Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Bumpy Ride

All I could think of was Bette Davis' famous quote: "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride."* Little did we know just how bumpy.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The day began with a beautiful sunrise. It was a wonderful accompaniment to the chores as we prepared to leave Gallup and head to Chinle, AZ.

The nearly 90-mile trip took us north on highway 491 to highway 264 into Arizona and then north on highway 191.

There were few towns along the route and little traffic.

As we neared Chinle, the scenery changed from high desert to colorful rock formations.

We arrived in Chinle with time to spare. After a quick drive to the park’s information center to make sure that this was the place to meet our afternoon jeep tour, we headed back in town for a quick lunch. I had done some advance research and knew that our options were limited to national chains (Burger King, Pizza Hut, A & W, and Church’s Chicken) and a place adjacent to the Best Western Motel. We toyed with the idea of A & W but not wanting to eat in the car, headed off to the motel and the Junction Restaurant. (So named since it sits near the junction of 151 and Indian Route 7.)

Since we were going to be spending three hours bouncing around the canyon floor in a jeep, we wanted to keep lunch light. So the plan was to order something we could share along with a cup of Pork and Green Chile Stew for me. The stew was a very good and very substantial mix of tender pork chunks, potatoes, diced green chiles, and just a bit of chopped tomato for color.
And the chiles weren’t overpowering with just a mild burn. No need to call for a fire extinguisher.

Our shared item was the Double Navajo Burger served on fry bread with a side of crinkle (this means frozen) fries. The burger was quite good. And quite large. I would guess that, before folding, the bread was at least eight to ten inches in diameter and about a third of an inch thick. Fortunately, the bread was light and airy and not in the least heavy.

Nestled inside were two hamburger patties garnished with lettuce, tomato, and onion. The burger gave every indication of having been char grilled and had great flavor. But the burger also gave every indication of having come into the restaurant as a frozen patty. When the patty is perfectly round and uniform in thickness, you have to believe it was not hand formed in the kitchen.

The Junction Restaurant was pretty much what I had expected given the on-line reviews—good, but not spectacular, food at reasonable prices and friendly service from the young members of the Navajo Tribe who work as servers. All in all, a 3.0 Addie lunch.

We then made the three-mile trip to Canyon de Chelly (d'Shay), which is on Navajo tribal lands and currently managed by the National Park Service and the Navajo Nation.

To travel in the canyon, visitors must be accompanied by either a park ranger or a Navajo guide. We met Percy, who would be our guide for the three-hour tour.

The canyon floor was a combination of worn paths and loose soil and sand, and every driver of the various tour companies has his or her favorite route. This means that a route will involve crossing over the worn paths--actually bouncing over the worn path and "fishtailing" in the loose sand.

Timing the rate of the bounces with the camera's shutter was an interesting challenge.

But the day was perfect for photographing the red rocks against the deep blue sky with splashes of green scattered around the scenes.

"The labyrinth called Canyon de Chelly is really several canyons that include Canyon del Muerto," (and a good portion of the tour was in this latter canyon).

"At the Canyon's mouth..., the rock walls are only 30 feet high. Deeper in the canyons the walls rise dramatically until they stand over 1,000 feet above the floor.

"Canyon de Chelly National Monument was established in 1931 to preserve this record of human history and embraces nearly 84,000 acres within the Navajo Reservation" (Park Service brochure).

We were taken by the beauty of the canyons, and at each turn there was a scene that surpassed the previous one. The great majority of the photos were taken while stopped, but our collection also includes a number of blurred photos of tilted trees and angled rock formations framed by portions of the Jeep's windows.

We will take a closer look at the signs of the people who lived in the canyons centuries ago in the next entries.

* Actually the quote of Miss Davis from the 1950 movie All About Eve was: "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night," but I'll take the misquote.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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