Burning Gas-Moab-1

In nineteen seventy-one I went to the Schwinn Bicycle shop in Oak Lawn, Illinois to buy a bike for my wife. It was near Mother’s Day, and the kids (9,8,4) wanted mom to have a bike so she could ride with them. The shop owner was a middle age man who presented himself as an obnoxious oaf. How he survived with that attitude in a business dealing with customers made me wonder if attitude was necessary to succeed. I finally did buy a nice blue bike with narrow tires, hand brakes, and a five speed transmission for Barb. Maybe that is how the guy survived, he was the only game around.

In the course of my conversation with the man, I asked if Schwinn ever intended to make a heavy balloon tired bike with hand brakes and multiple speeds. He replied, “why would anyone want something like that?”  That was the day I invented the mountain bike in the flat state of Illinois. It wasn’t until a few years later that a kid from California cobbled together the bike I envisioned and began a craze that has not slowed down.

I finally bought my first mountain bike in nineteen seventy-eight, from Schwinn. I loved it. My town at the time was in Cook County, Illinois famous for crooked politicians and graft. One good thing Cook County has is a fabulous Forest Preserve District with thousands of acres of forested land around Chicago. Evidently the politicians of old owned horses because the Forest Preserve boasts of over one hundred miles of horse trails. Those trails became my private mountain bike experience for the next twenty-five years. Biking on horse trails became my passion. I also notched many week-long bicycle tours on my belt.

During the course of my cycling history Moab, Utah became the goal. Cycling magazines featured tours and photo essays of the fabulous bicycling on the rocks of Moab. I longed to take a tour there, but it has never happened. The lure to visit Moab, however, stayed deep in my psyche. When I began to winter in Arizona, I realized that Moab was really very close to where I stayed. Close is a relative term, Moab is still over four hundred miles from the Valley of the Sun. Nevertheless, I kept longing to visit and tour Arches National Park. Finally, the stars and the moon were in correct alignment with Neptune and it happened.

Moab, Utah has built an economy around mountain biking, rafting, rock climbing, off-road touring, and photography. The town is a mecca for young twenty and thirty something outdoor types fascinated by adventure. I believe Peggy and I were the oldest people in town.

We scheduled a day to tour Arches National Park, and I’m glad we did. The park is just a couple of miles from Moab, and very accessible by major highways. My heart beat fast as we crossed a bridge and I spotted a sign that said, “Colorado River.” Are you kidding me? I drove over the mighty Colorado. I’ve never traced the head waters of the Colorado and was totally unaware that it enters Arizona by crossing Utah as it comes from Colorado. Previously, the only glimpse I ever had of the mighty river is from the edge of the Grand Canyon. I asked Peg if she was up to a raft ride on the Colorado, she promptly put the notion out of my mind with a rather short “NO.”

At the gate, I flashed “The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass” I bought last year at White Sands. The attendant, one of my employees in a Smokey the Bear uniform, handed me a map and waved us through. Thank God there is a seventeen mile road that winds around Arches. We did see some hearty white-haired bicyclists pumping hard up a hill, but motorists out numbered cyclists by about a thousand to one. The scenery is better than Monument Valley of the day before.  There are many arches formed by water erosion of the soft orange-red stone. We saw most of the arches from drive-by view-point. The most popular ones need a vigorous hike to get close too. It made me appreciate all photographs of the arches because the photographer expended enormous energy to take the photos. I did take some point and shoot photos, but  they are not calendar quality. The drive took us four hours to complete before we cried uncle and headed for some food. Just sitting in the car and seeing all the fabulous rock formations that have taken four-hundred thousand years to form burned us out.

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Burning Gas-A GPS Gift

English: Another Shot of Kayenta, AZ.

English: Another Shot of Kayenta, AZ. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finally, at the end of April, I built up enough courage to drive from the Valley of the Sun northward toward  snow and cold. Only I made damned sure there would be no snow and that it would be cool, not cold. The plan took us through the north-east corner of Arizona. There are not many roads in this sector. If you don’t believe me search Google maps for Tuba City, Arizona. Our goal was to visit Arches National Park in Utah. Going home by way of Arches has been on my bucket list since 2004 when I first ventured to Arizona for a long respite in the desert. My reasoning was simple, visiting Arches adds only a few miles more than going directly home. The venture adds another day. In years past, the weather forecast always showed rain and forty degrees. Forty degrees and rain don’t agree with me, so I opted for the fast way home. This time, however, the forecast was seventy degrees and sunny, I went for it.

The atlas is correct, there are very few roads in that sector of Arizona. There are miles and miles of Navaho Indian reservations with some very good two lane highways crossing them. The scenery is very like the Painted Desert, flat open vistas streaked with orange,  rusty red, pink, soft pale green, brown, and all shades between. Although the views could be considered boring, I drove slow ( 65 mph) because I enjoyed soaking up those color striations.

Toward mid-afternoon we stopped in the small town of Kayenta, Arizona. The atlas shows Kayenta in bold black letters indicating that it is a large town, but believe me it is a small place, blink as you pass through and you miss it. We gassed up and enjoyed a pit stop at the Golden Arches. The GPS led us out-of-town and onto U.S. Highway 163. All along, I thought we would take a faster route and turn northward on 191. It didn’t matter, highway 163 was a sound road.

A few miles north we began to see huge monoliths protruding from Mother Earth. I’ve seen these views before, but where? The stately rock formations increased in number as we continued. “Oh my God, we are in Monument Valley,” I said to Peg. I’ve seen pictures of this place many times. I took photos from the car window and stopped at several places to get better views.

Monument Valley Near Kayenta, Arizona

Monument Valley Near Kayenta, Arizona

Further along the road we came upon a Navaho strip mall. In years past, the Indians sold jewelry and pottery along the roadsides at crudely made wooden stands, but these were all vacant. It seems that too many tourists had car crashes pulling on the highway from these primitive sales areas. To eliminate fatalities, the tribal council built a modern strip mall with a very safe entrance to a large parking area to replace the ancient stalls. I bought a dozen souvenir necklaces from Monica and a decorator pot for the house from Charlene. Both of the women were Navaho, and both had hard to pronounce indian names, so they went by their American names.


View from an old Navaho Road Side Stand


Navaho Necklaces, Hand Made By Monica


Monica the jewelry craftsman with Peggy


Dream Catchers





Charlene wraps our pottery buy in bubble wrap.


Charlene swipes my credit card on a hand-held wireless device thus integrating the ancient art symbology of the pot with modern technology. Her two kids watch TV as she sells her native wares.


The views of Monument Valley were breathtaking for the rest of the day. Notice the bug splat on the upper right side monument.

Monument Valley was the highlight of this day. The scenery is breathtaking and got me to pondering about how many years it takes to erode a mountain into these rock formations. I learned the answer to that question later at Arches National Park. Had it not been for the GPS, I would have missed seeing this fantastic area of our country.