Along the Navajo Trail...
Since shortly after leaving Flagstaff, I've been crossing the vast Navajo Nation. When driving through here in a car, it's easy to dismiss the reservation as boring and ugly with no place of interest to stop. But, something about bike travel, at 12 mph instead of 70 mph, brings out the beauty in even the most stark landscape.
Most people at least know about Monument Valley. Today I did my best John Wayne impersonation as I road my steel 'horse' through this classic Western landscape. But there are also surprising little gems like Tsegi Canyon west of Kayenta, multi-colored sandstone hills outside Tuba City, a mile-long coal conveyor that takes coal straight from a mine on one side of the highway to a giant coal 'silo' on the other side where trains can pull right through and load up, horses running through the fields, a Navajo family herding sheep along the roadside. And when you enter the trading posts, you find beautiful Navajo jewelry and rugs, some of which are true works of art.
There is no doubt that many of the people living here are poor. I was shocked to see some of the buildings on the outskirts of Tuba City that people are living in. One was a stone hut that was tumbling down and I thought it must have been long ago abandoned only to come around to the other side and see a satellite dish on the other end of the building and a car parked outside. But, the people have been very friendly to me. Countless people have waved as they pass me on the road. An old man wished me a safe trip outside the grocery store. I was let into a Navajo museum for free because they were 'closing in about an hour'.
An interesting find was the Explore Navajo museum in Tuba City. This exhibit was built for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and was moved here after the games. The exhibit tells the story of the Navajo people, their history, traditions, culture and problems, from the Navajo perspective rather than the European perspective. The whole structure is built in the shape of a Navajo hogan and inside is one big exhibition space. In the middle sits a real hogan with a video on Navajo art playing and examples along the walls. Around the outside of the central hogan are other displays. Next door in the trading post was a small display on the Navajo code talkers who were used to encrypt transmissions during WWII. Their code, based on the Navajo language, was never cracked by the Japanese and was credited with the success of several battles in the Pacific.
As for the bicycling, other than a rainy morning when I left Flagstaff, it has been great! Cool temps, sunny skies, tail winds, good roads. Just have to make sure I get to my destination before the afternoon thundershowers turn up. What more could I ask for?