Copyright (c) 1998 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.
Chapter 52 - May 9 to May 26, 1998 Silver City NM to Cannonville, Ut, 19155 miles (11876 km) cumulative
A small town tucked into the base of the Mogollon (pronounced mug-ee-yon by the locals) mountain range and the Gila National Wilderness, Silver City provides an excellent starting point for a summer Rocky Mountain bike tour. It was founded in the 1860s as one of those silver mining boon towns destined to fizzle into obscurity when the mines played out. Yet, it managed to transcend beyond the mining heyday through development of cattle ranges and even a small university. Today it's a major supply center for the scattered ranches within a 50 to 100 mile radius with it's 2 grocery stores, auto parts stores, fast food restaurants, hotels, services, and even soon-to-be Wall-Mart Supercenter which I'm sure will give the 2 grocery stores some stiff competition. The old village is strung out along the west bank of the river in a north/south direction. With it's old brick facades and false fronts it has the genuine appearance of an old southwestern mining town of some reasonable wealth. Running along the east bank of the river and topping off the old town street as if crossing a T are the more modern facilities that beckon to long distance traveler and local shopper alike. It was here, 2 years earlier we paused on our way to San Diego for a much needed respite from desert riding. It was here this year we found a storage shelter for the van. It was here we mounted the bikes and headed north once again. It will be here we shall return in November to retrieve the van. We like Silver City.
We got started reasonably early, stopping to park the van in storage, disconnect the batteries, and load up the bikes. Heading northwest along a route that curls around the Mogollon, up over the low continental divide pass of 6230 ft and then descends through brown grassy hills polka dotted with emerald green juniper pines. The rugged Mogollon watched our progression above our right shoulders, the Gila river trickled along its way below our left.. We descended. Down, down, and more down making for a 50 mile first day of mostly easy downhill gliding. That evening we camped in a picnic area on a rise surrounded by mountain views on all sides. We pitched our tent, prepared dinner, and watched the occasional car pull in, the door slam, and the occupant hustle off to the nearby pit toilet to emerge a few minutes later looking much relieved. They then left, no one stopping to actually have a picnic. As the orange glow of the setting sun faded in the western sky the cars stopped coming and we had the hillside to ourselves. We giggled at the sound of this weird "eee-aw eee-aw ooo ooo ooo" from cows and bulls in the surrounding fields. Strangest sounding cattle I've ever heard, sounding more like mules or perhaps bulls in rut. What ever happened to the familiar "moo" cows are supposed to emit. Later the "ow ow awooooooo ow ow awooooooo" of coyotes in the hills and "blblblblblb blblblbl" of wild turkeys were added to our moonlight symphony. What a start to our summer riding. Good riding, good scenery, good evening camping and funny sounding animals. There was nothing more we could ask for.
The next 3 days found us riding through the rugged western New Mexico and eastern Arizona mountain ranges, climbing ever increasing passes, camping in pine shaded campgrounds, enduring days of 80 degree temperatures and nights at freezing, getting used to living outdoors and cooking on our one burner stove once more. It was our third day out when we met our first long term bike tourist for the season. Coming down from the second to last 8200 ft pass, rolling through the open valley opposite Luna Lake we spotted a biker headed toward the lake carrying nothing more than two tiny front panniers. The wind carried a distant voice across the field, "Bike tourists, stop." Riding hard back toward the intersection it was here we were introduced to Kathe. A woman in her mid 40s, short salt and pepper graying hair, sturdy body with a round face, large hands that look like they've put in many hours hard physical labor, and a great "never say die" attitude. Kathe provided us with a full 2 days company. From that intersection we rode on to our selected campsite for the evening, vowing to join up the next day somewhere along the road. We tagged up again at the town of Springerville, Az where we got wind of a bad weather system headed our way. "Why don't we pick up plenty of food and head for Lyman State Park to hold up through the front" I suggested. Brian and Kathe agreed and we headed off on a 1000 ft drop with the wind at our back having to hardly turn the pedal once during the 18 mile ride. Once there we shared a campsite and lots of stories as we waited for a full day for the stubborn front that just would not come on time.
Kathe has an interesting and enviable history. She's one of the lucky ones who had the opportunity to work as a trail maintenance person in the National Parks Service for 8 years. She stayed until they started pushing her up in the organization and, as she says, "when I had to start listening to the radio it was time to leave", in other words answering to headquarters. She tells tales of a moonlight cross country ski across the flat desert of Big Bend National Park after a freak heavy snow storm. Her crew had been out plowing the road with the only piece of equipment resembling a snow plow they owned, a road grader. Quitting time was 6PM. She grabbed the skis and headed out for what turned out to be an all night ski, returning by about 10AM to start another day's plowing. I wondered if she was beat, but she explained that the adrenaline rush was so high she hardly noticed being up all night.
Then there was the tale of the 1 month long wilderness class up on the Olympic Peninsula she took a bunch of high school students on. She says, "At the beginning of the month I gave each person just one roll of toilet paper. By the end of the month, toilet paper had become a sore subject. They were playing poker for sheets." As she drove them back home from their month in the woods she took them high on one of ridges that had been clear cut. A scene resembling a field of war was spread out before them, nothing but sawed off tree stumps, stumps so large four people would stand on top side by side arms stretched out finger tips touching. She stopped the car and got out, not saying a word. The kids stared, mouths agape. Finally one of the girls whispered, "Is this why you gave us only one roll of toilet paper each?" They all understood right then and there what an important lesson they had all just learned.
I couldn't help but to continue to think of this story as we pedaled down the road the next day. Just imagine an entire month with just one roll of toilet paper. What would you use? What did the native people use? In fact, if you think about it the constant availability of paper simply for wiping your bottom after relieving yourself is an exorbitant luxury those of us of the western civilization just recently obtained. There are still many places in the world where TP just isn't around. We all recall the stories of lines, hours long in the former Soviet Union all for just TP. In Turkey, it's impolite to shake hands or eat with your left hand because that's what you use to wipe, left handers must have it rough. Even in this country, what did those pioneers of the 1860s do as they traveled across the country along the Oregon and California trails. I began to think, if placed in a similar situation what would I use. I recall the Eskimo women used a moss to line baby cradles, a truly biodegradable disposable baby diaper. I'm willing to bet the adults made use of the same moss, what's good enough for baby surely is good enough for mama. The plants alongside the roadway started taking on a whole new meaning and purpose.
The day of rest at Lyman Lake State park was good for us as 4 days mountainous riding at the start of a summer tour was plenty. For Kathe, it meant an opportunity to rest a very stiff and sore knee. Long white surgical scars along both sides of her left knee attest to some serious damage in days past. A torn ligament, it turns out, obtained during a logging competition. Her highly physical, outdoor lifestyle got the best of her at one point. Now as she grows older activities she used to take for granted become more and more difficult. She explains, "It's not that I like biking all that much. It's just that I can't walk." She grumbled about how ironic it is that she can manage to ride a bike all the way across the country, yet can just barely walk to the bathroom. Some time ago she bought a kayak. She says, "I'm not a water person. Don't really like the water. But, in the back of my mind I suspect I'm going to have to learn to like it." I must admit it's something I dread. The day all this constant physical activity catches up to me. The day all those years of jogging, back packing, biking, aerobic dancing finally reveal the hidden damage to my hips, knees, and ankles. My feet have already expressed their disgust with all this torture and slight aching in my left hip after a long hike tells me my hip is also quite angry with my behavior. I am just glad that for now I can still partake in all the activities I desire and right now have the free time to do so. This is certainly far better than a lot of people get.
We left Lyman State Park early the next morning hoping, against all hopes, that the slight rain dribbles we'd heard on the tent that night were all we'd see of that promised cold front. However, as we glided downhill to St Johns, Az and turned to the west gray clouds loomed over the western horizon and the wind velocity grew and grew. We climbed up a hill just as the rain started to fall, then turn hard and white. Hail! The wind subsided and the sun came out just as we reached the crossroad of Concho, one of those towns with nothing more than 4 houses and a church. We ate lunch outside the church and I gratefully accepted the hot cup of tea offered by one of the church patrons. Figuring the front was past, the storm over we returned to Rt 180 heading west toward Petrified Forest National Park. The weather remained unsettled, storm clouds billowed all around, heavy winds came and went, yet we managed to make another 20 miles or so. Climbing up a small rise onto a high plateau we stared at total disbelief at a solid gray curtain of rain. The wind howled. I couldn't pedal forward nor even stay on the bike. Brian exclaimed, "I think we're in big trouble and I don't know what to do." We were out in the open at the top of this hill, horrific winds, a horrendous storm headed our way, and no where to go. There was no way we could go forward. We couldn't stay put. The only option, go back. So we turned, hardly turned a pedal, and headed back down the hill.
Off to one side on the opposite side of one of those 3 strand barbed wire fences was one large rusted cylindrical tank sitting vertically, 3 smaller rusted tanks sitting on their sides, one of those famous plains farm aluminum Aermotor windmills that wasn't working, and a horse trailer housing a generator that was humming away. Unlatching the barbed wire gate, we picked our way across the dried mud and cow patties over to the tanks. Staying on the leeward sides we found some protection from the wind and horizontal blowing rain and snow. I kept thinking, what would the rancher do if he found us here. But chances are he wouldn't, or would he. After not much more than a half hour up pulled one of those big white Ford pick up trucks so common in Arizona. It pulled right up to the gate, a cowboy hat clad man got out, opened the gate, and then drove right up to where we were huddled against the side of a tank. Uh oh, I thought. How do we explain this now? Without so much as batting an eye he walks right over and asks, "Do you all want to get in the truck and warm up a bit." "Yes" I said without so much as a hesitation. Before long we were nice and warm and even had an offer to drop us and the bikes off where ever we wanted to go. Being pragmatic and seeing a never ending line of those dark gray clouds right in our line of travel, we took him up on it. A ride to the intersection with the Petrified National Forest road where we found afternoon shelter in 2 rock shops and a night's free camping. If this had been Texas I'm sure we would have been booted off the farm without so much as a howdy do. But, this ain't Texas and this ain't a Texas rancher, he's a Mormon in fact. Once again, when most in need someone shows up to help us out.
"Standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona such a fine sight to see. It's a girl, my lord, in a flat bed Ford slowing down to take a look at me"
I imagine in picking Winslow, Az for this song the artist, I forget who, was primarily looking for a name that sounds good. Arizona sort of does rhyme with corner and Winslow does have the right number of syllables. Yet, Winslow really is one of those towns where transient travelers sporting mangy beards, ragged clothes, and carrying bed rolls or back packs hang out on the corners. And there sure a lot of flashy new Ford trucks running around as well. It's a stop over town about 50 miles east of Flagstaff along the major east/west transportation corridor of the southwest. Mile long trains rumble back and fourth constantly along one of its 4 sets of train tracks severing the town north from south. Trucks and cars woosh by all day long on I40. People stopped in town whether riding the rails or in their own cars seem to be just taking a break in the middle of a long journey to somewhere else. Few people stay long and apart from its brief moment of fame in the song, is entirely unmemorable. The town fits the song, or does the song fit the town? My one regret after passing through town was a missed photo opportunity. I forgot to get a picture of one of us "standing on the corner". To be honest, though, it didn't occur to me until after we left that this was truly The Winslow Arizona.
North of Winslow is a vast expanse of Arizona desert punctuated with grand flat topped mesas all covered with dry brown and gray-green desert scrub. This is the land of the Navajo and Hopi Indians. Encompassing lands from just north of I40 up to the Utah border, as far west as the Grand Canyon and extending east half way through New Mexico, the Navajo Indian Reservation, known as The Rez by locals, is the by far largest in the US. Yet smack in the middle like an island in a vast sea is the much smaller Hopi reservation. Being two peoples of very different and distinct cultural backgrounds, relations between the two tribes has always been between uneasy to outright hostile. The issue, land rights, an issue that did not come to prominence until the US government many years ago decreed that the land must be divided between the different tribes. Suddenly proving inalienable right to various plots of productive and/or sacred land became very important. The land battle has gone before courts many times and is still being fought to this day.
The Hopi have been a settled, pueblo peoples for hundreds if not a thousand years. They are of Mongolian descent and were among the earliest nomadic people to find their way across the Bering Straits some 10 thousand years ago. Of all the southwest Indian tribes they have perhaps one of the more interesting historical legends, a legend that can easily be traced to their early days of crossing the straits. As with most native American peoples their creation myth involves coming through a series of "worlds" that are each destroyed forcing the people to move on to another world. In fact the Hopi even seem to refer to them as islands surrounded by water. If I recall correctly, one was destroyed by fire, another by flood. I forget what destroyed the third. Their legend goes on to say that we now exist in the fourth world and there are to be a total of 7 eventually. Now if you think about a group of people coming across the temporarily exposed islands of the Bering Straits, right along the "ring of fire" border between the two tectonic plates you could just imagine a major volcanic eruption and a flood causing such devastation that the tribe, having temporarily settled, finds itself on the move once again. Not knowing anything about plate tectonics, volcanoes, tidal waves, you could see how the primitive people would come up with spiritual explanations for each disaster. Naturally over time the story would be expounded, embellished, and enhanced to make the story telling all that more exciting.
What makes the Hopi legend so much more interesting than the rest is that once they reached this continent they were called upon to split into 4 separate groups, each carrying a piece of a rock with some inscription written upon it. The 4 groups were to head off in the four cardinal directions bound toward the "edge of the world" as they thought of it. To prove that they were truly worthy people each group must go to each edge in turn and then return to the one sacred place where they could stop their wanderings, the 3 sacred mesas in Arizona. Here they would meet once again and rejoin their pieces of sacred rock. Now, these migrations did not take place in a matter of months or years, more like generations and hundreds or thousands of years. Often the wandering group would settle in one spot for a few generations before receiving some sign to move on, probably a depletion of game. As their numbers grew, the groups further divided to improve hunting opportunities and also because of internal strife. They documented their wanderings through petroglyphs etched in rocks. Spirals indicate a group in the midst of this migration, the number of spiral indicating how many of the world edges this group has already visited. A single line splitting into several indicate a group dividing into several splinter groups. Two or more spirals coming together represent two migrating groups meeting and staying together for a while. The chosen people, the ones most worthy, found their way to all four edges and finally settled on the three sacred mesas more than 700 years ago. Their legends also tell of how some of their group made their way to lands far south, South America I suppose. Finding an easy life there, they stayed and are considered to be tribal members gone astray by the Hopi. Since the Hopi did gain knowledge of cultivation from Mexico many thousands of years ago it is highly conceivable that many of the people through Mexico, central and south America are distant relatives of the Hopi.
The Navajo, on the other hand, are a much more recently arrived group of people having come across the land bridge not too long before it was flooded for good. It is believed that they are distant relatives of the Athapascan tribes along the western Canada coast. Whereas the Hopi are short and stout the Navajo actually have a taller, leaner, more majestic appearance. They were nomads far longer than the Hopi and, consequently more aggressive and arrogant than the relatively peaceful and shy Hopi. According to the Hopi, they had been long settled on their mesas, established adobe condominium style buildings on the mesa tops, created farms on the flat lands below, and hunted the regions as far as the San Francisco mountains when a new group of people started showing up. At first these people showed up in small family groups. They had no political, religious, or social structure that the Hopi considered worthy. They were barbarians, at least by Hopi standards. Being a peaceful people, the Hopi allowed the earliest arrivals to move onto some of their lands, helping them out when needed, even teaching them their religion, farming techniques, political structure. But, the slow dribble of arrivals gradually turned into a flood as more and more of these nomadic barbarians came, built homes, usurped Hopi lands. In fact, the Hopi even say that the religious beliefs of the Navajo were just stolen from them. Seeing how similar their creation myths are with the exception of the migration story one could understand why the Hopi have this belief. Needless to say, strife between the two groups grew as the Hopi, never a very populous group, became more and more surrounded by the Navajo, a very prolific group.
Intervention of the US government in the 1800s added to the problem. The government decided that there were to be reservations set aside for the Hopi and the Navajo. The problem, apart from the obvious Hopi towns established on top of the mesas, the lands claimed by both groups overlapped. The Hopi, going back to their legends where the Navajo were just much later interlopers on their already claimed lands believed they had the property rights. The Navajo believed that these lands were essentially vacant when they arrived so they were open to claiming. The government, as usual, came up with an odd solution, if a group could prove occupation before the other then the land was theirs. This created quite a dilemma for the Hopi. Even though a particular hill or mountain may have been considered sacred and been the location of particular ceremonies for hundreds of years the only evidence might be some ambiguous rock cairn haphazardly constructed on top of the hill. Whereas the Navajo may have built hogans, their octagonal mud and log homes, all around the area. The hogans looked far more established to a US district court judge than some pile of rocks and how does one place a date on a rock cairn? Also, the Hopi were very, very reluctant to openly discuss their religious beliefs and ceremonies, having had their beliefs taken from them once before. Being a more aggressive people, the Navajo hired a bunch of good lawyers. These were some pretty rich people. So when it came to the court battles the Hopi seemed to more often than not wind up on the losing end. Their lands became smaller and smaller and they became more surrounded by Navajo until they were left with their few island mesas in the sky. And so the battle continues on even today.
As you ride from one reservation to the next you can see a difference between the physical characteristics of the people as well as the buildings. Both seem like very friendly people, the Hopi perhaps a bit more shy. Both are very courteous to bikers. We can't begin to count the number of waves, smiles, honks, and very, very slow car passes we got. But the towns on the mesas seem more run down, the Hopi cultural center, museum, store, and hotel in quite a shabby state, the buildings not much more than small block houses. The Navajo homes seemed richer, better built, more substantial. Wealth has apparently been a bit lopsided between the two groups for some time. But this is changing. The Hopi are working to bring in more industry to get more jobs on the reservation for the young people. As we visited their local newspaper talked of consultants from Israel coming in to teach them a state-of-the-art drip irrigation system to grow produce which has already been promised to a large local grocery store chain. But there are a lot of people living on the mesas which means establishing a lot of jobs. They have a lot of work ahead.
Getting up and over the mesas proved to be quite a challenge for bikers. The total climb was at least 2000 ft from Winslow and the terrain about as dry as you can get. Each afternoon winds would howl out of the south/southwest. Despite being a tailwind giving us a substantial push, the dry air so quickly dehydrates the mouth and body our energy was quickly sapped. After 2 sixty mile days we struggled into the town of Tuba City where we took a much needed day to rest, rejuvenate, and rehydrate. This would be our last major town for several days and we wanted to take advantage of the services.
Over the years we've discovered that riding in the desert southwest can be either heaven or Hell. There seems to be no in between. The day we headed out of Tuba City was one of those heavenly days. Winds were out of the south, the sun shining, the road had nice wide shoulders, the terrain a long, long gradual downhill, and the scenery absolutely breathtaking. We were entering canyon country where some of the most spectacular canyon scenery on earth is found. We easily glided on and on for the 72 miles with just a few turns of the pedal. Vertical red/orange cliffs of the vermilion sandstone layer rose higher and higher on both sides. Off in the distance we could spot the Kaibab plateau on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Apart from having to chase pieces of our lunch during our break, it was an absolutely perfect day for heading to the northeast to Lees Ferry, the boundary between Glen Canyon Damn National Recreation Area and the Grand Canyon.
Lees Ferry has an interesting and important place in the history of the development of the Arizona and Utah states. Its importance is that it is the one and only spot along a 600 mile stretch where there is easy access to the Colorado river from both the north and south rims. The ancient natives made use of this crossing point for hundreds of years. The first Europeans to come to this point were the padres, Father Dominguez and Escalante. In July, 1776 they set out from Santa Fe, New Mexico headed north in search of an easy passage to the military garrison in Monterrey, California. By starting out heading directly north they passed to the east of the Grand Canyon and did not have to deal with finding a crossing at that time. As fate would have it, before they could reach California they were beset with early snows which forced them to turn back south. Unfortunately before the snows came they had already started turning toward the west, having gone as far as the Great Basin in Utah. So their turn back to the south put them on a direct path into the middle of the Grand Canyon. They were exhausted and starving, their lack of supplies causing them to kill and eat a horse days earlier, when they approached the north rim. Some of the local pueblo Indians claimed to know a route across, but the volunteer abandoned them after a few days having become afraid to leave his people. On October 7 they made it to the Colorado river at the mouth of the Paria River near the location now known as Lees Ferry. They made several attempts to cross during the next few days, wading, swimming, rafting, but the water was too swift and deep. So after 4 unsuccessful days they moved a bit further upstream where they chopped steps into the sandstone wall at Padre Creak and found safe passage at a wide and shallow location of the Colorado. It was a point known as The Crossing of the Fathers which is now under the waters of Lake Powell. Even though Onate had been led to the rim of the Grand Canyon by the Hopi some 150 years ea Some 100 years later this point was passed by another famous explorer, Major John Wesley Powell for whom the lake now owes its name. In May 1869 Powell and his crew of 9 men set out from Green River, Wyo in boats determined to find out if the Colorado River was navigable through Glen and Grand Canyons. I seem to recall hearing that midway through the journey within the Grand Canyon some of the men had had enough and wanted out. They decided to climb out of the canyon. They were found several weeks later near starvation and dying of thirst by some of the local natives. I think the group who remained with Powell actually had the easier trip after all.
The regular use of the natural break in the canyons as a transportation corridor came into being in the 1850s when the Mormon church sent John D. Lee down to this site to establish a ferry service primarily for the Mormon emigrants. It was right on the route from Arizona to the first Mormon tabernacle in St. George, Utah. Mormon couples getting married in Arizona were required to go to St. George to have their marriage sanctified by the church. Consequently the route got the name of the Honeymoon Trail. The ferry was taken over by Warren Johnson from 1873 to 1896 and other owners after that until the construction of the first steel arch Navajo bridge a few miles downstream took over the job in 1929. Oddly, Lee was sentenced to death and shot in 1877 for his participation in an attack upon a wagon train crossing southern Utah 20 years earlier. Mormons were being persecuted by the US government for their polygamous marriages. They were being tracked down by US marshals and imprisoned which is why so many found their way into the remote and difficult to access canyon lands. Some Mormons considered themselves to be in a state of war with the government. This wagon train happened to be crossing through Utah, they encountered a group of Mormons of which Lee was a prominent member, they got into an argument, and Lee, the Mormons, and a bunch of local Indians returned later that night to massacre all but some 18 children. Surprisingly it took some 20 years for the government to finally track him down and place him on trial. Fortunately for us this undeclared war seems to have passed peacefully into the pages of history.
Lees Ferry was replaced in 1929 by this incredibly high and graceful steel arch bridge called the Navajo Bridge. Unfortunately the replacement was met in a bit of tragedy. While the bridge was under construction the ferry was being used to transport some of the men and materials across the river. During one of these crossings the ferry capsized and sank, killing 3 men. It was never replaced. The loss of the ferry, however, created some interesting construction obstacles. Specifically getting equipment from one side to the other. For light materials, beams, rivets, tools and such, they rigged a cable across the canyon. For heavy equipment such as the cranes and bulldozers, they had to take these back out across a road that was not much more than a dirt track, travel all the way around the southwest end of the canyon, and then back in along another dirt track road. A journey of over 600 miles needed to reach a spot that was no more than 800 feet from where they started.
The original Navajo Bridge was an engineering marvel for its time. At over 460 ft above the water, it was considered to be the highest arch bridge in the US. But it was only 18 ft wide and its construction consisting of beams with riveted cross shear ties was meant for the size, weight, and frequency of traffic it saw back in the 1930s. Not toady's huge and heavy RVs and 18 wheeled semis. So in 1983 work began on planning a replacement. The new Navajo Bridge is located just 150 feet downstream from the old. It too is a steel arch bridge designed specifically to mimic the style of the old bridge. However it is now 45 ft wide, has modern I-beam construction, and has a deeper arch needed to support the higher weights of today's vehicles. Whereas the men building the first bridge back in 1929 had technical obstacles to overcome, the builders of the new bridge had environmental issues to contend with. They were not permitted to allow debris to fall into the river which meant stringing a netting across the gap to collect anything that fell and hauling everything dug, drilled, or blasted away from the site. They had to carefully drill and blast to leave rock that looked as natural as possible. They even had to come back and stain the rock to make it look aged. The original bridge cost about $300,000 to complete, in 1929 dollars and that was even with contending with horrendous transportation issues. The new one cost some $14 million. I suspect all the environmental issues added a lot to the costs. But the result is stunning and the bridges now harmoniously stand side by side, the new taking the vehicular traffic and the old is for pedestrians. The new bridge was just dedicated in 1995.
We spent just night in the Lees Ferry campground waiting out a rain storm which started only minutes after the ranger assured us "It never rains here". But the dark skies and howling winds gave way to a gloriously sunny and still morning. So decided to "go for it". "It" in this case was a 45 mile ride climbing up from the edge of the Colorado river at around 3000 ft to the dizzying height of 7930 ft at Jacob Lake just north of the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Never in all our years of bike touring have we attempted to make a 5000 ft climb in just one day. Add to that the fact that after the first 10 miles there would be no water sources meaning we had to carry it all and that I was carrying perhaps 15 lbs extra food because groceries were far and few between as well. Even under the best of conditions it was destined to be a tough, tough climb. We started early, 7AM, hoping to get several miles behind before the winds kicked. While the day before we had enjoyed a northeasterly ride with the winds at our backs. Today we were to turn 180 degrees and we just knew by early afternoon we'd have the winds in our face. And wouldn't you know it, at around 1:30 we stopped for a 15 minute snack break and during that short time the winds went from zilch to 20 mph gusts or so, just as we headed out across a long 10 mile gradual upward open stretch. Then, after 35 miles of ever so slow climbing came the real hill. We had just 10 miles in which to make the last 2500 ft climb. Quickly leaving the brown desert landscape we entered a pygmy forest region of Utah Juniper and Pinyon Pines which were gradually replaced by the much taller cedars. The air became cooler then cold and the climb seemed to go on and on and on. The last 3 miles were the worst, expecting to see Jacob Lake Lodge at any bend in the road, we'd manage for about 1 mile then have to stop to rest. It was a long, slow arduous process but we finally made it, after some 7 hours riding, to collapse onto a picnic bench to begin our recovery. It's so We decided to stay in the Jacob Lake area for a day off the bikes, a day of rest so to speak. However, a day of rest turned out to entail a 9 mile walk through the pine forest. Only nutty bike tourists would consider a 9 mile hike to be a day of rest. We had wanted to head down to the north rim to have a look at the Grand Canyon itself. But, the National Park Service has placed so many fees and restrictions on use of their lands it would have been virtually impossible. In the first place the only campground on the rim is not first-come-first-served. It's a reservation campground which means that if there are any unreserved sites they are all long gone by 8AM. There's no way we could ride the 44 miles to the rim by 8AM. Next, to get a backcountry permit to pack in and camp somewhere down one of the trails would cost us a whopping $28 for just one night, $20 for the backcountry permit and $4 per person per night "impact fee", whatever that may be. So it would cost more for the two of us to pack in our own stuff, make our own camp, dig our own toilet hole, and pack everything back out than it would to stay in the campground, which is $15 per night. It's gotten absolutely outrageously expensive to backpack in the Grand Canyon, well beyond our budget at least. So I suspect we never will. Finally, we might have been able to camp on the Forest Service land just outside the park boundary and ride in. But as I mentioned, this area was still all snow packed. We're not well equipped to camp in or on the snow. We soon gave up the idea and concluded that perhaps we'll have to try to see the north rim sometime when we're in a vehicle and don't need to stay overnight. Yet it was so frustrating. We'd come this way, climbed that 5000 ft climb, primarily with the idea of going to see the north rim and it was just not to be.
The next morning we found ourselves bouncing back down the mountain along some rough Forest Service roads and then continuing downhill into the tiny town of Fredonia and then further west to Pipe Spring National Monument. Pipe Spring NM is located smack in the middle of the Paiute Indian Reservation, so naturally I assumed it would be a monument dealing with something very Indian in nature. Not so. It turns out to have been a cattle ranch created in 1870 by the Mormon church. At that time the Mormons were building their new cathedral in St. George and they needed some way to pay the builders. They didn't have a lot of money at that time. So they bought the lands surrounding pipe spring primarily because of the large spring. They built a large fort right on top of the spring, the fort being needed to protect against the marauding Navajo who were still running about, and they piped the water under the house, into a spring room and then out into two pools. Hence the name Pipe Spring. Their primary products were cheese, butter, and beef which they paid as tithes to the Mormon church which were then paid to the cathedral builders. The monument consists of the old fort building, an outbuilding housing the blacksmith shop, the surrounding gardens, and a small cabin that had been occupied by Major John W. Powell when he was doing his second survey of the region. The main fort could house up to 40 people, many of whom were single girls hired to prepare the milk, cheese, and care for the house. The young men were hired as ranch hands and were kept well away from the young ladies. It wasn't too long before the entire area became overgrazed, lush grasslands being replaced with scrub brush. Fluctuations in the prices of dairy products and finally a drought caused hardships for the ranch and threat of confiscation by the government during a time of turmoil over the polygamous marriage practices caused the church to sell the ranch in 1888. It then changed hands several times finally coming under the control of The site is quite peaceful and green now having lots of tall trees and shrubs growing around the buildings and two ponds. There would have been not much more than dusty dirt back when the cattle ranch was in full operation. The "fort" building is shown every 1/2 hour on a tour basis. It consists of 2 long 2 story parallel buildings with walls between them closing off the central courtyard. Big wooden gates allow access through these two closing walls. The buildings and walls are all constructed from the red sandstone comprising the hillside behind the ranch. In sharp contrast to the red stone, bright white balconies run all around the second story. Each floor of the buildings is broken into 2 or 3 large rooms, each being large enough to house one very large Mormon family or several single girls. The male ranch hands stayed out with the cattle, you lucky guys. The rooms were furnished in the style of the period, but with the exception of the huge stove in the kitchen which was not going to be moved no matter what, none was original to the house. The walls were all white plaster, the ceilings just the unpainted joists of the floor above or roof. There was little or no decorations anywhere. One item of particular interest was the telegraph room. This house was the location of the first telegraph station in the state of Arizona and a photo of the first telegraph operator, a Miss Luella Stewart, hangs above an authentic but not hooked up sending and receiving station. Outside a series of 5 or 6 cedar poles with the old single glass insulators and telegraph wire stretches to the edge of the property. I lamented that it's too bad it's not hooked up to some park somewhere else in the country. It'd be fun to see kids reactions to hearing clicks from across the miles. Primitive email you might say.
Since both the campground we stayed at and the monument are located in the Paiute reservation we had the opportunity to speak with some of the reservation's residents. Benn is an employee of the Nation Park Service, working the information desk and sometimes giving the fort tours. An interesting man with long, graying black hair tied in tow braids that get very thin toward their ends, the darker brown skin of the highly sun exposed southwestern Indian tribes, a little on the chubby side but not overly so, and a nice friendly, calm disposition. He's been in the military, having served in Vietnam, a nurse, head of health care services for the Paiute reservation, and now he has a 4 year contract as an interpreter at Pipe Spring NM. He tells us he took the job with the Parks because it's less stressful, but he's still very active in the health concerns of his people. In fact that very night he was leading a sweat lodge ceremony, a purification rite that involves sweating out all your impurities in an enclosed room surrounding a fire. We were invited to join, but as women who are "in the time of their moon" as Benn said, are not permitted in or near the ceremony I had to opt out. Also, since the entire process involves becoming very, very dehydrated, a state which we border on much of the time, Brian decided to forego as well. I was a bit disappointed as I've heard the entire process can be very powerful emotionally and I was quite interested in participating. My body's timing would have to be off this one time. That night, well into the late hours as we listened to the mournful boom, boom of the drums and the lonely songs coming from the ceremony I couldn't help but wonder what it would have been like.
We also got to speak to Danny Bullet, whom I called the famous Danny Bullet as his name is written all over the flyers announcing the presence of the campground. He told us a little about the reservation. There are about 230 Paiutes living on the reservation which comprises only about 30% of the entire tribe. Most have to move elsewhere to find jobs. We'd been wondering about that for some time. There appears to be no industry or manufacturing on most of these reservations. What goods are made seem to be mostly crafts to sell to the tourists, not an industry that employees many people. So it appears that most have to go elsewhere in the state. Of the 230 that do live on reservation many have jobs at a factory in Fredonia that manufactures rubber stamps. The tribe is also obtaining seed money to start a few on reservation businesses, such as a new gas station/convenience store now under construction and a brand new cafe right within the same building as the Pipe Spring Visitor Center. But these efforts employ only very few people. Yet we are at a complete loss as to how to come up with businesses that can employ more. They had tried a casino, but since there was no accompanying hotel, they closed at 10PM and did not serve alcohol it failed. So what else does one try. I am sure the Paiutes are struggling with this dilemma constantly. I did ask Danny why we don't see more Native Americans in the engineering profession. In all my years I've encountered only one. He says he suspects it's the math that scares them. He did mention that many years ago a company came to mine uranium. The lease was let with the provision that the company set up a scholarship fund. The fund still exists and has yet to have any takers, because the student must go into engineering. It's too bad pursuing math oriented careers does not seem to interest these young people as I am sure some could be quite talented at it.
Utah, a new state to bike through and from what we've encountered thus far it could well be one of our toughest yet most rewarding. We started off by heading east out of the town of Kanab across the newly created and very, very controversial Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument. Controversial because the monument was declared by President Clinton just prior to his reelection as a ploy to gain votes, at least that's the general feeling we received from all the local folk. As far as we can tell there are several sides to this story. First there are the ranchers. These folks have had leases for razing rights on the BLM lands for around 100 years now. Suddenly, without much consultation, they are being told that their leases will expire and not renewed. This means several ranches may find themselves out of business within a few years. Without the BLM lands they simply have not enough acreage of their own to support many cattle. I can see why they'd be upset, having their livelihood suddenly taken away without having the opportunity to tell their side. Then there's the mining concerns. Evidently there's a lot of coal in "them thar hills" and the locals were looking at this as a prime business opportunity. The declaration of the region as a National Monument shut that prospect down completely. There's the government and the president. He does have the power to create National Monuments, a power granted to him by congress, the lands are owned by the federal government, and there never was a guarantee that the ranchers could continue to graze, and over graze, these lands into the indefinite future. It's sort of like an owner of a building who has to right to terminate a tenant's lease if he so chooses, a right I would not want to see taken away. And finally there are the environmentalists. I suppose there is something out in this area that they are particularly keen on seeing preserved. Although I'll be durned if I can see what that may be. The area is pretty and interesting, but it doesn't s The ride across the new monument was 64 miles of which 34 were unpaved and 10 of that soft sand, up and down super steep grades, hot, dry, tough, tough, tough. That 5000 ft climb just a couple days earlier now seemed more like a prelude of tougher things to come. There was no water along the route, only one small ranch where we could purchase some cold soda. Beyond that mostly climbs onto mountain ridges and slow, careful descents into river carved canyons. One canyon looked quite literally like just a big crack in the earth, about 8 ft wide 20 or 30 feet deep. A truck had gotten stuck in the middle of the canyon before the new bridge was built directly over the top of it. It was particularly difficult as we had only reverse tread tires, more suitable for hard packed dirt or pavement than soft sand. Climbing some of the steep grades I'd find my rear wheel simply spinning, getting no traction at all. I'd have to get off and push. Coming down through the sand, the bike would fish tail back and fourth as it floated through the sand. At one spot I took a spill because I tried to shift gears just as I hit a sand pocket. The last mile of downhill was so sandy we again had to dismount and walk. These tires simply are not meant for this kind of road. After 57 miles across the monument, up and down these rough dirt roads, we were simply exhausted. The remaining 7 miles to Kodachrome Basin State Park seemed like a hundred. We dragged our tired bodies into camp, managed to find about the last remaining free site, set up camp, ate, showered, and fell into bed for a long much needed 11 hour sleep.
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.