Daily Archives: February 26, 2013

DAY 163 2/20/2013 A Navajo Welcome

Marfa the 4Runner had seemed to recover without event from the Transmission “Overheat” in Red Pass, Colorado.  We skied and travelled another hundred miles with no sign of that pesky red light.  Then, on a 45 degree day crossing level  desert West of 4 Corners, CO, without any big hills; there goes that light again!  Dang!  If its going “ON” now, we’ll never be able to travel in a “hot climate”.   Stop again.  Check fluid level again.  Bend the front license plate up to allow more air.  Let it cool and drive some more.


Automatic transmissions are NOT my favorite.  In fact, all of our family vehicles are “standard” 5 speeds.  One reason is that an automatic provides a black box of invisible problems that often can only be mysteriously and expensively solved.  As teens, my friends derisively called automatics, “slush boxes or washing machines”.  It is just this trait that causes problems.  By nature, there is slippage.  Slippage generates heat.  Clutches are a direct hookup.  Poor Marfa, she came off the assembly line with a 4 speed automatic and often can’t decide which gear to be in.

We drove about 30 careful miles to Kayenta, a small dot on the Arizona map deep within the huge Navajo Reservation.  She didn’t trip the light, but we just can’t be crossing hundreds of empty desert miles with our fingers crossed.  Again we saw signs for “just what we needed as we slowed into town”.  NAPA auto parts, gas stations and hotels greeted our tense bodies.

Jane and I have affinities toward the Native American cultures as well as deep concerns for their present state.  (I detest the word Reservation, and wonder what their overall feel for that is sometimes…) We posed with heads hung low for a picture back at The Museum of the Cherokee Indian in North Carolina.  (link) We beamed when we saw the message in that town: UNITY!  Yet with mild trepidation we parked and opened the darkly tinted and steel barred doors at the dusty NAPA in Kayenta.  A big friendly cat sat calmly on the counter.  Surely a good sign.

Another safe haven

Another safe haven

Sam, the manager and I discussed the possibility that the transmission filter may be clogged and leading to poor flow.  Marfa’s fluid has been changed twice.  Once at home and the other time errantly blasting everywhere in Alabama (link).  Then too we had car parts stores and safe level ground available for repairs; “where is my super-suit”?  By phone later, Lynn too, concurred that the filter needed to be checked and changed.

Agreeing that the simplest, cheapest solutions are worth a trial, I ordered a filter and pan gasket.  Unfortunately, it would be THURSDAY before they arrived.  As is often our path, Jane and I simultaneously came to the same decision and looked to getting a hotel for the night.  OUR FIRST NIGHT IN A HOTEL IN 162 days!

"I'll wait right here; and won't eat much"

“I’ll wait right here; and won’t eat much”

The Wetherill Inn had a very nice stray, greeter dog wandering its lot. Also a good sign for us.  He seemed to enjoy our carefully measured treats as we moved a few belongings in for a good night sleep in a King Sized bed.  Funny, who needs all that space?

I also decided that paying a shop to do the drain and change was better than spilling red transmission fluid anywhere out here.  Sam suggested seeing Edward up at the crossroads where we came in.  The shop is part of an Alon gas station and showed years of red-brown dirt from completed jobs all over the floor and shelves.  It may not seem culturally sensitive to mention that everyone we’ve been meeting has beautiful shiny black hair and the proud features of the Navajo.  They have also been universally friendly.

After making an service appointment we walked over to the Blue Coffee Pot.  Jane and I always look for small, local businesses so the “Cash Only” sign didn’t bother us a bit.  We sat, self-consciously at a table in the sun.  Smiles beget smiles.  We looked around, not wanting to betray our slight discomfort nor the love for the people around us.  A family waited patiently for their food beside us and gently asked if we were traveling and where to.  Husband, wife and son all asked about pieces of our trip.  Laughing about relatives who’ve travelled to some of our destinations.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADonald senior gave us his phone number and asked that we call if we needed ANYTHING.  “Its really rugged out here.”  As we explained our path, Donnie the son, smiled warmly saying “We all have to work together”.  (UNITY again…)

Note the preponderance of pickup trucks with feed

Note the preponderance of pickup trucks with feed

Later we went to Navajo National Monument, parked in a delightful free campground and hiked to view Betatakin, yet another Ancestral Puebloan ruin.  A great sunset accompanied our cold little cookout while we grilled elk burgers bought way back in Salida.  Another calm and cozy Tramper night while musing how great the privilege to sleep within the Navajo Reservation.   The Navajo rugs and silver in the gift shop beguiled us more.  We had NO Hesitation leaving the Tramper alone in the campground while we took Marfa to town for service.

That arch is 452 ft tall and deep within lies Betatakin Pueblo, residence of about 100-120 people

That arch is 452 ft tall and deep within lies Betatakin Pueblo, residence of about 100-120 people

As seen from above, across the canyon.  In Summer, you can tour with guides

As seen from above, across the canyon. In Summer, you can tour with guides

Again we feasted on delicious Navajo breads and tortillas for a lunch at the Blue Coffeepot.  Today’s social bridge was a 4 year-old angel named Summer.  She was pulling the hood from her “Peace sign print” winter coat playfully over her face.  Her grandparents too, couldn’t have been nicer or more full of smiling warmth.  Delores and John insisted we take their phone number in case we needed it.  Delores came over to the table and spelled the name of her town: Chilchinbito, about 30 miles away.  Suggesting we stop in if we need them for anything graced us once again.

Jane and I quietly glanced at each other, lumps in throats, squelching our tears of joy, knowing grace and thanks.  Seeing no evidence of malice in races that have known the history of the Trail of Tears and the worst of settlers and pioneer  treatment is the fulfillment of that Cherokee sentiment.  UNITY.  We could all learn from that one.  Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Cherokee, and Navajo, all peaceful responses.  Love!


DAY 162 – 02/19/2013 – Mesa Verde, CO

A long time ago, I was talking with a patient who was telling me about her extensive travels around the U.S. I asked “What was the most wonderful place you have visited?”. She said, without hesitation, “Mesa Verde!”. It was the most beautiful place she’d ever been.

So when our random travels took us near, we stopped to take a look.


We toured Spruce Tree House ruins. One of 4,000 sites of archaeological significance in the park.

And Mesa Verde is beautiful! I probably would not go so far as to say it’s the most beautiful place we’ve seen. But it’s certainly way up there!

It’s interesting that the very best thing about Mesa Verde was – our Park Ranger guide! Ranger Sean Duffy of Rochester, NY was not only chock full of deep knowledge about the park, he gave us a really great performance of his informative tour. It’s as if he’d trained as an actor. He really animated what might have been a dry (no pun intended, it’s very dry out West!) talk. It was fun and funny and by the end, we wanted more!


Sean Duffy gives us some background and insight.

Here’s something that Sean taught us, in his own inimitable way: Do you remember hearing about the mysterious Anasazi people? The ones who inhabited the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde and then disappeared forever into history? There was much speculation about who they were and where they went. Was it climate change? Disease? They vacated these beautiful villages long before Europeans arrived with their guns and germs and Manifest Destiny.


Spruce Tree House ruins are in the bottom of this canyon. At the top is the ranger station where our tour began.

Now, however, anthropologists believe that, for whatever reason, they just moved elsewhere. That the Anasazi, now called Ancestral Puebloan, are the distant relatives of the Ute, Hopi, Acoma and Navajo people. Now these tribes live in the surrounding area; in Arizona, Utah and other Western states.


Sean expounds at the ruins. Behind him you can see the remnants of yellow and red paint on the dwelling walls.

Sean was able to answer questions on any subject. Park history, natural history, geologic formations, botanical questions about trees and plants. He was quite the font of knowledge.

Mesa Verde National Park included lots of landscape around the ruins. This beautiful mesa is sacred to the native people of the Southwest.


The beautiful Visitor Center, with the sacred Mesa Verde in view.

The gorgeous, brand new (it opened 7 weeks before we visited) Visitor Center was built to be as environmentally friendly as possible and highly respectful of the places Native Americans hold as precious.


We climbed down into a kiva, a room with a fire hole and a sipapu, a portal where spirits rise from one world to the next.

Mesa Verde manifests, for the visiting Easterner, compelling echoes of the past while presenting the spirituality of one of the most gorgeous places in the American West. Does that sound a little like a National Parks brochure? Maybe, but it’s all vividly true!


A modern metal sculpture in the desert near Mesa Verde.

– Jane