Riding the Tiger Home (1 of 4)

After visiting with my family in Scottsdale, and receiving (more or less graciously) my mother’s wishes for a safe journey, I set out to do the unthinkable – take double the “necessary” time to travel from their home to mine. This trip wouldn’t be about bombing straight up 17, across 40, and up 25. Nope. THIS time I’d perused google maps up close and personal-like, looking for the most twisted (paved) routes I could find. Because this trip is about enjoying the riding and the scenery and the surprises.

In all my 20+ years of traveling between Colorado and Scottsdale for visits, I’d not stopped to see Canyon de Chelly or gone through Payson, so those were first on the list.


The ride up to Payson was just beautiful. Pine trees and distant cliffs. I sank into the saddle and the wind, and just waited for the mind chatter to blow away.

Definitely some great riding up Hwy 188.

I stopped for lunch at a subway near Heber. It felt like any logging town in the west. A few small strips along the highway, a lot of pine trees, tall stakes to mark the edges of the road when there’s snow.

I crossed I-40 at Holbrook. I think this town never got off Route 66.

Once I got onto the Navajo lands, the surroundings were different. The pride of each town are the schools. Health centers may be in town, or may be out in the open where no nearby houses are apparent. Along the road, every mile or two, a dirt turn-off leads to a small homestead. None of them show a name or street number. Small ranch style houses are replacing the traditional circular or octagonal homes. Former dwellings and sheds cluster near the home, rusting cars and panting dogs in their shade.

Cattle, sheep, and horses roam freely around the roads. The roads are not labeled. I suppose that if someone wants you to visit their home, they come show you how to get there. Or perhaps local folks are far better than I am at counting driveways-on-the-left, and knowing which are in fact even driveways. My suppositions aren’t particularly relevant.

I do pass a paved road going east before I recall the unmarked nature of the territory. I go another 7 miles before finding a gas station where I feed my beast and ask for directions to Indian Road 15. Push on or turn back? The young woman learning how to use the cash register turns blankly to the woman guiding her. She doesn’t even know the road by number. The older woman asks if I want to go to Greasewood, or Gando? I vaguely recall some faded, hand painted signs on wooden stakes that had a “G” in the name. Frankly, I’d been looking at a flock of creamy sheep on the other side of the road and taken the signs for garage sale arrows. Yes, that must have been the turn back there. She says it’s about 5 miles back. I do remember that all time and distances here are estimates. Really, it’s about tuning in, listening, and knowing when.

I thank them, finish my water and chocolate bar, and head back. The guys leaning against the pickup outside wave me on my way. Returning to the intersection, there is no sign at all from this direction. The only clue is the existence of a left turn lane – must be something coming up. And I head east a couple miles before a small blue and white mile marker shows an arrowhead with “15” on it.

About 3:30 in the afternoon I passed through Chinle, noting a couple motels as I went through. I wanted to check the park hours at Canyon de Chelly National Monument before stopping. The visitor center would only be open until 5, but the overlooks are on regular roads – nothing “closes.” Awesome! I decided to go preview the south rim.

This canyon has been occupied for over 5000 years, from nomadic tribes who left only wall paintings, to the Anasazi (Ones Who Came Before) who built cliff dwellings as in the 3 arched caves in the center of this cliff, to the Dine’ (Navajo) who call this canyon the epicenter of their cultural connection with the land.

One of the ways the Dine’ share their culture at the monument.

Smell the pungent juniper.
Feel the gentle power of beauty.
Ancient Black Rock hunches on the distant horizon.
A dark cloud above means rain will soon be upon us.
The awesome monolith at your feet is Tse’ Na’ashje’e’ii – Spider Rock. Holy Spider Woman is an important deity in Navajo mythology. It was she who taught the people how to weave.
There is purity and strength here. And places sacred to the People.
Places strong in the oneness of earth and sky and of all things.”

Spider Woman makes her home at the top of Spider Rock, an 800’ spire centered in the canyon. The Navajo rugs so highly treasured today come from the wool of the sheep I’ve passed on the rangeland.

The walkways to each overlook were also beautiful. Hiking boots might have been more appropriate than motorcycle boots, though.  I chose not to take the 2.5 hour hike down to the floor of the canyon.

Look closely at the horizontal groove in the center of the cliff, far over to the left.

How would you like that commute each day?
Or this one? Look closely at the lower left corner, just above where the trees meet the cliff.

Here’s a picture of the back side from a later overlook:

As for me, I’m traveling by motorcycle! So the helmet goes back on and the Tiger purrs me to the next overlook, where I dismount and hike out to the edge again.
Far more resident four-leggeds than two-leggeds.

Someone thought to mark the trail, as though it weren’t perfectly clear where to head next.

Thank goodness this doesn’t say anything about women!

Some people get a little over-zealous in their participation.

Looking back over the horizon, the wind is stirring up dust in town. Time to head back for food and shelter.

I went to a local diner to eat. About 90% of the people there were natives. I guess that makes this a Dine’ Diner Dinner. I looked over the menu for something local and ordered lamb stew. When I took a picture of it, many heads popped up. The ancient man at the next table, whose braid was entirely gray, offered to take a picture of me with my meal. I offer that photo to you.

As the Dine’ family left, the grown son wished me a pleasant meal. The grandmother wished me safe travels. The grandfather crinkled his eyes and said, “You don’ do what I wooden be doin’.” I raised my eyebrows and smiled, saying, “Well I guess that doesn’t leave much out!” He cackled all the way to the swinging door.

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