Day Four, Monday – Gallup to Durango, the "Hillerman Express":

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The Route of Day Four Monday dawned with yet another thin coat of snow over everything. Only an hour after sunrise or so, though, said snow had completely melted away, so quickly that the sound of it dripping off the motel roof was like rain. By the time we got up and out of there, even the damp it had left behind was nearly gone.

A quick stop at a Sonic Drive-In for breakfast (where they managed to get our order wrong three times – and seemed surprised that we didn't think Cherry Limeade was interchangeable with Limeade. Gods, I hope this was just a crew in training!) and off we went again.

A Thief of Time Lately, we've both been reading Tony Hillerman's mysteries set in the Navajo Nation. They're quite good, actually, and we got interested in seeing some of the locations from the novels. And since we were heading more or less Navajo-way anyway...

So, we're traveling northwards from Gallup on Highway 666 (nope, I'm not kidding - unfortunately, they've since caved in to religious fundies - of a couple of varieties - and, after seventy years of being 666, as of July 2003, it's now 491. Mysteriously, they think that'll bring more tourists through the area...). A few miles later, we hang a left on Highway 264, headed for Window Rock.

We pass several big open-pit coal mines on our way to Window Rock – which is the capital of the Navajo Nation. In fact, you could see seams of coal running along the sides of some of the arroyos as you drove, accessible with no more effort than walking up to it with a shovel and a bucket.

Window Rock, the Navajo government Window Rock is just over the border from New Mexico into Arizona – though, technically, being the Capital of the Navajo Nation, it isn't really part of either state. Along with the small block of government buildings that are all the Nation needs to run itself, there's also the Navajo Nation Museum, where we stopped and wandered around for a couple of hours. It's in a brand new building, designed to look as much like a traditional hexagonal hogan as possible (and they did a pretty good job, considering traditional hogans are rarely three stories tall and built of concrete, wood, and glass).

The museum had a display on the "Navajo Code Talkers" of WWII which we walked through. The code itself is fascinating, a mix of literal translations into Navajo, puns, metaphors, "in jokes," and the Navajo equivalent of the military's "alpha, tango, bravo" style "alphabet."

No wonder the Japanese didn't have a clue.

Window Rock, the rock After the museum, we drove about a half-mile to the Window Rock of Window Rock itself. In front of the big, sandstone cliff is the Navajo Veteran's Memorial Park. We spent about half-an-hour there, then it was back on the 264 towards Highway 666.

Route 666, we miss you 666 is a (mostly) two-lane road that winds north from Gallup to Shiprock in New Mexico, and then up through southwestern Colorado, finally ending up in Monticello, Utah. Through New Mexico it passes miles and miles of miles and miles, sprinkled with a handful of ranches (usually with a hogan right next to the newer "ranch" house).

The area is mostly gently rolling hills, with mountains off in the distance to all sides, but as we head north, gradually lone rock formations begin to appear over the horizon. One of these is Shiprock.

Shiprock at a goodly distance... Shiprock is an old volcanic core that thrusts up from the ground around it into the sky. From a distance of – say – ten, fifteen miles, it indeed does look like the tall, triangular shape of a big single-masted sailing ship. Heck, the two "sails" are even shaded differently (at least, with the sun where it was when we were there), increasing the illusion.

Shiprock, from a couple of miles As you get closer, though, the illusion vanishes. More of the rock rises above the horizon and it loses its pure, triangular shape, becoming a tall pile of rock with a triangular top.

Still, you understand how it got the name "Shiprock" (though the Navajo name Tse Bi dahi – "the Rock with Wings" – is just as approriate) – and it must have been a heck of a landmark back when "road" was the track of the wagons through here before you...

We passed the actual rock itself and – about fifteen minutes later – entered the city of Shiprock. Another locale that ends up in Hillerman's novels a lot – not the least because one of his main characters (Jim Chee) "lives" there. Heck, in theory, we drove right past his trailer – at least, in some sort of fictional sense...

Entering Colorado As you leave Shiprock, 666 climbs and – not too much further up the road – you leave New Mexico and enter Colorado. To the right of us were the tall cliffs of Mesa Verde, moving in and out of the light as the now increasingly cloudy skies shifted in the wind. Soon we hung a left onto the 160 and headed towards Four Corners.

Four Corners is, of course, where the corners of four states all come together. 'Course, in a very real sense, this is an entirely mythical place to go to. But it's also a very touristy place to visit ("Look! Here's a picture of us standing in four states at once!") so, heck, away we went!

Anywho, it was only twenty miles out of the way...

The spot itself is a big marker set in the ground, surrounded by booths run by the local Navajo, selling everything from pottery to frybread. The later we got, after taking our "official" pictures of standing in four states (well, Dee Dee was did that, I stretched myself out along all four borders so that I "wouldn't" be in any state at all!...<g>). Then we watched as cows just strolled through the parking/booth area on their way to/from somewhere.
Dee Dee - The Official PictureThe Official PictureDavid - The Official Picture
Then it was back on the road.

We headed back to the 666, then continued north to Cortez, Colorado, where we turned east onto the 160, heading towards Durango. We made a brief stop at the rest area just east of Cortez and were massively impressed by it. By Gum! It was clean! And the restrooms were heated! (a nice touch, considering it had dropped down into the 40's by now). And there were trees and stuff...!

As the Sun sets... ...anywho, we continued on.

Dee Dee was getting worried as she drove (we'd switched at the rest stop). "David," she said, "that's snow."

Hey! Snow! And, yes, snow was appearing by the sides of the road, and up on the mountains that surrounded it. I was slightly worried – after all, we were pretty high, and it had been snowing on us just that morning – but the road was clear and the snow we were seeing looked like it been there for a while, so on we went.

We wound up and down through the mountains, finally dropping into Durango, Colorado at dusk ("dropping" is kinda misleading – you're still at 6,500 feet) and headed up the main drag towards our motel.

Once there, our first thought was of food – hey, it'd been a long day – and the motel nicely provided a list of restaurants in the area. After perusing said list, we headed back "downtown" (a whole mile and a half away) to "Skinny's Grill..."

And – yes, it is.

The whole place is crammed between two other shops and if it's ten feet wide, I'd be surprised. They have room for one row of tables against the wall and walking space against the other. Fortunately, they also have two floors – though the second's no wider. We ended up on that second floor (as is, interestingly enough, the kitchen – no wider than anything else) where I had that Buffalo burger I missed at Cruisers, while Dee Dee had a pasta salad dish with pine nuts and mushrooms and whatnot.

Filled with food (more than filled, actually), we took a brief walk through Durango's oldtown (very brief – it was in the low 30's by then) and headed back to our motel and bed.

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