Written by blazn on 16 Nov, 2000
It was a small group that gathered for the October ride and we had all been riding in the canyon many times. We had been joking about riding from Chinle, AZ to Shiprock, NM where the Navajo Nation Fair was under way.…Read More
It was a small group that gathered for the October ride and we had all been riding in the canyon many times. We had been joking about riding from Chinle, AZ to Shiprock, NM where the Navajo Nation Fair was under way. Many of Justin’s (the stable owner) family would be at the fair and/or at the horseracing in Fruitland, NM and we didn’t want to miss out on seeing them again. As the crow flies, this is a distance of about 45 miles but we would be crossing the rugged Chuska Mountains and ground travel adds many more miles. I was quite pleased and surprised when Justin looked at me thoughtfully and said, “Yes, you can do that.”
When we met the next morning for breakfast and directions, Evelyn, Justin’s wife greeted us and then sent me a look full of questions. “Evelyn doesn’t think it’s a good idea,” joked Justin. “I didn’t say that!” she shot back. It turns out she was wondering how we would feed ourselves as Evelyn, the camp cook would not be able to meet up with us so far out. I assured her that we could try and cook for ourselves and we could probably manage steak and potatoes. Her look said, “we’ll see” but she agreed to send Patrick out to rendezvous with us with the food and stove.
At the stable we loaded up the horses and drove over to Tsaile, northeast of Chinle. As we were unloading the horses I heard Eddie, our guide, giving directions to Patrick as to how he would find us in the wilderness we were about to ride through. I hoped the others didn’t notice as they went over it several times.
“Don’t get lost!” Patrick yelled as he pulled out to head back to Chinle with the empty horse trailer.
We rode up into the mountains on a wide dirt road. It was beautiful. The aspens, on their bright white trunks were topped with their fall display of brilliant yellow. They were ribboned throughout the backdrop of the evergreens. Ponderosa pines towered overhead and a hawk escorted us for a while. Occasionally, we would come upon a homestead nestled in a sheltered spot. Eddie’s horse, One Socks, would always alert us to nearby deer with a focused look and pointed ears.
Every now and then a car or a pickup truck would come by, someone taking the ‘shortcut’ to the fair or a family gathering wood for winter fuel. Then we heard a pitiful screech of a vehicle being pressed beyond its limits. Eventually a little hatchback car, filled with Navajo faces came crawling up the road and passed us with much cheering and waving on both sides. The car was bellowing smoke and backfiring and once in a while someone would hop out and help push it up the incline. A short while later we came upon them again, stalled by the side of the road. “Get a horse!” we called as we trotted by. Miraculously they got it moving and passed us once again only to bog down. A slender young man got out of the car and grabbed a rock to place under the wheel of the car. He daintily dusted his hands and tugged at his top to neatly arrange himself while the car geared up for another effort. It wasn’t a man; it was a woman! Before we could get close enough to know for sure, he/she was signaled back into the car and they continued on their way. “Was that a man or a woman, Eddie?” I asked. “I couldn’t tell ya,” he answered with a shrug.
We traveled on and at several places the road forked. Eddie had told Patrick to keep taking lefts but it seemed that we needed to take a forgotten right. We piled rocks and scratched arrows into the dirt pointing to the new direction and hoped Patrick would see it.
By late afternoon we arrived at the place designated to be our campsite. We were on the flat top of the mountain near some old branding corrals. We found water for the horses, a necessity. The wind was picking up and we all set out to find firewood, a luxury. We had a good amount piled up and a fire going when Patrick arrived with the pickup. We asked him if he had see the markers we had left for him on the road. He said that initially he hadn’t noticed them because he was following our tracks easily until a small herd of wild horses had followed us for a while and obliterated the trail. When he backtracked he saw the markers and found his way. He also told us that we had covered 22 miles. Not bad. We had to travel more than 30 the next day.
We rode steady the next day. We encountered hail and then an intense thunder & lightning display but fortunately little rain. After the storm we rode right under a double-ended rainbow!
The last part of the day was hard. The rock formation known as Shiprock was coming in and out of view, like a dream destination, as we cut across country. Then we rode along a paved road for an eternity. It was wide-open country and the wind was relentless. As we pressed on a tiny speck in the distance became Patrick and the truck.
He had parked in front of a tiny rise in the land. It was the only thing slightly resembling a wind block. As the horses were unsaddled, the saddles were leaned up against the truck creating a bit more shelter from the wind. I couldn’t believe that this was our campsite after a long, hard ride. “Justin wouldn’t leave us here! He must be coming to get us,” I stated. “Nope, don’t count on it,” came the stoic reply. Knowing that the Navajo delight in practical jokes I refused to set up my tent and sat in the cab of the truck wrapped in my sleeping bag. But when they pulled out the stove and started to cook dinner I thought ‘this is no joke’. Setting my resolve to getting through the night, I ate dinner and set up my tent. About 10 minutes after that, Justin and Evelyn pulled up in the van and we rushed over to them ignoring the laughter from Eddie and Patrick. Evelyn had bowls of mutton stew and fry bread and asked, “What are you doing here? Why don’t you come camp with us tonight over in Fruitland.” You never saw a van get loaded so fast in your life!
So after our 55-mile journey we spent a warm night in the camper playing cards with the kids, well sheltered from the downpour that finally arrived later that night.