Night 24: 4 Corner Loafering

Trip Start Jun 20, 2012
Trip End Jul 18, 2012

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Where I stayed
Heron Lake State Park

Flag of United States  , New Mexico
Friday, July 13, 2012

Today we drove almost 290 miles in a huge C shape around the Four Corners Region. Weather began warm (about 88 degrees) and mostly sunny, then clouds moved in and we dealt with isolated rain and some dry lightning. Tonight is pleasant and very cloudy. It will likely rain overnight.

Today we began our adventure not too far from where we settled in for the night. I am a bit guilty for not making it very far to the east and closer to home. But today I was introduced via NPR to a new word: "loafering." It was described by a Southern writer who was being interviewed. Loafering is different from loafing. Loafing is despicable laziness when one is supposed to be working. It is a sign if liw character to be sure.

I was afraid that this was what I have been doing for 23 days now, but I am not. I am also not "piddling", which is not as bad as "loafing." Piddling is doing nothing at all. I do piddle often, but not during this trip. It seems Jessica hates piddling and tries to get me to avoid it, but it is a part of my nature. I urge toward piddling.

I am not piddling or loafing. I am loafering. This is the act of getting on the road without a plan and just taking a trip around searching for new experiences. It is a bit passive. The world just happens by a loaferer. I think it might be related to piddling, except that you're doing something. It would be loafing if I had work to do. But as a teacher, I have a long time in the summer when my hard work is literally done for a spell. I never stop thinking about teaching or planning lessons, but I don't have 150 kids to deal with everyday in the summer. In the summer I don't grade papers and assess writing. I did my work and now I can live out a bit and loafer around the country and experience nature and culture I cannot from my desk at work.

Loafering has made me smarter. It has made my son smarter too. A loaferer us a learner. A loaferer is an admirer of God's artwork. I think loafering with my family draws us closer. I'm not like one of those Woody Guthrie hobos, although I think I have some of the skills to be one. (Bravery is probably something I would need to work on.) I have always been a loaferer. As a kid I asked my mother to show me where all the "busy streets" ended. I went for meandering bike rides and long walks and mapped my routes. Today I love seeing where an interstate highway ends as much as I used to enjoy seeing where Foster Avenue, the local busy street ended.

Anyhow today we wandered and loafered and ended up nowhere really. We drive nearly 300 miles and went nowhere. Along the way, though, we saw beautiful trans-montaine beauty and experienced some ancient history. All in all it was a good day, much better than sitting at hone watching Judge Judy and waiting for school to start again. Instead I sat around and watched America pass alongside my windshield.

Enough philosophy and justification. Today we began our loafering in Farmington, New Mexico, a bigger town just east of the Navajo Reservation and just south of the Ute Reservation. The town is workaday and not a tourist town. I'm lucky they had a room to rent in the first place. We decided to see some of the Anasazi ruins in the Four Corners region, so we had to backtrack what I thought was ten miles. It was 35. Seems my New Mexico map is on a different scale than my California or Arizona maps.

So we backtracked to Shiprock, a town named for the huge rock that towers over it. The rock looks luke a galleon coming in from the sea. It is at the edge of the Navajo Nation. The Navajo here call themselves "Dimeh." i am sure the word "Navajo" is dome sort of old Indian racial slur. The Ho-Chunks hate that everyone calls them Winnebagos, the Inuit hate Eskimo, the Ojibway hate Chippewa. The Dimeh are the majority population in these areas. Some signs, even in the local Walmarts, are printed in the Navajo language. Sone men in town wear long black braids. There are stores that sell fry bread and goat meat and mutton. Other than that, the locals do what other Americans do. There are no exotic Navajos and Hopis wearing feathers like I was promised by TV and movies and National Geographic. The Navajo order takeout Chinese food and rent movies from the Redbox. They drive pickup trucks and Hondas. They get hamburgers at McDonalds. The only difference is they use every part of the  Big Mac! (That was a joke...)

The road passes into Colorado and into a lush green valley that is an oasis of farming in the desert. The main town in the high valley is Cortez. I have been here once before, so driving through again brought back memories. I should have stayed here and NOT Farmington. I could've avoided the backtracking. I hate backtracking, which is why I have never been to many peninsulas. It took me a long time to agree to visit Florida and, unlike other Chicagoans, I refuse to visit Door County in Wisconsin. I hate going back on roads I came down. It is against the loafering bible.

Past Cortez, we had to wait on flaggers. But soon we arrived at the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park. The road here climbs to a plateau about 8300 feet high. The drive up us hard on the car, but slow and steady jeeps a cool engine. The hills are covered with willow brush and burned out trees. Here and there are areas untouched by fire. These areas are home to pines and junipers and, Jessica saw with her own
eyes, at least one chocolate colored black bear.  This sighting, 150 miles from where i write this, has got me nervous tonight in the tent. I thought I was done worrying about bears.

At the top if the plateau are steep canyons leading out into the Cortez valley below. The walls are like fingers reaching out. Along the sides if the walls, about halfway up in natural alcoves, are the amazing ruins of ancient Anasazi cities. Mist if these were built in the 13th century, but look better than most of the buildings on the Navajo Reservation we passed through to get here. 

No one knows why the people left for sure. Was it disease? Was it war or revolution? Was ut drought? Was it overuse of natural resources? There us evidence fir each of these theories. No one really knows who the people who lived here were. It seems they share cultural traits with the Puebloan people of the Rio Grande Valkey to the east. 

Like the Pueblo do, they built kivas, religous sanctuaries underground. In the middle on the floor was the sipapu, the hole through which spirits that dwelled underground could emerge to commune with people in the world above. These kivas were probably saunas of sorts in that people sat around, smoked, sang, and sweated away in the heat. These rooms have always amazed me and captured my imagination since I first went down the ladder into one on the Pecos River, east if Mesa Verde.

Mesa Verde structures are very well preserved. They are adobe vrick apartmebts, sone several stories high. They also have a fine collection of ancient baskets and pottery, collected from garbage heaps beneath the cities. It seems when the Amasazi were dine with an object and considered it garbage, as Americans do today, they flung it over the side if the cliffs. Out if sight, out of mind. Garbage us thrown away. "Away" for these people is at the bottom if the canyons. (The bottoms of these canyons, by the way, were full if plants we saw in Eastern Oregon.) 

The walls have marks from centuries old fires. The windows and the doorways capture the imagination. This is another one of those places sacred to us who are in tune with the spirit if history. The ghosts of the past live in the walls, no sipapu needed for communion.

As to the term "Anasazi." it us probably not the best word. It is a Navajo slur that means "Old People." Historians believe the Navajo, who invaded here from the far North (per their own historical tradition) were probably the ones resonsible for the destruction  of the farmers who lived at Mesa Verde. (It is true that the closest language to Navajo is spoken by tribes that live at the Canada-US border near Glacier NP.) This invasion and attempted genocide has not been forgotten by the descendants of its victims. The "old people" are not gone or vanished or replaceable, according to the Pueblo who live along the Rio Grande River across the state. They prefer the term "ancestral Pueblo" to the Navajo "Anasazi." Words are heavy things.    

We backtracked again to get off the Mesa Verde plateau and back to the road. We travelled east, taking our time and admiring the green scenery  of Douglas firs and forests and lush ranchlands. After a few days in the desert, green has an even prettier appearance. We passed a town obsessed with elk hunting that sold elk meat in every form.

The road climbs a small pass emerging at the ski resort town of Durango. The town felt like Jackson, WY, toward the start of this trip. It served the well-to-do and had a main drag full of galleries and cafes and all the things richer people than I must like to do. From Durango, we headed southeast, back toward New Mexico. The countryside was perfect. The tree-covered and highly flammable San Juan Mountain range was the backdrop to hoodoos, hidden Ute ruins, and horse and cattle operations. Every so often we passed beaver ponds and saw an osprey nest. We seemed to have left the deserts. The foothills scenery was watered by little rainstorms now and then. The pavement was often wet, but thankfully not flooded out as they would've been in the Mojave or in the Arizona Navajo country. It seems we got out of those areas just in time for these southwest monsoon rains.

We crossed unto New Mexico passing the touristy town of Chamo and driving along a valley full of towns with Spanish names. Sone of these Spanish places in nirthern New Mexico are almost a half a century older than the founding English settlement at Jamestown. Since the US beat Mexico in the war of 1848, we have written the Spanish roots of America right out of the history books. Thus is kind if luke how the Navajo wrote the Pyeblos out of their history. The Spanish and the Mexicans are the anasazi of the Americans. They are the old people and no one remembers why they disappeared. Only they never did disappear. 

I am writing a lot about history tonight. Maybe I am in the mood to go to work and to stop this loafering. Naw, not yet...

We paid $10 for lodging tobight and are camped along a manmade lake called Heron Lake in a state park. It is a cool night and the rain is getting heavier as the night passes. There is a leak for some reason in the tent right above my face. There is nothing I can do about fixing it. If it gets bad, I'll go sleep in the van or just find a new place to sleep inside the tent. I just hope the rain stops soon. The weather report said it will stop around 7 pm tomorrow so I think I'm in trouble here.

It did break enough for me to praceably put up the tent and for Jessica to heat up chicken and rice on the camp stove. If it was raining like this earlier, I'd gave probably paid big bucks to stay in ritzy Taos or Santa Fe, both about 65 miles to the east.

That is my goal for tomorrow. I will hit the Rio Grande area and either head north into the beautiful San Luis Valley and then east over the fires near Colorado Springs and then across central Kansas. Or I will head south wrapping around the Sangre de Cristo range (and the Rockies altogether) at Las Vegas (the one in NM) getting back to Chicago via old Route 66 or the more scenic Santa Fe Trail. Or maybe I'll just loafer around looking for new ways home.

The rain has stopped for now. I think it's time for a new tent soon. This one has seen 48 states and it has almost had enough. I spoke too soon. It's raining again.
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