Highway 163 – (Part 2 There and Back Again)


Continued from Part 1…

So I had finally witnessed the majestic Monument Valley and glimpsed some of the beautiful regions of southern Utah. My journey was nearly over (or so I thought). Even though it was now evening (around 6pm) I decided I would drive the 5 hours back to Phoenix. I wasn’t in the mood to sleep in a strange bed that evening.

I headed south driving at a casual pace to allow me to take in the sights. By now the sun was setting and I had to stop numerous times to take pictures. Eventually I reached Monument Valley again and the sun had nearly set and there was a crescent moon flanked to the left by both Venus and Mars.

Since there are no lights around to dilute the glow coming from the stars, the night sky was lit up like a room with a million candles. I wish my camera was able to capture this mysterious beauty, but alas, my technology is not up to the challenge. Instead I used the most sophisticated piece of equipment in existence. My brain. Standing on a quiet, lonely highway with no cars or people in sight, under the looming presence of the sandstone monoliths that seem to stretch to the heavens, I took it all in. It is now a memory etched into my mind that will live with me forever.

No, this pic is not mine

No, this pic is not mine

After many moments of quiet meditation, I reluctantly packed myself back into my trusty car and continued on my journey home. I passed the Arizona state line. Home again. I stopped in Kayenta on my way back to grab a bite from the large selection of food offerings (I chose Burger King. Sorry Mickey D)

As I continued southeast heading towards the humorously named Tuba City (c’mon, admit it. Don’t you hear a tuba playing a chunky tune in your head when you read “Tuba City”? Wam Pah, Wam Pah…) I thought to myself that I was glad I had such a reliable vehicle. Having car trouble out in the middle of almost nowhere… at night… by myself… would certainly suck big fat monkey nuts. So of course, that’s what happened.

About 20 miles outside of Kayenta I heard the dreaded “wap wap wap” sound of a flat tire and my steering wheel started to pull to the right. Great. I pulled over onto a sloping shoulder (keep in mind that I am on a small, two lane road with almost no shoulder) making sure I was completely off the road. I got out my flashlight, exited the car and walked around to the passenger side. Sure enough, the front right tire was flatter than a dead man’s cardiogram.

“Ok”, I thought. “No big deal. I’ve changed tires before.” So I started to unload all the things I would need.

Road flare? Check.

Head lamp for hands free lighting? Check.

Hydraulic jack? Check.

Lug wrench? Check.

Pathetic looking donut spare that looks like it’s never been used? Check.

Sloping, slippery road shoulder to make fixing the tire incredibly difficult? Check.

It took me three attempts to jack up the car because it kept slipping off the jack due to the unstable surface underneath. However, 45 minutes and two skinned knees later, I had my spare on. Unfortunately, that too was low on air and was as limp as an 80 year old man without Viagra watching an 80 year old woman undress. So I realized the only thing I could do was drive slowly back to the nearest town (Kayenta) and see if I could get assistance.

By the time I got back into town, it was about 9:30. I stopped at a gas station and checked my spare. It was almost flat. I filled it up and realized I was going to have to spend the night and hoped I could find someone the next day that might be able to fix a tire.

In a town the size of a postage stamp, you’d think the lodging accommodations would be sparse and uncomfortable. Although I only found a Hampton Inn there in town, I’m happy to report that it was a wonderful place with a stone fireplace in the lobby that had a nice roaring fire going when I walked in (Hey, it gets chilly in February in northern Arizona.) My room was large and comfortable and I was actually able to get some sleep.

The next morning I went downstairs and had a nice, complimentary breakfast in their dining area next to the fireplace. (Yeah, I know it’s not really complimentary. I paid for it but hey, it’s a nice illusion) I packed up and headed up the street to the gas station where the front desk told me I should be able to find someone that could fix my tire. Luckily, my spare held the air I put into it the night before. Not so luckily, the mechanic that I was looking for was not in. Luckily, I was informed that there was another guy about 12 miles out of town that should be able to help. I was told to just drive southeast and to look for the tires out in front of his place. Can’t miss it.

Sure enough, as I was winding around the curves and bends and hills of the countryside, I spotted a driveway with a number of large tractor tires buried halfway into the ground. Had it not been for those tires, I might have missed the place. John Yazzie has a good sized piece of property (at least an acre or two) that sits in front of the most amazing red bluffs I’ve seen outside of Sedona. On this property is an old, beat up mobile home and cars and car parts scattered everywhere. Typical mechanic’s home. A large, heavyset Navajo man in coveralls came out of the mobile home and confirmed that he was indeed Mr. Yazzie and that yes, he would look at my tire. Whew.

Turns out that my tire was shot and I needed a new one. (Well, slightly used in this case). He found a suitable replacement and in less than 30 minutes I was back on the road, but not before getting some information about the local terrain. His assistant, an older white guy, took me out back and pointed out to me several cave openings where he said the Anasazi natives used to gather and live. He gave me the nickel geology tour and explained that the large, lighter colored mounds in front of the red bluffs were volcanic “domes” that rose up many years after the bluffs had formed. I asked Mr. Yazzie if there was any kind of access to the public to hike back in the canyons beyond his home. He suggested I use a local guide. When I asked him for a recommendation, he suggested his next door neighbor, Leroy. (I’m fairly certain just about all of the local natives up there would take my money and act as a “guide” through the canyons). Still, it piqued my interest and I thanked him for his help.

Red bluffs near the Yazzie residence

Red bluffs near the Yazzie residence

It turns out that I accidentally bent something on my brakes when I changed the tire and it causes a loud metallic scraping noise that followed me all the way home (around 375 miles). It was nothing serious but it was annoying. None the less, the rest of my journey was uneventful. I passed back by the San Francisco peaks, said hello and goodbye to Flagstaff, slipped by the eastern edge of Sedona, passed by the exit to see Montezuma’s castle, wound my way through the mountains near Black Canyon City and finally immersed myself in the familiar traffic of Phoenix on the Loop 101 on my way back to Mesa.

Adventure is not without it’s risks, but it also has it’s rewards. I came home with a camera full of pictures and a head full of memories and this little story that I just told you. I think that made it all worth it.

~V

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