Sunday, May 14th, 2006 – Distance Travelled 516 Miles
I woke up feeling quite refreshed and wandered the few yards back to the Hogan Family Restaurant for a hearty breakfast of bacon (which I always find very hard to resist), eggs “over easy” (which means fried hard) and hash browns. Even the coffee was good. I felt fortified and not too concerned about missing lunch if I found myself in the middle of nowhere again.
I set off along the Route 160 for sixty or so miles before making a turn north, at Kaventa onto Route 163 which promised to lead me to Monument Valley. Although I had topped up the tank in Tuba City, I refilled at a Chevron station before turning north because, like always, I had no real idea when I would next get the chance. I also bought a bottle of water, just in case.
The Monument Valley, with which we are all familiar from John Ford “Westerns” and in my case, also jig-saw puzzles, lays right on the border of Arizona and Utah, but is principally in the latter State. Again, it is difficult to describe without resorting to cheesy phraseology, but, in real-life, it is just as impressive and imposing as it appears on celluloid and jig-saw boxes. What you do get, though, when you actually stand there and take a long hard look at it is, besides mild sunburn, an appreciation of its sheer scale. It takes away your very breath.
Eventually, I could stand there no more, it was already scorchingly hot, so I remounted the Harley and continued along the Route 163 towards Mexican Hat. It was a journey of a little over twenty miles and, even just loping along to take in the surrounding grandeur, it took a little under twenty-five minutes to make the trip. The real life characters, emulated in a John Ford movie, would have been fortunate to make the same trip in a day.
I took a quick picture of the unusual rock formation that gives Mexican Hat its name and continued along the Route 163 through the spectacular, but wholly deserted, landscape. In places my forward visibility was at least ten miles but nothing was moving ahead, nor could I detect anything in my mirrors. It was a truly lonely place.
Eventually, I came to a junction with Route 191 and, being a little unsure, chose to head what I guessed was was more or less south as Albuquerque was on the sign. On that lonely, straight and well surfaced road, it would have been very easy to just open the throttle and go for it. I had, however, already seen the sneaky concealment tactics of the Nevada State Troopers so I was a little bit wary of any place that offered a possibility of being seen before I could see.
There were not any billboards, but in a few places I had seen small tracks leading to elevated places where a car could park and observe, so I took it steady. Maybe this caution was a result of some sixth sense, who could say, as I had not seen another vehicle for well over an hour when there was a glint from some reflective surface at least five miles ahead. It would appear that the old adage about it being a mirror, not salt tablets, that you need if you are lost in a desert might be true. I say this because it was, in fact, almost ten miles later that I passed a State Trooper, in his car which was perched high up on a bluff and who was studying the terrain with binoculars. Had it not been for that momentary glint of light, so long before, I can honestly say I would not have spotted his car. It was a dull green, dusty and blended in perfectly with the shadow of the surrounding rock. Get some non-reflective lenses, sucker !
I cruised in a leisurely fashion beneath his perch and continued on my merry way. Of course, two minutes later a dull green Dodge Charger appeared in my mirrors with its light bar flashing furiously. This perplexed me immensely as I was quite definitely not speeding. I pulled over and, not quite sure of what the “protocol” was, just sat on the Harley. The dialogue from a thousand cop movies flashed through my brain and I quite deliberately kept my hands where he could definitely see them.
In the mirror I saw him get out of the car. If you were making a movie and you went to “central casting” with a request for a “Utah State Trooper”, this was who they would send. I can never decide if a cliché is a distillation of reality, or whether it is vice-versa. However, if there is a State Trooper cliché, this guy was its living embodiment. He was lean, rangy and well over six feet tall, made even taller by a stetson hat. His uniform was neat and pressed and looked like he had ironed it before jumping into his car to pursue me. The leather of his Sam Browne and his holster was gleaming. His skin was as brown as a nut from the sun and his eyes were invisible behind mirror shades. I feel I need hardly mention that his polished cowboy boots ended in a sharp point. It was so totally surreal that I almost laughed.
I cannot help but think that preceding paragraph might well be the one I use to start my autobiography. But there was no drama. He did check my licence, but did not seem over interested by its origin – or by the fact that, with a helmet on, I did not really look like the picture. The reason that he had pulled me over was that one of the hooks on the bungee cord that was holding my luggage on the seat had become detached and was swinging beside the wheel. Potentially dangerous was how he saw it and I suppose he was probably right. I snapped it back over the rack, he checked it was secure, gave me a crisp salute and got back into the Charger. From the practiced way he swung smoothly around in a single movement to go back the way he had come, I supposed he had done it many times before. I expect he had been bored.
I trundled off again and, before long, crossed back into Arizona. When I came to the town of Mexican Water, I rejoined Route 160 heading east. Almost at once, I crossed an area called Red Mesa where the surrounding rocks and landscape were more than a little redolent of an imagined Mars. I came to a point where the road to Albuquerque became Route 64, but the 160 made a turn north and I saw a sign indicating the “Four Corners National Monument” (597 NM-597, Teec Nos Pos, AZ 86514 (now, there is an address !)), was only about six miles away up the 160. Why not ? I thought.
Thus it was that, a few minutes later, I was able to stand with my right foot in Utah AND Arizona and my left foot in Colorado AND New Mexico. My feet are big, but I never realised how big ! I The admission price was a little bit steep, those Navajos may leave your hair on these days, but they scalp you in other ways, but as an geographical experience, what could top it ?
Then, it was back on the Harley and, after a brief trip up the road to enter Colorado properly (my tenth State), I turned around and set off towards Albuquerque again.
I stayed on the Route 64 as far as Farmington where it continued east, so I took Route 550 south. It was lonely and desolate country indeed, I could not remember when, apart from a few tourists arriving at Four Corners, I had last passed a moving car. It was Navajo Reservation land and occasionally it was possible to spot what might have been Pueblos on distant ridges. No other sign of life was to be seen at all. When I did finally spot a few circling buzzards, far out over the mesa, I was actually glad not to be totally alone.
There were the occasional small towns, one called Cuba, in particular, made me chuckle but mainly it was just me and the road unwinding towards me.
Finally, Route 550 intersected with Interstate 25, the signs indicating Santa Fe to my north and Albuquerque to my right. I went right. The words of Humphrey Bogart came into my mind, slightly amended, “Of all the roads in all the world …”. I had come this exact same way, on my way down from Santa Fe, on my way west. It was only eight days previously, but it felt like eight years. I passed the rock the army biker had been sitting on and smiled. To complete the circle, I refilled the tank at the same pump of the same petrol station. Samsara, the wheel of life, clicked around another notch.
I also purchased a packet of Beef Jerky which I ate when I stopped on the outskirts of Albuquerque. If you knew me, or know enough about me from reading this blurb, you will understand why.
I picked up the I-40 again and set off east. Once again I was on previously visited territory and it had not changed in the week or so since I had last seen it. In truth, I doubt some of what I could see had changed in centuries. With no imperative to seek out old sections of Route 66, I made quite good time on the Interstate. As I approached the town of Moriarty, the odometer clicked over 500 miles and, as evening was fast approaching, I decided to call it a day. In the gathering dusk, the bright yellow sign for a Motel 8 appeared by the roadside and as I rolled off of the I-40, I could see the real thing just ahead. Job done. The Moriarty Motel Super 8 (1611 Old, U.S. Rte 66, Moriarty, NM 87035) was just like all of its namesakes, but I expect that is, essentially, the point.
There was a restaurant on the other side of the road, but I felt a need to stretch my legs and nothing gets you noticed as much, in an American town, than walking about. I ambled a few blocks east, along what was the original Route 66 and was attracted into Shorty’s Bar B-Q (1204 U.S. Rte 66 West, Moriarty, NM 87035), by the delicious scent of food. For a change, I ordered ribs, because I could see someone eating them and they looked delicious. I ordered and although four ribs was the stated amount, it must have been a very big cow ! It would have probably satisfied two people, but I ate it all because it was sublime. As I was not on reservation land, I treated myself to a couple of beers as well.
On the way back to the motel, I noticed it was also opposite a huge and I really do mean huge, fireworks store. Luckily, I could not see any people smoking.
Super 8 motels have pleasant rooms and big, comfortable, beds, enough said.