I had never even heard of the existence of this Canyon till a few days ago thinking about where to go, knowing it would be a Holiday Weekend and most likely packed destinations. Can’t even remember who told me about it at the local gas station, slash store, here in Bluff. The photos on the Internet looked good… for a change I took a decision. At the same time, a reader and rider from New York, Art, has been meaning to meet me, he was to arrive on Friday but the snow a bit north of us in Monticello kept him locked up in a Motel room! So, no offense to anyone, but, I have learned the hard way that it is really difficult and almost impossible for travelers to meet… It just does not happen! or it has to happen without planning. Art and I had a chance to talk on the phone Friday night and his plan was to be here Saturday morning, if nothing else to say "Hello"….
I was actually at the gas station when he pulled in… and now, a couple days later, there is much to say about the time we have spent together! His first motorcycle Journey… 22 years old, from New York City… New York! Packed lightly, he has been on the road for 11 days and it took me back a bit to already see him in Utah considering throughout our chatting finding out about the places he has been, some being in my old backyard in the Georgia Mountains, North and South Carolina and he still has a month and a half ahead of him! I had learned my lesson about company, again not too long ago when doing La Sal loop near Moab… I will stop as often as I see a photo opportunity! That really "bugs" people! I spoke my Peace… and come to find out that Art is also a photography passionate rider, as he proved himself filled with an incredible knowledge of cameras and lenses. "So you want to tag along" I said… as he replied "I now have all the time in the world". Come to find out later in our many conversations we had, even though he had met other riders on the road before me, within a few seconds he realized that he was still on New York time and I was on… my own "now time"! I read this the other day… "If you were Homeless you would be Home by now". I am "home" wherever Spirit and I stop. A very intelligent and sensitive young man, he realized "that" right away and set his pace to mine! Not that he "had" to as we spoke about it, he wanted to, a bit curious about our Lifestyle through the Blog.
A nice ride to Arizona, to the town of Chinle, all through Navajo Reservation Land with some beautiful sights on the way, an area we will definitely go back again to explore beyond the Canyon de Chelly (pronounced "Shae"), 100 miles from here, a new path of our Journey and a welcome Sunset our first evening there that was just breathtaking. It was a "social outing" as I call it now! Besides Art’s company, the overlooks were fairly busy, but not overcrowded, with tourists, many speaking French and all joining the Circus… our Circus… with its main attraction: Mr Spirit! There are at least one hundred more photos of him by tonight floating around… Somehow however these past couple days were different. Night and day if compared to the days we spend in "The Valley of the Gods"… I truly enjoyed the many people we met, strangers which I am sure will write to us some time soon, including many, I would say pro-photographers… with so much information that I have to "not" think about it… clinical psychologist from Chinle with some very interesting conversations, a couple from Switzerland and a family of parents and one daughter, each riding their own motorcycle.
Right pass the town of Chinle is the Cottonwood Campground, free, and it was just a place to stay. Nothing to write home about, but it was our only choice, no complains. We set up pretty quickly, again Spirit refusing to help… and we decided to get on with the South Rim right away before we lost the sun totally, just a couple overlooks. I had read that "this little Canyon was not as spectacular as others in Utah and Arizona". I disagree as I did find it spectacular and actually quite different, specially seeing the farming fields where the Navajo who own the land, the Park being managed by the National Parks, still live in the Valley and on the Mesa above.
Just east of the town, the muddy, seasonal Chinle Wash enters the beginning of the canyon, where the walls are only a few meters high, but they rise sharply after a short distance so that there is only one possible entrance for vehicles, next to the river. A sandy track leads alongside the wash to the scattered settlements and ancient ruins, but all visiting vehicles must be accompanied by a guide, expensive for us, three hour tour for $50 or a private tour with your own vehicle for $150, only half way through the Canyon and… dogs not allowed. What is wrong with this World! The Canyon floor remains green and fertile all year round; this, together with the protection offered by the rocky walls and the beauty of the landscape explain why the valley has been inhabited for so long – from primitive peoples 2000 years ago, through the Anasazi civilisation of the twelfth century which occupied a large area of the Southwest before suddenly disappearing, to the Navajo who have lived here for the last 300 years. They still rear sheep and goats in the canyon, and plant crops.
I would have loved going "down there", this is my compromise in our Journey, I am sure if they knew Spirit as well as I do, maybe as well as you do, they would make an exception… maybe? it was not the case this time. Hunger set in… and I understood quickly, with a big smile, why Art was packed so lightly. He does not cook… even his coffee is "instant" and his grocery stores are the gas stations. I always said there are many ways to travel and his is one of them… The teasing of course as I went on to prepare dinner never stopped!!!… Not only because of his lack of cooking but taste in food! Remember New York. I received my own education about the NY diet… Chinese food, Pizza, Hot Dogs and bagels… bagels everything he said. Tell you the truth, I would have devoured by that time any of those items! I have been to New York… and I did the same thing!
So I made him boil some water on is own little stove, remember "instant coffee" needs boiling water, it was not an easy task but helping with the stirring he did pass the test with flying colors! I know you are reading this Art… smile! I did give him a hard time… but what a sport as when we parted this morning he was ready to tag along for another week! Fortunately he did not… for him… he might have never gone back to NY! This was the clincher however as he had e mailed me asking if I needed anything from a town that had a decent grocery store. Well, I have been dreaming of lamb chops for a while… so I put my request in, lamb chops, fresh mint leaves, garlic, mint Jelly… I had some balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard. Great sauce for lamb… sauté the garlic a bit, add the mustard, mint jelly which will caramelize a bit, the vinegar and finally some coarsely chopped fresh mint… grill the chops, all together since we are into this Micro one pan cooking… et voila! A reply e mail came… Lamp Chops are safe in his little cooler… NOW… do those look like Lamb chops??? How do you spell "aie"? Because this is when I said with a crooked look… "aie… aie… aie"… So now, I was on the path as it is, pork chops instead it was… First the word "different" came up… I could not taste Lamb even with my eyes closed… as time when one with a little bit of that sauce on the pasta… well, we thought it was delicious. We might have just come out with a new recipe… "Chops of Art"! The next night?… chop more pork with a can of seasoned diced tomatoes and it was burritos this time… I don’t know if he likes this, but, I did tell him often… "you are a good kid"!
The next morning it was first a stop at the Visitor Center to get a map. Breakfast were roll ups with Lavash bread I had saved from Salt Lake City, with cream cheese and jam, some good coffee of course as I had brought my french press this time… most likely to aggravate me Art compared it to… Starbuck! Youth… so much yet to experience as we are in a computer, fast food and Starbuck society it seems like, and yes, he did have his laptop with an external very powerful WI FI antenna picking up the Internet from a Lodge a quarter miles away!!!
Spyder Rocks was the first overlook we arrived at. It is the furthest one on the South Rim and… breathtaking. The Tours do not go as far… I would have loved being turned loose just for a day with the rig, Spirit and the camera. I know I will find a way somehow, I hope so. This is where we met a couple photographers. Nice guys, funny guys. Spending hours for the sun to slowly move to get that one just right picture. And I know that is the right way to do it… at sunrise and sunset, an hour maybe passed it, which means only two photos per day for that right correct moment as If then one moved to another spot that moment will be passed. Maybe some day I can get into it… not today… This is the Spyder rocks as I saw them, twin 800 foot towers of rocks isolated from the canyon walls and a site of special significance for the Navajo – according to legend, the Spider Woman lives on top and keeps the bones of her victims there. Beyond, the main canyon continues unseen for many miles.
We had a bit of confusion as to where to be for sunset and sunrise. The North Rim is good for sunrises and the South Rim for sunsets. But one waits too long and the cliffs will be in shadows much earlier than thought! I like to keep it a bit more simple truly.. witnessing other photographers with literally thousands of dollars of equipment, well, this is all good for now, it also gets real complicated.
Much chatting, meeting up with a giant tour bus with a light show of flashes directed toward Spirit was when we turned around of course again, funny… and who knows, thinking about it today… if things got worse maybe we "could" join a Circus! Spirit learns fast… a few treats and I think we might end up with a real show.
We are tired tonight, some chores are coming up as in changing brake pads on "Old Faithful", which the way again today did real well against prevailing winds which we are finally getting used to, and a few other things… you now! You have yours, I have mine. More Canyon, really old great ruins, more about Art… Spirit the Master and guard of the campground we were… all next time. One more Sunset from the next evening… I can’t help it!
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You be well… Ara & Spirit