all over again.

 

Due to an unusually wet winter in the Southwest, the roadsides were lush with rabbit brush, saltbush, yellow daisies, sunflowers. There were fields and fields filled with young rabbit brush (also known as chamisa) where there had been none before. As always, when driving through places I know well, I saw things I'd never noticed before. One of the oddest was a pair of stairs going up a rock outcrop somewhere past Tohatchi. It made me wonder what was so important about getting to the top of that outcrop, and who needed the stairs. A story there. The Nation is also peppered with what missionaries have left behind--roads and buildings ending in "ministry," "revival," "campmeeting," "mission." Creative names like "Glory Road," "Heaven's Door," "Prosperity Gospel Chapel." Yet another story.

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