Monday, November 25, 2019

Navajo National Monument - Harmony With the Natural World - 2008

The author's rig at Sunset Campground, Navajo National Monument, Arizona - Click for larger image (

The Magic Gate - Part 5

Living in Harmony With the Natural World

Navajo National Monument
In Northeastern Arizona, fifty miles south of Kayenta, we stopped at the lightly visited Navajo National Monument.  Even today, with the lure of free camping, it rarely draws a crowd.  Leaving Highway 160 during our 1965 visit, we encountered a newly paved road covering the thirteen miles to the monument.  Like most National Park Service (NPS) roads of the era, the engineers designed it for minimum impact on its environment and for speeds of less than forty-five miles per hour.  Upon arrival at the monument, we found a new visitors’ center and a campground with about thirty spaces.  The older, more rustic campground remained unimproved.
Navajo National Monument is a misnomer, honoring the fact that early Anglo-American visitors associated its ruins with the Navajo Nation, within which its boundaries lie.  Craig Childs, in his 2007 book, House of Rain, identifies the area’s early occupants as the “Kayenta Anasazi”.  By 1300 CE, after only fifty Wild stallion at Navajo National Monument, Arizona - Click for larger image ( of occupation, the Kayenta Anasazi abandoned these, among the last of their alcove dwelling sites.  Thus, the monument’s Betatakin and Keet Seel ruins rank with Mesa Verde and Hovenweep as the last redoubts of a vanished culture.  The spring-fed, relict forests in the monument’s canyons attest to the relatively recent drying of a once abundant environment.
In 2008, I again visited Navajo National Monument.  While camped there, I reflected on Edward Abbey’s words about the place, as written in, Desert Solitaire.  At the time, Abbey decried what he identified as the destruction of primitive areas throughout the Southwest.  This he blamed on the U.S. Department of the Interior, which had opened many new areas to automotive visitation.  Here are his words:
“Navajo National Monument.  A small, fragile, hidden place containing two of the most beautiful cliff dwellings in the Southwest – Keet Seel and Betatakin.  This park will be difficult to protect under heavy visitation, and for years it was understood that it would be preserved in a primitive way so as to screen out those tourists unwilling to drive their cars over some twenty miles of dirt road.  No longer so: the road has been paved, the campground enlarged and modernized and the old magic destroyed.”
Edward Abbey, author, anarchistTimes change, people change, but after his death in 1989 at age 62, Abbey's consciousness on earth evolved no further.  Abbey was both a naturalist and a sometimes naturist.  His gift was an ability to describe for his readers the natural wonders of America’s deserts and the Colorado River.  As a self-proclaimed anarchist, he waxed poetic in his fight with the federal government, which he saw as either disinterested or incapable of conserving those unique and unspoiled natural resources. 
Although his only documented anarchistic act was to pull up some road survey stakes at Arches, Edward Abbey often receives credit for inspiring such troglodytic and destructive groups as the Earth Liberation Front.  The counterculture energies of the 1960s coalesced around protest, as exemplified by the movement against the Vietnam War and “tree-spikers” in the Northern California Redwoods.  It was an age of “pushing against”, whose legacy is with us still.  Our “wars” on poverty, terror, drugs and teenage pregnancy are but a few examples of our vain attempts to fight against that which is intangible.
View of a golden sunset, Sunset Campground, Navajo National Monument, Arizona - Click for larger image ( 
That morning, I sat quietly in the campground that Abbey decried as a modern abomination.  There, I opened a channel to Abbey’s non-physical consciousness.  Feeling that angst and anger at the time of his death may have trapped him in the near-earth realms, I asked his spirit to accompany me on a tour of the area.  Although there was no verbal or visual communication between us, I like to think that I allowed his spirit to see Navajo National Monument as I knew and loved it.
Bypassing the visitors’ center, we walked along the pathway towards the Betatakin (ledge house) Ruin, about a mile away.  In an attempt to protect these fragile alcove dwellings, the NPS placed its only Betatakin viewpoint on the rim of the canyon opposite the ruins.  If you visit, remember to take your field glasses.  Since Betatakin’s natural amphitheater amplifies sound energy, signs admonish visitors not to make loud noises.  As with the Walls of Jericho, a single loud noise could weaken or destroy this well-preserved pre-Puebloan settlement.
Returning on foot to Abbey’s despised campground, we found its thirty spaces artfully sited near the western edge of Sunset Mesa.  From its 7500-foot elevation, the terrain falls away gently for fifty miles, all the way to Lake Powell, Arizona.  The aptly named Sunset Campground provides among the longest views in the Four Corners.
Author Jim McGillis,  while traveling in the High Southwest, Colorado Plateau - Click for larger image ( 
Even today, the campsites accommodate rigs no longer than thirty feet, so the larger RVs must go elsewhere.  Tap water is available, but there is no store, public shower or RV sanitary dump.  During his two summers at the old Arches National Monument, Abbey lived in a thirty-foot house trailer.  I smiled in disbelief that his spirit might wish to deny others a brief but similar physical experience in this beautiful place.
Later, as I drove away from Navajo National Monument, I reflected on the term “arrested decay”, coined to describe preservation activities at Bodie, a ghost town in California.  By limiting direct access to these sites, the NPS has done what it can to arrest the decay of ruins at Navajo National Monument.  From its visitors’ center to the roads, trails and campground, the NPS seems to have listened to Edward Abbey’s spirit.  After its 1960s improvements, the monument has changed very little over the past forty-five years.
As I departed Navajo National Monument, I found myself in agreement with Abbey on one thing.  Despite its supposed ruination in his time, I hoped that this serene and beautiful place would enjoy its current state of arrested decay long into the future.  Thank you, Edward Abbey for the true spirit of your work
 The Santa Fe Railroad, old Route 66 Magic Gate, Flagstaff, Arizona - Click for larger image (
In 1965, after two weeks in the Four Corners, my father and I again crossed through the magic gate, represented by the Santa Fe Railroad grade crossing at Flagstaff.  From there, we retraced our route back to Los Angeles.  After returning home, I entered my senior year in high school, then on to college and work life.  For the next forty years, as did our old snapshots, memories of the Four Corners faded from my mind.
Each year since 2004, I have made it a point to travel and live for a time somewhere in the Four Corners.  While writing this personal history at my home, near Los Angeles, I could feel the Four Corners calling to me.  Three months from now, I shall pack my belongings and enter again through the magic gate to what some call Indian Country and others call the Four Corners.

The Navajo Indian Reservation - Its Art and Culture - 2008

The "Mexican Hat", at the north entrance to Monument Valley, Utah - Click for larger image ( 

The Magic Gate - Part 4

The Navajo Indian Reservation - Its Art and Culture

Monument Valley

Leaving Moab, we drove our Ford south to Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona.  After viewing the area made famous by Henry Fonda in the movie Fort Apache and John Wayne in Stagecoach, we stopped at Goulding’s, an historic trading post and tourist lodge.  While there, the manager showed us a hand-wrought silver and turquoise belt buckle, recently pawned by a Navajo elder.  Mistaking our disinterest for a desire to bargain, he dropped the price to one hundred dollars, which barely covered the value of the silver and turquoise.  To us, that was a lot of money, so rather than buying the belt buckle, for about the same price we purchased two hand-loomed Navajo rugs.
U.S. Hwy. 161 South, approaching Monument Valley, Utah - Click for larger image (, we turned off the highway, stopping at the end of an unmarked dirt road.  There, we photographed our two new rugs against the red soil of Monument Valley.  Soon, we realized that we had parked near a Navajo homestead.  In front of the ancient, traditional hogan, we saw a Navajo woman weaving a rug on a large outdoor loom.  Embarrassed that we had invaded her privacy, we placed our store-bought rugs in the car and quietly drove away.  Not once did she turn to look at us.  It was as if she had appeared from some timeless other place.  We could see her, creating her art in that place, but she either could not or preferred not to see us.

Kayenta, Arizona

Beyond the southern end of Monument Valley is the town of Kayenta, Arizona.  In the 1960s, Kayenta was desolate, forlorn and seemed forgotten by all except its Navajo residents, who represent ninety-four percent of the town's population.  Today, as Kayenta's population approaches 9000, the city features a McDonald’s, a Burger King and a supermarket.  As a sign of the times, the local high school recently installed the only video message board within one hundred miles. 
In all of its colorful splendor, Monument Valley, Utah, near Goulding's Lodge - Click for larger image ( 
Here is my alternate memory regarding our stop in Monument Valley.  I wonder which version is true?

The Corn People

Jim knew a little about Navajo rugs; for instance, what made one more valuable than another.  When he entered the trading post that morning, he spotted a treasure right away.  It was a handmade Navajo rug, featuring corn people on a white background, with a black border.  Although the rug was small, the tightness of its weave and the depth of its colors made it stand out from the others.  Casually fingering the price tag, Jim’s eyes widened when he saw $1000 hand lettered on the tag.
Abandoned Navajo roadside jewelry stand, built in the traditional, or ancient Navajo hogan style, Monument Valley, Utah - Click for larger image ( a quick trip out to see Paul, waiting in the car, both Paul and Jim entered the trading post, then headed in opposite directions.  From that moment, events unfolded quickly.  Paul proceeded to the self-service coffee bar, where he accidentally dropped a full pot of decaf on the floor, shattering the glass carafe in the process.
As a knot of employees formed around the scene of coffee chaos, Jim rolled up the prized rug, tucked it under his arm and walked out the door.  An hour later and half a mile away, the two friends united.  With high-fives and sincere congratulation, they celebrated their victory over the tyranny of the trading post system. 
"Our Lady of Monument Valley" Stone pinnacle overlooking the southern end of Monument Valley, Arizona - Click for larger image (“The weaver probably got $200 for this rug.  What a rip off of Native Americans”, Jim said. 
As Jim steered the car into the parking lot of their dusty motel in Kayenta, Paul added, “I am proud to have taken part in the liberation of such a fine rug”.  Dropping Paul at the motel, Jim turned north on Highway 163, leading back into Monument Valley.
As he turned off the highway and on to a dusty track, Jim mumbled, “The Indian got paid for this rug long ago, so hitting that predatory trading post where it hurts means I am doing something on behalf of all the Indian nations, not just the Navajos”.
Close up of a hand loomed Navajo rug, with white background, corn motif and brown border - Click for larger image ( to a stop in front of a barren hillock, he proceeded to lay out his treasured rug on the face of that brick-red hill.  Waiting for the sun to sink lower in the sky, Jim sat there entranced for an unknown time.  Then, when the light was right, he stood and clicked many pictures of the rug.
When he finished his photography, the sun was fading fast.  As the light changed and he shifted his focus, he saw before him a Navajo woman, working at her loom.  With a traditional hogan as a backdrop, slowly and steadily she sent the shuttle across the loom.  After each long stroke, she paused to tamp down the woolen threads.  Staring at this scene, Jim felt a shiver go up his spine.  He felt like he had been photographing the details of a bedroom, only to find that someone occupied the bed.
Kodak Ektachrome image of a Navajo Indian needle and loom rug with corn motif, Monument Valley, Utah in 1965 - Click for larger image ( quietly removing the rug from its place on the hill, he gently opened the car door and sat down inside.  After red dust poured from the rug to his lap, he dumped it on to the empty passenger seat.  Closing the door so softly that the latch did not fully engage, Jim started the engine and slipped the shifter into gear.  Then, he idled the car away, toward the highway.
Not once in all this time had the Navajo woman looked in his direction or acknowledged his existence.  As his car crested a small hill in fading light, he glanced back in the rear view mirror.  The woman had vanished, but hanging there on her loom was a half-finished rug, depicting corn people, on a white background, with a black border.
Email James McGillis
Email James McGillis

Four Corners Mining Towns - Both Old and New - 2008

Looking west over Main Street, Ouray, Colorado - Click for larger image (

The Magic Gate - Part 3

Four Corners Mining Towns - Both Old and New

From Silverton, we traveled over the 11,018-foot Red Mountain Pass and then descended into the self-proclaimed “Switzerland of America”, Ouray, Colorado.  Like Durango and Silverton, Ouray began life as a nineteenth century mining town.  Situated in a deep canyon and surrounded by high mountain peaks, Ouray is both quaint and vulnerable.  If the ten-thousand-year-storm ever visits the headwaters of the Uncompahgre River, much of the town could be vulnerable to flooding.Historical Beaumont Hotel, Ouray, Colorado - Click for larger image (
In 1965, we stopped for lunch at the Beaumont Hotel, an historic Queen Anne structure that dominates the downtown skyline.  We found the hotel and its ground floor restaurant in near-original condition.  Years earlier, my grandfather had told me that Ouray was his favorite place in the U.S.  As I stood on the shaded porch of the old Beaumont Hotel, looking at forested peaks all around, I could understand why.
At one time, a mining and supply railroad connected Ouray with Ridgway, Colorado and beyond.  Today, the only reminders of Ouray’s railroad heritage are an old locomotive and some rolling stock on static display in Ridgway, near the junction of Highways 550 and 62.
Continuing their tradition of naming any landform of significance after a religious reference, this half-buried primordial spaceship early settles named "Church Rock", on US Highway 191, south of Moab, Utah - Click for larger image ( 
Old Spanish Trail

From Ridgway, we traveled west on Highway 62 toward Southeastern Utah.  Although the highway numbers changed several times, the roadway itself followed one of the oldest trails in Western America, known during its heyday in the 1830s as the Spanish Trail.  Linguistic historians believe that variations on the Central Mexican Aztec language made their way north to California and then east to the Four Corners via a prehistoric version of that trail.
During the decade before the 1846 Mexican War, trade between Santa Fe,New energy light rains down on the Spanish Valley and Moab Rim, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image ( New Mexico and Los Angeles, California followed this route.  A more direct route through contemporary southern New Mexico and Arizona awaited the cession of Mexican territory, as provided by the 1948 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  Today, Interstate I-10 closely follows that shorter route.
Although what we now call the Old Spanish Trail had many alternate routes, our journey through Durango, Silverton, Ridgway and on to Moab, Utah followed the trail’s main branch.  After crossing the Colorado River near current-day Moab, the old trail then roughly paralleled the route of current Interstate I-70 West and I-15 South. 
US Highway 191 becomes Main Street, looking north at Downtown Moab, Utah - Click for larger image ( than sixty years after the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the first Anglo-Americans traveled overland by horse drawn wagon on the Old Spanish Trail.  During the earlier Spanish Mission Era, disease and cultural upheaval had decimated the native Gabrielino Indian populations near Los Angeles.  Finding an under-populated and verdant valley, fed by seasonal mountain streams, the Americans stopped east of Los Angeles, founding several towns. 
The 1826, mountain man and explorer, Jedediah Smith pioneered the Mojave branch of the Old Spanish Trail.  Crossing the Colorado River near our own desert portal at Needles, California, he traveled west and then north from there.  He was the first Anglo-American to explore California’s Central Valley and Southern Oregon.  Twin classic Jeep Cherokees, set up for 4X4 off-road activity, parked in Downtown, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (
The Oregon Trail and its sub-branch, the Mormon Trail each receive more historical attention than does the Old Spanish Trail.  As a lifelong Californian, it amazes me that the Old Spanish Trail remained unmentioned during my public school education.  The Old Spanish Trail, with its prehistoric, Native American roots, and its status as the first wagon road to the Pacific Ocean remains an historical obscurity.
Moab -  US Hwy. 191
In 1855, eight years after founding Salt Lake City, Utah, Mormons settled in Prior to 2011 widening and realignment, this old US Hwy. 191 South sign once pointed the way to Moab, Utah - Click for larger image ( Spanish Valley.  Selecting the biblical name “Moab” for their settlement, the party of forty-three men built a rock fort near the Colorado River.  Growing crops and attempting to convert local Native Americans to their religion became the Mormons’ primary challenges.  Additionally, they sought control of the strategic river crossing along what had only recently become the “Old” Spanish Trail.
Several months after their arrival, Native Americans attacked the Moabites, burning crops and killing three settlers.  The Mormons then abandoned Moab, not to officially return until 1878.  With its cultural affinity and geographical proximity to Colorado and Arizona, Moab grew into the twentieth century more as a typical Western town than as a Mormon colony.
 Carrie McCoy, with author Jim McGillis, October 2008, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (
By 1965, the great uranium boom of the late 1950’s had played out and unglamorous potash became Moab’s main source of mineral income.  During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Moab had been a uranium boom town, quickly adding residential, commercial and lodging facilities.  Even today, much of Moab’s infrastructure and its overall look date back to that time. 

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Four Corners Region - The Colorado Plateau 2008

Square Tower House, an ancient alcove dwelling at Mesa Verde, Colorado - Click here for larger image (

The Magic Gate - Part 2

Four Corners Region

The Colorado Plateau

Mesa Verde
From Durango, we ventured west on Highway 160 to the pre-Puebloan alcove and cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park.  Mesa Verde contains the most famous of the Anasazi (or pre-Puebloan) sites in the Four Corners.  In 1965, the archeological sites appeared unchanged since their discovery in the 1870s.  With park rangers as our guides, we climbed traditional pole-ladders and peered into ancient living spaces and granaries.  On hands and knees, we squinted down into dark ceremonial chambers, known as kivas.  In contrast, today one views these ruins from behind fences, on well-marked trails.
Cliff Palace Ruin, Mesa Verde, Colorado - Click for larger image ( the 1960s, mystery pervaded the disappearance of the ancient cultures of the Four Corners.  Today, we know that those cultures experienced a combination of drought, overpopulation and internecine warfare.  To offer some perspective on their numbers, archeologists believe that in 1200 CE, the population of Colorado’s Montezuma Valley was 30,000, a number larger than its contemporary population.
For reasons both known and unknown, the society broke down, leading to the complete depopulation the Four Corners.  Later, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Navajo tribe, with ancestors traceable to Asia, Alaska andDerelict, weather-beaten, bent and broken Aermotor windmill on the road to Kin Klizhin, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico - Click for larger image ( British Columbia, repopulated much of the area.
Returning to Durango that night in 1965, we saw live television reports of riots in South Los Angeles.  Large areas of Watts and the Central City were ablaze.  Not unlike the pressures experienced by the pre-Puebloan cultures of 1250 CE, summer heat, overpopulation and competition for resources had led to violence in LA.  Unlike the pre-Puebloan, who could simply migrate south in search of water and new farmland, there was nowhere for the residents of South Los Angeles to go.  In a metaphor to the actions of the ancients, some Los Angelenos sacked and burned their own commerce and cultural centers.
The Disappearance
Masonry wall at Una Vida Ruin, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico - Click for larger image ( of archaeologists and other scientists have studied the pre-Puebloan disappearance phenomenon.  Not one of them that I know has hypothesized seismic activity as a contributing factor to the mass migrations of 1200 – 1400 CE.  Today, researchers assume that prior to their departure; the former residents burned and willfully destroyed many of their most important buildings.  The remaining destruction they attribute to the ravages of time. 
Rather than assuming that the pre-Puebloan tribes irrationally destroyed their own cultural landmarks, might we trace the initial cause of that destruction toThe Durango to Silverton narrow gauge train heads downstream along the Animas River, Silverton, Colorado - Click for larger image ( large-scale seismic activity?  Even the largest earthquakes leave few long-term traces in the natural environment.  Toppled towers and caved-in kivas might be the best indicators we have that cataclysmic seismic activity provided impetus to the complete abandonment of the Four Corners area. 
Today, we find potsherds at many Four Corners sites.  Intact pottery is so rare that we find it only in museums and private collections.  Were the pre-Puebloan so careless as to destroy essentially all of their useful pottery or did seismic activity play a larger role than previously assumed?
Derelict Ouray County Coleman snowplow dump-truck, Silverton, Colorado - Click for larger image ( Reemergence
Today, the consensus is that the last pre-Puebloan migrated away from the Four Corners, later to “reemerge” as the Hopi, Zuni and other Pueblo tribes.  The Hopi creation myth centers on the “sipapu”, a hole in the earth from which their ancestors arose.  Every ceremonial kiva in the Four Corners includes a symbolic sipapu in its floor. 
The great kivas provided communal warmth and shelter to the pre-Aspen trees changing to fall color, Silverton, Colorado - Click for larger image (  Since an earthquake could collapse their roof timbers, kivas also carried the risk of unexpected and immediate death.  After a swarm of catastrophic earthquakes around 1250 CE, did the pre-Puebloan survivors reemerge from the metaphorical sipapu of their collapsed kivas, only then to leave the land that had caused them so much death and destruction?
Spokesmodel Carrie McCoy in Downtown Silverton, Colorado - Click for larger image ( Durango, we traveled north on Highway 550, also known as The Million Dollar Highway.  Whether the road derived its name from its initial construction cost or from silver-bearing ore crushed into its asphalt mixture is still a subject of conjecture.  In 1965, its new surface reflected light like a million diamonds in the afternoon sunshine.
After negotiating the 10,910-foot Molas Divide, we descended into Silverton, Colorado, a former mining town now famous as the northernMain Street with fall color, Silverton, Colorado - Click for larger image ( terminus of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.  Although winter sports are now a factor, the summer tourist trade generates most of the town’s revenue.  In late May 2008, a spring snowstorm closed Highway 550 near Silverton, forcing us to make a low-elevation detour in order to reach Moab, Utah

Friday, November 22, 2019

Four Corners Region Arizona Highways - Colorado Sunsets - 2008

Jack Kerouac's novel, "On The Road" original Signet paperback cover, which inspired my Arizona Highways tour - Click for larger image. (

The Magic Gate - Part 1

Four Corners Region

Arizona Highways - Colorado Sunsets

In ’65, I was seventeen.  That spring, after perusing an issue of Arizona Highways Magazine, my father asked if I would accompany him on a road trip to the Four Corners states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah.  I jumped at the chance.
In August 1965, we departed Los Angeles in our 1964 Ford Galaxy 500 XL, 2-door, hardtop.  The only equipment lacking on our Ford was an overflow tank for the superheated coolant that spewed past the radiator at each stopping point in the desert.
Early on, while traveling to summer camp, I had seen parts of the Mojave Desert from a school bus window.  My other desert experience consisted of viewing Walt Disney’s 1953 film, “The Living Desert”.  After viewing Disney’s documentary, I abandoned my belief that all deserts were inhospitable places, better left to the likes of the Twenty Mule Team from Borax.
NeedlesMobil Oil Service Station, Needles, CA, at dusk - Click for larger image (
Over forty years ago, as our trip progressed, new sections of Interstate Highway rapidly replaced or bypassed The Mother Road, Old Route 66.  Whether it was on Old-66 or new I-40, my first taste of desert heat was in Needles, California.  There, an outdoor thermometer read 117 degrees.  To me, the town “Needles” and the word “needless” had a lot in common.
From Needles, both Route 66 and I-40 crossed the Colorado River, and then ran north towards Kingman, Arizona.  Ironically, Old-66 took the shorter, if steeper route.  In contrast, I-40 ran east for many miles before turning north.  The road from Kingman to $3.99 Regular fuel price at Mobil, Needles, AZ (Oct. 2008) - Click for larger image. (, Arizona was like a 150-mile slow-motion roller coaster ride.  From Needles, our overall elevation gain was almost 7000 feet.  In the same spirit that their ancestors joined the Saints in the old Utah Territory or explored the African savannah, contemporary Europeans seek the open spaces of the Southwest.  Studies indicate that humans, regardless of their origin, choose open grasslands and wide vistas over any other idealized environment.  In my memory, Flagstaff consisted of nothing more than one grade crossing and a nearby railroad station.  Since then, Flagstaff has transformed itself into a major city, now utilizing Winslow, Arizona, sixty miles to the east as its more affordable suburb.James McGillis, the author, at The Great Reflector, Mojave National Preserve, CA - Click for larger image (
Four Corners
Remembering our 1965 trip engenders in me nostalgia for a bygone era.  Interestingly, people from outside the U.S. seem to share that nostalgia.  In particular, the British, Dutch, Germans and Scandinavians arrive here by the thousands each summer.  Often, they rent motor homes, bent on rediscovering
In 1965, the combined population of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah was about seven million.  New Mexico then topped Utah by sixty thousand.  Today, the Four Corners has a population of almost eighteen million.  Utah now outpaces New Mexico by seven hundred thousand.  Suffice to say the Four Corners supports eleven million more people today than in 1965.
Old Santa Fe Railroad passenger station, Flagstaff, Arizona - Click for larger image (“Flag”, as the locals call it, etched a visual imprint on my mind.  I can still see what I call the Magic Gate, where South Beaver Street crossed the main line of the Santa Fe Railroad.  In my memory, Flagstaff consisted of nothing more than one grade crossing and a nearby railroad station.  Since then, Flagstaff has transformed itself into a major city, now utilizing Winslow, Arizona, sixty miles to the east as its more affordable suburb. South of there, at Snowflake, lives World Citizen, Kathy Hemenway.
From Flag, we headed east on Santa Fe Avenue, better known as Old-66, only to discover that the Mother RoadWhere Mother Road (Old-66) and railroad meet - An image of The Magic Gate, Flagstaff, Arizona - Click for preview of things to come. ( was being replaced by I-40.  From Flagstaff, the Santa Fe rail line took the most direct route east, turning only when necessary to follow the easiest grade.  Likewise, Old-66 and I-40 share almost identical routes, closely following the tracks.  The result is that the same Petrified Forest, Native American trading posts and historic motels that we saw in 1965 still lie adjacent to the current highway.
Spokesmodel Carrie McCoy, reviving an image of classical beauty, Flagstaff, Arizona - Click for larger image ( Gallup, New Mexico we drove east on Old-66 towards downtown.  Featuring substantial brick buildings, it was a regional center for trade and tourism.  Traveling down that same road today reveals a scene little changed since 1965.  All along I-40, older towns have remained in place, with new construction occurred at either end of town. 
From Gallup, we drove north on Old U.S. Highway 666.  With the Devil’s popularity in contemporary American culture, the moniker “Highway 666” tempted many.  Not withstanding the risk of “going to hell” for stealing highway signs, travelers made illegal souvenirs of Old-666 markers.  In 2003, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah gave up the fight, changing the road’s designation to the benign but meaningless “U.S. Highway 491”.  Ironically, new highway signposts often have “Old Highway 666” signs attached just below their new Highway 491 signs.
Sunset over the Lower Animas River Valley, near Durango, CO - Click for larger image ( afternoon, for the duration of our trip we experienced the gift of rainfall, either in the form of desert thunderstorms or mountain showers.  In the late 1960s, American pilots returning from Vietnam to airbases in the Southwest recognized a similarity to the pattern of rain they had seen in Southeast Asia.  “Monsoon”, a word with Dutch, Portuguese and Arabic origins thus made its way into our weather lexicon.  
Since its establishment in the 1880s, Durango, Colorado has nestled itself into the narrows of the Upper Animas River Valley.  On our 1965 visit, the town had not yet expanded beyond its original borders.  Today, a regional shopping center featuring Wal-Mart and Home Depot greets travelers arriving from Aztec, New Mexico in the south. 
Inside th lobby of the historic Strater Hotel, Durango, Colorado - Click for larger image ( is a year-round tourist destination.  To the chagrin of prospective homeowners, cash-buyers swooped in during the early 2000s.  Durango’s high prices now send the budget-minded to nearby Bayfield or Mancos.  During a recent visit to Canyon De Chelly, Arizona, we spoke with a Native American artist, selling his works there.  Each week, he commuted two hundred and forty miles, to work on construction jobs in Durango. 
Spokesmodel Carrie McCoy at "The Office" bar inside the historic Strater Hotel, Durango, Colorado - Click for larger image ( the 1960s, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad was in transition.  Construction gangs upgraded the gravel roadbed and then laid heavier rails.  Those improvements support the larger, more powerful locomotives seen on the rail line today.  As old as they appear, the current engines represent relatively modern designs, when compared to the originals.  The upgraded railroad helped carry the cities of Durango and Silverton through their transition from a mining, farming and ranching economy into today’s recreation and tourist-based economy.
With Durango’s gentrification came new residents who did not appreciate steam locomotives in nearby barns, puffing coal smoke into the night air.  A recent Durango Herald letter to the editor asked that the locomotivesThe color of coal smoke - Narrow Gauge Durango & Silverton Railroad Locomotive No. 481. The steam engine is "pulling the grade" over hand-laid tracks in the Upper Animas Valley, near Durango, Colorado - Click for larger image ( extinguish their fireboxes each night, so that nearby residents could sleep in peace and clean air.  Old wags pointed out that one could not restart a locomotive each day as if it were a diesel engine.  The general sentiment in the community was, “if you do not like coal smoke, move elsewhere”.
Read Part 2 of this five-part story about the Four Corner States.

The BC Buckaroos pass through Panama - On to South America - 2008

BC Buckaroo, Riley Beise - Click for larger image (

The BC Buckaroos pass through Panama - On to South America - 2008

November 25, 2008
Hola, we are now in Columbia, in the City of  Medellin.  It was once the capital of the drug trade here in this country.  As far as I am concerned, seeing it now, it may as well be in Vancouver, British Columbia.  The probably did not expect a population of five million when they built up high in the mountains.  It is very scenic and it is Medellin, Columbia - Click for larger image ( busy.  We are in a hostel waiting for our bikes, which should be here tomorrow.  The weather is raining and kind of foggy.  This country has many high mountains and very steep winding roads, which is very nice for the bikes. 
We are looking forward to riding south in two days.  As it turned out, we rode from Panama City, out towards Colon, Panama.  On the way, we encountered a police checkpoint, where we picked up a police escort all the Colon, Panama cruising boat anchorage - Click for larger image ( to Portobello.  There, we planned to board a sailboat.  As it happens there is a huge shopping district in Colon, and many people carrying cash go there in taxis and buy things.  The highway robbers try to pull them over and rob them, so the police have road stops all over and checkpoints set up to provide escorts to tourists. 
We went to the sailboat jump-off point, which is a hostel that arranges boat trips to Cartagena, Columbia.  We went in to the hostel, where we met a couple from MontrĂ©al, Canada BMW 1200 Touring motorcycle - Click for larger image ( two BMW 1200´s, as well as an American couple on a third BMW 1200.  There were only two more spots on the boat, which was a 50-foot catamaran.  Brendan and FilipĂ© took the remaining spots.  There were no more boats, so we rode back to Panama City and arranged to ship the bikes in a cargo plane for $700 US.  We booked ourselves on Copa Airlines to Medellin for $300 US.  Since they only have cargo runs on Wednesdays, we will wait for the bikes for another day or so. 
Today we went to a big BMW shop in the city.  I bought a pair of riding pantsVintage Photo of "Copa Panama" Lockheed Constellation airliner - Click for larger picture ( for $80 US and some synthetic oil.  Riley got a pair of Meltzer tires for $150 US.  Things are cheap here!  We had fun at the shop, as the people there are also part of a huge riding club.  The owner came out to meet us.  He has ridden from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina, which is about as far as you can go in the western hemisphere.  Covering the walls of the shop, he had many neat pics of the Yukon Territory, including one of him at the Sign Forest in Watson Lake
BMW 800 motorcycle - Click for larger image ( there, I also fell in love… with the new BMW F800 GS, a twin Rotax with some sweet lines.  Anyhow, we will keep you posted, so far so good, Columbia is very pretty, modern and extremely clean city.  It is not what we were expecting, so it is a nice surprise.  Take care, talk soon.  Dan Burns.Email James McGillis
Email James McGillis