Thursday, January 5, 2017

~ Hágoónee’ ~

"I have been to the end of the earth, I have been to the end of the waters, I have been to the end of the mountains, I have found none that are not my friends"  Navajo Proverb

"Before my eyes, a sacred land, Monument Valley" ~ Robert Griego
Gilbert and I agree, Monument Valley would be a great ride and without much discussion, we decide to do this trip.  It is hot and that will be a factor in our ride but ride we do, never-the-less.  He has been to Monument Valley before but I have not.  That will soon change.  We decide to meet in Barstow and have lunch at Plata's Mexican Restaurant with our brother Leo.  He joins us and we tell him about our plans.  I see that Leo would love to join us and maybe he will someday.  He use to ride a Triumph 650cc in his younger days and has rode my bike a few times in La Joya.

Day 1, Upper Satellite Camp (near Ash Fork, AZ).  I won't lie, but 540 miles across the desert on a bike will drain you, especially when the thermometer across the desert reads 110 degrees.  We drink what seems like gallons of water along the Interstate 40 rest stops.  The sun and wind quickly take back most of the moister but we feel refreshed.  We press on hoping to arrive at our first camp before dark.  It is very hard starting a fire when the wood is hidden in the darkness, so it is very important to arrive before dark.  This is always our first priority.  We arrive an hour before sunset.  Gilbert spots a dead tree and ten minutes later we are cooking our gourmet dinner over an open campfire:  hot dogs, green chile, tortillas, downed with ice cold beers, American and a few Fosters.

Gooseneck State Park ~ aka Sky Rim Camp
Day 2, Goosenecks State Park (aka Sky Rim Camp).  This primitive camp is high on a Mesa, looking down on the San Juan River.  Bluff, Utah is about twenty miles away.  The stars are so bright our fingers almost touch them.  I stretch my fingers upward that just fall short of those bright stars.  We have a small fire and we thank God for such a beautiful spot.  We collect hundreds of small pieces of wood for our fire to heat our cans of stew and tortillas.  We go through our ritual of finding the Big Dipper, the North Star, and what we fondly call the Circle of Eight.  The smoke from our small fire seems to sense that we are here.  Goosenecks Camp just doesn't sound fitting for this beautiful spot.  We ask the Sky and Earth that we be able to rename this spot to a more fitting name.  Gilbert focuses on the Sky and I the Rim. 

Together, with the smoke from our campfire , we respectfully ask that we be able to name this spot Sky Rim Camp.  The puffs of smoke agree.

A ride back in time ~ sacred Monument Valley
The ride into Monument Valley was awesome.  We barely drive a few miles and we stop for pictures.  At one rest stop a young Navajo man is selling jewelry.   "Can we take some pictures of our bikes, just over there?" we ask.  "OK," he says.  "Where are you guys from" he wants to know.  "California" and he shakes his head, "long ride."  "Thanks, we'll see you later" we say.  He replies, "Do you want to know how we Navajo's say, see you later?"

So there we are with him taking our first Navajo language lesson.  "Gilbert, you try to remember the first part, and I'll try to remember the last part."  We continue our ride, taking even more pictures.  We practice the phrase the young man taught a few times.  In Kayenta, we stop at a local market where many Navajo ladies are selling jewelry, used items, and food.  What a better time to try out our Navajo.  We leave the first group of ladies, and say "see you later in Navajo."  They all begin to giggle, like high school girls.  Feeling good, we eat some Indian tacos and again say "see you later in Navajo."  Again we get giggles.  So we ask, "why do you laugh?"  One of the older ladies tells us that we keep saying "stinky feet."  Now we just stick to English, leaving a bit embarrassed.

A few years later, I would meet two Navajo ladies at the Yamaha shop in Flagstaff where I needed a new tire.  They were there to repair their 4 wheel quad used to tend their sheep on the reservation.  We both were there before the shop opened to be first in line for service.  "Good morning" I say.  The young Navajo says "good morning" but the older lady just looks at me.  "She only speaks Navajo" the younger lady says.  After my new tire was mounted, I saw them leaving as well.  To make a long story short, I had stopped earlier by Canyon de Chelly National Monument and asked the Navajo Park Ranger to please write down the Navajo words "see you later" for me.  He did and I practiced with him.  He shook his head in approval.

Before I fire up my bike, I walk up to the older Navajo lady as they are getting ready to leave and say "hágoónee’ ."  She smiles and repeats the phase, "hágoónee’ extending out her hand."  The younger Navajo lady simply said, "I didn't know you spoke Navajo -- your pronunciation is very good." 

Gilbert and Robert Griego ~ North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park
Day 3, Dancing Aspens Camp.  An earlier fire has scorched miles and miles of trees, as we head towards the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  The wind is ferocious   Our bikes shake violently with the powerful wind gusts which come from nowhere.  We pull over to a safe spot and we look at each other in disbelief.  This wind was intense but even loaded 1,000 pound bikes can be blown away. 

As we ride along the highway, we smell food and turn around.  There is a Navajo family selling Indian tacos; we each have one.  Further down the road, we see a Navajo lady with beautiful jewelry that she is selling.  We tell her about the wind and she tells us about two visitors that were recently blown off the rim of the Grand Canyon to their death.  We feel lucky. 

We plan to camp on USFS land and while there are many suitable spots, the wind is relentless, so we push on further.   Finally, the wind is behind us and we take the first dirt road on USFS land we see and we set-up camp.  We take a short walk which leads us to a historical corral which has fallen down with time.  There are aspen trees all around.  It reminds us of an earlier time when these hills had roaming horses and mules used by guides or hunters.  The North Rim is still 20 miles away.  We sleep soundly after nearly 1,000 miles.

Day 4, Mesa Road Camp (aka Wind Rock).  The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is priceless; our words can not match its beauty.  We pull off our levis and boots in the parking lot and put on our shorts and tennis shoes/sandals and walk along the rim in awe.  We frantically take pictures as does everyone else and walk about five miles.  Little did we know that a five mile walk would really wear us out.  We stop at Jacob Lake and lay down beneath some pine trees exhausted after riding only 42 miles.  We resist sleeping which comes easily and force ourselves to move on towards Fredonia, Arizona.
Our camp site on the cliff ~  Mesa Road Camp

Our goal is Zion National Park but the scenery slows us down considerably.  Gilbert spots a herd of Takonka and again we stop.  We are reminded of the song, "old Griego in Search of POP25" who roamed the Badlands of New Mexico in search of buffalo. 

Our camp is high on a mesa among the pinon pines near Virgin, Utah where sweeping views of Zion can be seen below us.  Our serenity and confidence, however, will be shaken by high winds.  We quickly place heavy rocks on our tarps and sleeping bags to prevent them from blowing away over the cliff by the winds.  The wind blows fiercely and ice cold all night, and in the morning, we are covered with sand.  The heavy rocks did their job and our gears did not blow away.

Our iron ponies braved the cold wind as well, but they are eager to move on to lower lands, so we head for Hurricane, Utah. 

"The wind nearly blew us off the cliff" ~ Mesa Road Camp
Day 5, Walker Pass Camp.  I am riding alone now, Gilbert is home in Barstow, California.  Walker Pass Camp sits about 5,500 feet near Lake Isabella, California.  This is a BLM primitive camp site used primarily by the hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  There are about 20 young boys and girls who are playing music and laughing.  I do not know how many miles they have been hiking, but I guess many, as they quickly go to sleep as the first wave of darkness arrives.

I remember an earlier camp out here with no one else around.  Then, without, warning, a voice behinds says "are you having supper."  I called him wandering "Jack."  He had been on the PCT for weeks and saw my fire.  He was lonely and just wanted to talk.  He thought he had made lots of noise as he walked towards my camp, but I just didn't hear him.  He was a good guy after all, only asking for some water which I gave him gladly.  

My transistor radio picks up the Window Rock radio station and the Navajo chants comfort me well into the night.  'Wandering Jack' finds his spot a few hundred yards from me and is gone before I wake.  Must be a serious hiker.

Day 6, Tres Rios Camp (aka Home).  This has been one of our best rides and our ponies are now free to rest, traveling through Monument Valley, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, and hundreds of miles of open space through Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California in our pursuit of wildness.  Our faces and arms have considerable sun on them.  Gilbert is resting at home, but I feel as if I'm still moving and it takes a day to return to 'normal.'  

The odometer records 1,939 miles . . . . .

"I feel like the end of the world is just there" ~ Robert Griego
Gilbert Griego, Monument Valley ~ hágoónee’

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