514 miles: Tucson to Santa Fe

*Today’s blog is the second of four chronicling the journey from Tucson to Santa Fe to Kearney to Madison with my father: an adventure of self-discovery, awareness, acknowledgment, and acceptance.

R.I.P. Juanita Lee Baker Gibbens.
R.I.P. Juanita Lee Baker Gibbens.

With pastries picked up from the farmers market adjacent to my grandmother’s resting spot, my father and I hit the road out of Tucson, Arizona.  We are early birds so no sleeping in late, had to see the sunrise over the desert to not miss a minute of daylight traveling.  The land was calling.

Leaving Tucson early in the morning...
Leaving Tucson early in the morning…

We took Highway 10 East and turned off towards Wilcox to reach US Highway 191.  The “goal” was to arrive at Canyon de Chelly National Monument before dark.  Drove through Gila National Forest, Turkey Park, and Apache National Forest.  Big horn sheep, white tail deer, mule deer, coyote, Rio Grande Turkey, wild horses, and road runners greeted us.  Highway 191 is similar to the Black Hills or mountain regions in the West dense with Pine and Juniper trees.  There were plenty of fallen rocks on the road with snow at elevations of 8,550 feet.  We stopped at beautiful and rustic Hannagan Meadow’s lodge at 9,100 feet for gas but were out of luck.

Hitting the "high" way in Arizona.
Hitting the “high” way in Arizona.
Hitting higher elevation.
With elevation comes beauty.
Snow in the...
Snow in heaven.
Expansive view of
Expansive view thanks to Highway 191.
Hannagan Meadows.
Hannagan Meadows.

Driving through the town of St. Johns, an elderly man donning a grey suit with a large Santa belly stood next to a car with a flat tire.  He had his thumb out hitching for a ride not looking like the typical serial killer.  Because of the long journey ahead, karma would punish us if assistance wasn’t provided.  As a result, turned the truck around and gave him a ride home past a rundown gun shop.  He thanked us profusely and wished us a Merry Christmas.

Our drive to Canyon de Chelly in Chinle, AZ was supposed to be 6 hours but nature, conversation, and good deeds became positive delays.  However, this was nothing new to my father.  He had hitchhiked across the country four times trading books of poetry for places to stay or food.  Possessions included a sleeping bag, fishing pole, bag of apples, water jug, and warm wool clothes.  “Pertinent information” needed for any future exploration.

Prior to arriving at Canyon de Chelly, poverty inhabits the Navajo Indian Reservation.  Stray, fluffy ranch dogs highlight the landscape with dilapidated trailers.  It is the opposite of any suburban mall in America.  Such beautiful landscape framed by depressed inequality creates an unfortunate reality.

My father and I drove the South Rim of Canyon de Chelly via the advice of a Park Ranger and stopped at numerous overlooks including Tunnel, White House, and Face Rock.  Some had individuals selling trinkets aggressively.  We wanted to see beauty without the sales pitch.  However, this would not be the case.

Canyon de Chelly.
Canyon de Chelly.
Canyon de Chelly at dusk.
Shadows falling…

Leaving Canyon de Chelly, we were completely off the grid: no radio, cell phone service, gas stations, and signs of life.  This was opposite of my reality driving through rush hour traffic over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco.  Nighttime was quickly approaching.  Our plan was to make it to Taos, New Mexico but exhaustion took over.  As a result, we drove into Santa Fe, checked into a hotel, and collapsed.

A 'dead zone" that is alive.
A ‘dead zone” that is alive.

What would happen the next day was unknown.  That was ok.  Our eyes and minds were tired due to a visual overdose.  Moving forward was key and that’s what we did the next morning…

The links: