Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Third Sunday Drive, Day Three: Four Corners

Looking down Center Street, Moab Utah

It is September, before a rainfall ...

Soon it's gonna rain, I can feel it,
Soon it's gonna rain, I can tell,
Soon it's gonna rain, what are we gonna do?
-- Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt

Click here to hear the University of Redlands production of this iconic song from my favorite musical, The Fantasticks.

Once I had the car packed, I headed back to downtown Moab to take pictures of the Grand County Courthouse, and anything else I found of interest.  Breakfast took second place, but I found a little coffee shop on a downtown corner and had a mango smoothie, a chocolate hazelnut biscotti, and a hazelnut latte, before hitting the road heading on down US 191 toward Monticello, Utah, where I would turn east crossing into Colorado.

Roughly half way between Moab and Monticello, I passed first the largest piece of advertising I've ever seen, a 5,000 square foot home carved out of the red sandstone and marked by huge letters painted on the side of a cliff, "Hole N" The Rock" with a large arrow pointing down toward the parking lot.  I did stop, long enough to take a couple more pictures, but didn't feel like taking the time (or paying the money) to visit this particular tourist trap.  I have to admit that part of me was astounded, but also repelled, by the large white letters painted on the sandstone.  No missing that "billboard."

Wilson Arch, San Juan County, Utah

Not much further on, I passed Wilson Arch, a sandstone arch much larger than anything I had seen up close in the park.  With a span of 91 feet and a height of 46, Wilson Arch attracts a lot of attention.  Indeed, the parking areas on both sides of US 191 were full, and people were eagerly climbing the rock to get closer to this natural phenomenon.  I stopped long enough to take a picture, then headed on down the road.

Monticello, Utah is the seat of San Juan County, Utah's south-eastern corner.  After stopping long enough to photograph the San Juan County Courthouse and the Monticello Mormon Temple, I turned off US 191 onto US 491, crossing into Colorado and heading for Cortez, the seat of Montezuma County, Colorado's south-western corner.  In Cortez, I allowed Nancy the Nag to misdirect me to the county courthouse, but that let me see a lot more of Cortez than I would have otherwise.  Once I finally found the courthouse, I added its picture to my collection, then leaving the car parked, I headed off to Pippo's Cafe for a lunch omelette with mushrooms, sausage and avocado. 

Cortez sits between Hovenweep National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park.  Both of these areas called out to me, but Albuquerque was calling more loudly, and I drove down US 491 bypassing both of these monuments to human engineering, as opposed to the natural engineering I had seen the day before.  The more I read of the two, the more I know I'll have to return to Cortez and spend time there--probably combining that trip with a longer stay in the Moab area.

Mesa land south of Cortez, Colorado

I've always been a sucker for imaginary lines.  When my Helsinki-based hostess, Eva Pinomaa, asked me why I wanted to visit Rovaniemi, the administrative capital of Finnish Lappland, which sits just below the Arctic Circle, I replied "Our lives are governed by imaginary lines.  This is one I'll probably never be closer to."  Once there, I found that the Finns had turned the Arctic Circle into a tourist trap, complete with reindeer in a pen, a large sleigh full of presents, and Santa Claus village.  There is also a pole with signs reading "Arctic Circle" in several different languages.  On a similar note, there is only one place in the United States where four states come together at a single point.  That would be Four Corners, where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico all meet.  As it happens, Four Corners is on the Navajo Reservation, and just like those sneaky Finns, the Navajo have turned Four Corners into a tourist trap.  The entrance fee is minimal, but it's per person, not per vehicle, and as I had picked up a hitchhiker in Cortez, I paid the fee for both of us to drive across a very rough parking area, wander through the stalls where native people were selling jewelry and other crafts, and get in line to take pictures of each other standing in four states at once.  As all four of these states have a sales tax, and each is different, I'm not sure just how the merchants figure their taxes.

Yours Truly, standing in four distinct states.

My young hitchhiker was headed for the Grand Canyon, and I was headed south and east, so I left him at Teec Nos Pos where I turned east on US 64 toward Shiprock, Farmington, and eventually Albuquerque.  My time in Arizona was short, but it's the spirit that counts, right?  and it allowed me to get this photo of the Navajo Nation's welcome sign.  I have no idea who "RK" might be, but he certainly left his mark on the sign.

Welcome to the Navajo Nation.  Four Corners, Arizona.

From Teec Nos Pos, it's just a hop skip and a long jump into New Mexico.  I had crossed the state on Interstate 40 back in my college days, but I'd never been through the northwestern corner before.  The first major town on US 64 would be Farmington which I knew as the place my best college friends, Jim and Rosanna, would go to visit Rosanna's family.  To get there, I'd have to pass Shiprock, which I assumed was much closer to the geologic formation of the same name.  But no, the rock itself is off in the distance, and I stopped to grab what pictures I could before losing sight of the monolith altogether. 

Shiprock, San Juan County, New Mexico

Just east of Farmington is the town of Bloomfield, and that's where I turned onto US 550 heading for Bernalillo and Interstate 25.   Along the way, I crossed the Continental Divide which was marked by a small sign, nothing like the massive ones we use in Montana.  I also passed through the Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation, the Jemez Reservation, the Zia Reservation, and the Santa Ana Reservation.  At Bernalillo, I caught I-25 and drove south to Albuquerque, turning west onto Interstate 40 in the heart of New Mexico's largest city.

Yelp helped me decide on a restaurant just off 1-40, and I got to see one shopping center from every conceivable angle as I searched for my dinner among all the major hotel chains.  The restaurant offered New Mexican cuisine, and was quite popular.   In order to be seated immediately, I agreed to sit in the bar.  When my food came, it was plentiful, but nothing like what I was expecting.  Guess I really wanted Old Mexican cuisine.

Back on I-40, I hoped to get as far as Tucumcari, near the Texas state line, but as I headed out of Albuquerque, the rain started to fall.  The further east I traveled, the harder the rain fell.  I saw lightning strikes like I've never seen them before, and the rain was so heavy that even the semis were slowing down.  When I saw the exit for Santa Rosa, I decided to call it a night and get off the Interstate.  After all, by this point I was driving 30 mph and felt that might be too fast.  

Once in my room at 9 p.m., I enjoyed the electricity in the air and the rain as well.  It went on for a full hour at least.  I couldn't say how much longer, because I fell asleep. 

Total mileage for the day:  522   It was a good day, even with the wet ending.

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