Navajo Nation to Barstow

We were almost the only whites in the Dine’ Restaurant this morning; and we were the only whites at the Window Rock post office; and the only whites at the Navajo Nation Museum, which doubles as a cultural center and meeting space. Of course we went to the bookstore in the Navajo Nation Museum, where, among other things, I bought I Swallow Turquoise for Courage, a book of poetry by the Navajo poet Hershman R. John. In the poem “Strong Male Rain,” John writes about his childhood fear of thunderstorms, and how he discovered that his friend “Darcy, a Jewish girl from Phoenix,” was also scared of thunder:

I told her about the Male Rain and what not to do during a storm.
She told me about Ean and his tale of the Kugelblitz.
I guess Jews and Navajos aren’t all that different.
We were both afraid of thunderstorms.
We have other past storms we were afraid of too.
She had the Holocaust
And I had America.

We drove up to the tribal park in Window Rock, and looked at the memorial to the Navajo Code Talkers of the Second World War. We also looked at the memorial that had a long list of Navajo who had died while serving in the U.S. military.

There was a flea market a couple of blocks down Route 264 from the museum. Carol wanted to stop, and we wandered around for a while. We were the only white people there. She bought a three inch hole saw from a man who spoke English to her, and some other language, presumably Navajo, to the next person. I bought a round loaf of yeast bread for two bucks. Carol also got a string of blue beads for five dollars. There were some cheap restaurants behind the flea market. We stopped at the one named “Grilled Food”; I got squash mutton stew, and Carol got mutton pozole.

On the way out, Carol got to talking with a short thin man, and then two of his buddies came along. One of the buddies, a tall, thickset, friendly-looking young man, said to us, “Why are white people so hard to get along with?” It sounded like a riddle, and I thought maybe he had had something to drink. Carol and I both said, “Yes, white people are hard to get along with.” “No,” he said, “because you won’t lend me twenty bucks.” I said, “You’re right.” And he said, laughing, “Welcome to Navajoland. I hope you have a good time.”

We drove out of Window Rock a little after noon, up through the high wooded ridge to the west, then right on U.S. 191, and back down through pretty rolling country back to the interstate. We stopped off at the Painted Desert National Monument to take a walk, and on the way to the trail we drove across the old right-of-way of the historic Route 66, now nothing but a long almost straight dirt road with a sign reading, “Authorized Vehicles Only.”

From the Painted Desert Rim Trail

We had a long drive ahead of us. We stopped at one of Carol’s favorite restaurants, Macy’s, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Flagstaff, for an early dinner. Nearly everyone there was white. From there, the road climbed up to over seven thousand feet, then dropped down to Seligman; and from Seligman, the road wound down through the mountains, the sun low and ahead of us in the sky, the bushes and rocks on the mountainsides casting long shadows. We kept dropping down and down until we dropped down to Needles, California, 484 feet above sea level. The water bottle in the front seat was dimpled in on three sides from the change in air pressure; and Carol had trouble opening a jar of jelly that she had first opened at above 5,000 feet.

Now we are in Barstow, at a hotel that is right next to a railroad switching yard. We arrived after dark, so I have no idea what Barstow looks like, but I can hear rail cars being moved around on the tracks behind us.

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