23 June 2006

Canyon Views

We made it back to Tennessee 1/2 hour late!

I'm joking, of course. We arrived home around 6:30 on Wednesday. "Highland Drive looks so different!" Owen exclaimed as we turned into our pine-shaded driveway. He was right. It was hard to believe, but we had been gone for 16 days. Amazing.

I'm not sure I've sorted through everything yet. There is much to write and many more thoughts to think before I can get some perspective on the whole matter. I just tell people I've been all over Arizona and New Mexico, and I keep quiet about the things I learned about Ellie, Owen, Jonah-Bear, Jenny and myself. (I'm still trying to figure those things out.)

Anyway, I wanted to post some more pictures from our trip. I'll focus on my friends the Van Eyks, and our trip to Grand Canyon.

On Sunday, John took the kids and me to Canyon de Chelly. This canyon is famous for two things: first, it was where Owen had his meltdown of the trip. It started when we were doing the very stressful activity of having our family picture taken. When Owen didn't smile for the picture, I threatened to take away a promised candy. He screamed, he cried, he even threatened to throw himself over the edge of the canyon. It really ruined the day for me. We left him in the car to see the spectacular view of Spider Rock (left). It's the most spectacular vista in the canyon. I found it interesting, because it doesn't look like a spider at all. Its name comes from its resemblance to the weaver's shuttle used by the Navajo women. The Navajo believe that their people were born in Canyon de Chelly (two cliff dwellings predate the Navajo). It was here that the Spider Goddess gave mankind the shuttle and inaugurated the practice of weaving.

John and Kellie (along with Brooke and Baby Josie) were our hosts on The Rez for five nights. After our last night, we drove to Albuquerque and picked Jenny up at the airport, returning through Gallup, New Mexico, where they got to meet Jenny for dinner, and where we got this picture. My first thought when I see this is--man, there are a lot of kids! How did we handle all of them? I'm not sure why Jonah and Owen look so crazy in this picture. I'll assume it's because of all the grape juice they drank at Kellie's house. I regret that I didn't get a good shot of Baby Josie, although you can see by the picture that Ellie and Brooke had become good buddies. We ate at Earl's, a local Gallup diner which was chock full of Native Americans selling jewelry. There were tables outside where you could browse, and if that weren't enough, Navajo young and old circled among the tables as we ate, offering to sell us rings, necklaces, belts, and all manner of brikabrak.

Our first stop with Jenny aboard was Grand Canyon. We camped at Desert View, where we took in the sunset (right). We liked Desert View because it was a little off the tourist track (the roads from the entrance to Mather Point were really clogged). It also helped that the lower elevation kept us from freezing overnight. It was quite cool when we awoke, and we kept the kids bundled all morning.

Later, after a tip from a ranger, we returned to the Rim Trail and took the kids a short way (about 1/4 mile) down the Bright Angel Trail, which Jenny and I have taken before to the bottom of the canyon. The kids cruised down with little trouble. Jonah gave us heart attacks every time he got close to the edge of the trail. We also saw two bighorn sheep grazing on a ledge just below the trail. The way up, however, was predictibly tough. Jonah only made it about 100 yards before holding up his arms and saying, "Hold me, Mama," a request which Jenny never seems to be able to refuse. Owen made it about 1/2 way back out of the canyon (a pretty steep climb) before he told us: "I am completely out of energy!"

I'm happy to report that we made it out of the canyon safely. We had a great time--although Jenny made the kids and me swear that we would return to backpack to the bottom together. She really hated missing out on the hiking/backpacking experience.

19 June 2006

Viewing Cars and Getting Kicks Along Route 66

I’d like to blame my kids, but I’m responsible: I’m a sucker for summer marketing gimmicks. Does McDonald’s have a new Happy Meal toy? Is there a special at Target featuring a summer movie? OK, OK, I’ll buy it!

The hype for Pixar/Disney’s Cars reached a crescendo in the weeks leading up to its opening June 6. By the time we got to see the movie, we already had the Cars movie soundtrack (for my road trip CD), two speaking Cars toys (Mater and Lightning McQueen) and a McDonald’s Happy Meal plastic Lighting—whose name Jonah shortened to “Queem.”

Monday, June 12, was our last day on The Rez. We wanted to finish with a service project. Kellie identified a Navajo woman for whom we could prepare a food basket. We took John & Kellie’s daughter, Brooke, with us, and journeyed into Gallup, New Mexico to buy some food and catch a viewing of Cars.

By now you probably know that Cars is about a me-first racecar who gets sidetracked from I-40 into the Route 66 town of Radiator Springs. The yokels of the town—and a hot-looking Porsche—change the racecar and teach him the new meaning of friendship and racing.

The kids and I identified with the Route 66 experience (much of our trip had taken place along the I-40/Route 66 corridor). This was the main point of interest, as the boys lost interest in the romantic and racing plot lines. If I had one critique of the movie, it would be that it missed the “kid” demographic in pursuit of adult story lines.

The cool thing about our experience was that we watched it at Gallup’s Red Rock 6 Cinemas, which is about 50 yards away from historic Route 66, among canyons and rock outcroppings similar to those created for the movie. In fact the next day, as we drove to Albuquerque to pick Jenny up from the airport, Owen noted how the landscape was similar to the movie we had seen together.

Route 66 (for those who haven’t traveled through the American Southwest) doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s a marketing ploy, not a real road. But it conjures up images of the times when cars had big fenders, lots of chrome, and no air conditioning. Since it was replaced by Interstate 40, it exists only in two ways: the main streets of countless western towns like Gallup, Amarillo, and Tucumkari, today identified as “Business Route 40,” and in remote stretches, where I-40 goes straight while the old Route 66 takes a sauntering loop through deserts, as it does in western Arizona and eastern California.

Gallup’s Route 66 is a fascinating drive through time and place. The most identifiable piece of history is the El Rancho Motel, a place that claims to be the resting place of the stars of Hollywood westerns from the 30s and 40s. The street is lined with diners, fast food restaurants, and Native American jewelry outlets. It also features a number of other unique elements of American iconography.

One significant feature of the American road in the glory days of the automobile was the motel. It was a low-slung, one-story building right next to the road. There was a “vacancy” sign in the window of the office (or on the marquis, if it had one), and there was a parking place in front of every painted, numbered door. The more memorable motels featured rooms shaped like teepees or Airstream trailers.

Among the once-thriving towns of Route 66. these motels are still there, but they are seldom still in business. The motels that are still open advertise “weekly rentals” or “rooms from $16.99/single.” In places like Gallup and Albuquerque, I saw some of these motels still open. However, shuttered old-fashioned motels gave Tucumkari, New Mexico, the looks of a ghost town. There must have been eight motels there along Business Route 40 whose “vacancy” signs had been replace by faded “Property For Sale” signs. I noticed that the old roadside motels had almost completely disappeared from Flagstaff, Arizona, including the Evergreen Inn, where Jenny, my sister, Julie, and I had stayed on our first cross-country drive in 1993.
People just don’t take four days to cross the country anymore, spending nights in places like Oklahoma City, Grants, New Mexico, and Barstow, California. I-40 and 75 mile-per-hour speed limits make it possible to drive from Nashville to Los Angeles in two, 12-hour days.

(OK, OK, I took four days to get from Tennessee to Arizona, but that was crazy, remember?)

The other mark of Route 66 is the hype—the abundant American desire to sell—and buy—nostalgia, even of the country’s recent past. Signs along the interstate proclaim “Historic Route 66” at almost every other exit. Erick, Oklahoma, announces “Home of the National Route 66 Museum.” The road sign is plastered across post cards and businesses in every town between Oklahoma City and San Bernardino, California. The traveler can even gamble away money at the Route 66 Casino about 30 miles west of Albuquerque.

I even spotted a sign in Santa Fe, New Mexico (about 50 miles north of where Route 66 ran through Albuquerque), which proclaimed, “Part of pre-1937 Route 66.” Now if the nonexistent Route 66 is historic, would that make Santa Fe’s street prehistoric?

Route 66 may be gone, but the ethic of the open road, the romance of the road trip is alive and well in the Southwest and throughout the 50 States. In fact, if the autographs of Spanish friars, conquistadors, and American pioneers on El Morro National Monument’s Inscription Rock are any indication, this romance predates the 50 States by many hundreds of years. It is what led me west with three kids in tow. It’s what sparks the imagination of those of you reading this blog. It is what enables the American spirit to get its kicks—whether that be on Interstate 40 or Route 66.

The Way Back

I'm in the Satellite Inn in Almogordo, New Mexico, as I'm sending this. It's nice how many motels now have free, high-speed Internet services. This hotel definitely fits the "roadside" moniker described in the post above.

We left Globe yesterday morning, and made it to White Sands National Monument by sundown. The kids had a great time there, making sand angels and sliding down the steep slopes of the dunes.

Our plan for our return trip is as follows
Sunday: Globe to Almogordo, New Mexico (check)
Monday: Almogordo, New Mexico to Red Rock State Park, Oklahoma
Tuesday: Red Rock State Park to Lake Conway, Arkansas
Wednesday: Conway, Arkansas to Portland, Tennessee

16 June 2006

New Pictures

I had some more pictures developed, and I wanted to share them with you. I'm still using a 35mm dinosaur--er, I mean camera--so I had to get a CD along with developing so I could share these with you as soon as I could.

Here are the kids and me in Santa Fe, New Mexico. You can see the pueblo architecture around us that makes this such a charming city.

This is Ellie with two Navajo friends, Alexis and Ashley, after church on Saturday. The girl on the far right is Brooke, the daughter of our friends, John and Kellie Van Eyk.

12 June 2006

Trip Pictures

I got some pictures developed today, and I wanted to share some with you. Enjoy.

The kids in front of the Five Civilized Nations in Muskogee, OK.

Here's Ellie in front of the historic buildings at Seay Mansion/Chisholm Trail Museum. You can see the schoolhouse to the left of Ellie. The entrance to the bank is over her left shoulder. To the right, you will notice Jonah letting himself into the town jail--his favorite site in the city.

Ellie examines the cowboy chuck wagon at the Seay Mansion/Chisholm Trail Museum in Kingfisher, OK.

10 June 2006

Window Rock and the Navajo Reservation

The Navajo Reservation is awash in contradictions: it is a Navajo state stretched across three states (Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado); there are nearly as many churches/missions per capita (maybe more) in the Bible Belt capital of Hendersonville, Tennessee, yet alcoholism, drug abuse and gang graffiti are everywhere; the Navajo are proud members of Navajo Nation, yet they are some of the most patriotic Americans I have ever met.

How can I explain this? I might better ask, what business do I have explaining a complex and ancient culture based upon three days on the Reservation (despite the scores of reservations in the American West, when you say, "The Rez," out here, it can only refer to the monstrous Navajo Reservation the size of West Virginia or England).

Within an hour of our arrival, John had taken the kids and me out on his pastoral rounds, visiting two far-flung members (each lived about 45 minutes away from each other). The first compound was about15 miles from the highway on a wide road of red dirt. On Tuesday a terrible forest fire had ripped through this area (which is in the middle of a three-year drought) and burned everything. When we arrived, we found the houses safe but their inhabitants were not yet returned from the mandatory evacuation.

Navajo compounds are interesting. There is always a small, prefabricated 600-square-foot house (I would estimate that over 70% of the homes on the Rez are trailers or prefabricated houses). Next to some houses is a hogan (pronounced ho-gahn) of either six or eight sides, depending upon whether it was built by the son or daughter respectively.

Traditionally, Navajo property is matrilineal. A young man will move in with his wife's family at marriage--or he will build a hogan on their property.

I would guess that the average distance between homes/hogans once you get off road on The Rez is about eight miles. These people support themselves with sheep farming and subsistance agriculture. There is no electricity, no running water. One could call it abject poverty. One could also proudly call it an ancient way of life that has has been proudly preserved. I will suspend judgment. John says that 90% of the roads on The Rez are dirt roads. John has a 4X4 Surburban that certainly comes in handy with visits and picking up parishoners for church.

Window Rock is the capital of the Navajo Nation. It's a town of no more than 12,000, set at the base of a number of spectacular red rock pillars. A natural arch north of town gives Window Rock its name.

Our first stop in Window Rock Friday was the Navajo Zoo. It's a small zoo, and all of the animals were native to the Southwest. The kids really enjoyed the bear and the bobcat. A male turkey took a particular liking to Ellie and Brooke (John's daughter) displaying its tailfeathers and gobbling loudly. We spied a poor porcupine who was beset by wild prairie dogs--who snuck under the fence into his cage and raided his food. As we arrived, they retreated to the safety of the desert, and the porcupine desperately tried to finish his meal without having another bite stolen. There are two hogans at the zoo--one made of mud and another of logs--and the kids climbed in and around each one.

Our second stop was the Window Rock Flea Market. This is a colorful experience with all kinds of wares on display, from used clothes and books to Navajo blankets, jewelry, and native medicines. The kids all got snow cones, and Ellie really emerged into her element, carefully perusing the booths and finally selecting a beautiful eagle-feather necklace. I also bought some gifts, but the fun part was just looking around, trying pinion nuts for the first time, shepherding the kids through the crowds, and watching Navajo being Navajo (including the guy who hit me up for a "donation" as I was leaving).

Today we worshipped at the Window Rock Seventh-day Adventist Church. I sang special music, and Ellie found herself up front leading out in the song service with some other kids. One of the songs she sang was "Jesus Loves Me" in Navajo, and it was really neat to see her getting her own taste of this fascinating culture. The director of Native Ministries from the North American Division spoke for church, and many church members had come in native costumes (which they quickly shed for T-shirts and jeans before potluck).

I have three more days on The Rez before continuing on our trip. Jenny arrives Tuesday, and we will set off Wednesday for some more AZ adventures. Keep checking in!

09 June 2006

Trip Recap

We arrived.

(That sentence was so satisfying to write, I want to give it its own paragraph. Let me pause while I contemplate it further…)

Ellie, Jo-Jo, Owen and I arrived at the Van Eyk residence in Fort Defiance, Arizona, Thursday evening at 5 p.m., 1,663 miles, three days and ten hours after our departure from Portland. Everyone is safe—if a little grump from too many hours on the road. We are a little sunburned from a two-hour scramble atop the cliffs at El Morro National Monument. Alas, we are also trying to dry out from the fact that it rained and poured—mostly when we were ensconced in our accursed tent.

How can I describe the trip in one blog entry? It has been an epic journey in many ways: long, full of passion, intrigue, despair, hope, and heartbreak. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any Iliad-length blog entries, so I’ll have to get started with this.

I had planned to travel about 450 miles a day with the kids, stopping at a number of attractions along the way to break up the monotony. For the most part, things went according to schedule.

On Monday we drove to Memphis and visited the zoo. It’s a wonderful place with some of the most fascinating zoo exhibits I’ve seen anywhere. They do a good job there incorporating architecture and statuary with the exhibits. We had planned to visit the pandas, but we were distracted by other fascinating sites including penguins, hippos, and komodo dragons. We met a polar bear named Cranberry who was the same age as Jo-Bear, but outweighed him by more than 300 pounds.

We continued into Arkansas and left I-40 to climb into the Ozark town of Ozone to camp for the night. I hadn’t visited the Ozarks before, so it was virgin territory. Sadly, the skies opened up after we arrived and rained on our shoddy efforts to put up the tent. Moreover, three exhausted kids also felt very homesick for their incredible mama, adding tears to the raindrops. The next morning I awoke to the sounds of thunder, so we hurriedly packed and zipped on down the road to Oklahoma.

Our Tuesday drive through Oklahoma featured visits to two museums. In Muskogee, we visited the Five Civilized Nations Museum, which traces the paths of the Cherokee, Creek, Chippawa, Choctaw, and Seminole nations in their exoduses from the southeastern states to Oklahoma in the 1830s and 40s. The exhibits were spare, but the art gallery on the 2nd floor was amazing, providing unique insights into the spirit and the imagination of Native America.

We drove from Indians to cowboys. The second museum in Kingfisher was the highlight of the drive for me. The Seay Mansion and Chisholm Trail Museum was the ultimate hands-on exposure to the cowboy experience along the Chisholm Trail. There were a number of restored buildings that were open to explore, so the kids got to look around two cabins, a frontier bank, an old schoolhouse, and even a jail! Ellie took orders at the chuck wagon and dipped water for us to drink. It was just an awesome, awesome place.

Wednesday we zipped through Texas and entered New Mexico, eating lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Tucamcari and getting Route 66 souvenirs at a teepee-shaped curio shop. Then we left I-40 to take state highway 104 from Tucumcari to Las Vegas (New Mexico, it’s a cow town on the foothills of the Rockies, not the gambling mecca in Nevada). We drove over 100 miles, and I probably passed six other cars on the highway the whole way. It was amazing how, when we zipped over the edge of a mountain range, we could see miles and miles of highway. It reminded me of the classic Pete Seeger song,
“As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway,
I saw below me the golden valley,
This land was made for you and me.”

Wednesday night we cruised the historic district of Santa Fe, window shopping at high-end jewelry and pottery stores. The boys played in the square outside the Palace of the Governors, running laps around an obelisk that honors soldiers killed in the Indian wars. It was amazing to be in an American city that is almost 500 years old.

Thursday, after camping in an RV park outside of Albuquerque, we crossed the Continental Divide at high noon and visited El Morro National Monument. This place has always been a favorite for Jenny and me. At the base of the cliffs is Inscription Rock, a sandstone face that features 1000-year-old Native American petroglyphs as well as the autographs of 17th-century Spanish explorers and 19th-century American pioneers, soldiers, and railroad men. At the top of the cliffs is cliff dwelling known as Atsinna, abandoned 600 years ago by the waning Pueblo culture.

That’s the trip in a nutshell. All I’ve listed above are points of interest. I haven’t mentioned the fascinating things I’ve learned about Ellie, Owen, and Jonah. I haven’t talked about the challenges I’ve faced as a father and a family manager. I haven’t even begun to describe the interesting people and offbeat sites I encountered along the way.

That’s where the Epic part of this journey comes in. That’s what will take many, many further pages of writing to figure out for myself.

We will be in Fort Defiance until Wednesday. I’ll blog further about the Navajo Reservation in upcoming days. My friend, John, is a lay pastor here, and he’s taken us out on his pastoral rounds, introducing us to the fascinating people, customs and traditions that make up Navajo culture.

01 June 2006

Summer Soundtrack

I'm getting ready for my epic road trip with the kids next week. I'll try to keep everyone posted via the blog.

The plan is to leave early Monday morning. We will take four days to get to our destination: Fort Defiance, Arizona (near the New Mexico border and close to the capital of the Navajo Reservation).
  • Monday. Leave Portland, stop at the Memphis Zoo, camp in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas
  • Tuesday. Leave Arkansas, stop at museums in Muskogee (five Indian nations) and Enid (Chisholm Trail), Oklahoma. Get through the Texas Panhandle and camp in eastern New Mexico.
  • Wednesday. Las Vegas, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Camp at El Morro National Monument.
  • Thursday. Leave El Morro. Get to the Van Eyk residence.
Anyway, I have been working on our summer soundtrack. My church gutted the Vacation Bible School program because the songs were too upbeat for its holy sanctuary, so I won't have any praise songs this year. I'm replacing them with cowboy songs.

Let me know what you think about this list. I haven't burned it to CD yet. I think I have plenty of cowboy songs, but my Indian songs are a little tacky to say the least.
  1. "Get'cha Head In the Game," Troy (from Disney's High School Musical, a huge hit among the teenybopper set this summer).
  2. "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes," Disney Channel Stars (teenybopper version of the Cinderella classic).
  3. "One Little Slip," Barenaked Ladies, from the movie Chicken Little, Owen's favorite at the moment
  4. "Real Wild Child," Everlife, when I was in high school this was on the Pretty Woman soundtrack, now it's been updated for the cartoon, The Wild
  5. "Everybody's Changing," Keane, a band I discovered this year, and I love 'em
  6. "Route 66," Nat King Cole, "If you've got plans to motor West, take the highway that's the best"
  7. "On the Road Again," Willie Nelson
  8. "Happy Trails," Roy Rogers and Dale Evans
  9. "King of the Road," Roger Miller
  10. "This Land Is Your Land," Pete Seeger
  11. "Indian Outlaw," Tim McGraw
  12. "Just Around The Riverbend," Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz
  13. "God Bless America," Celine Dion
  14. "America The Beautiful," Frank Sinatra
  15. "Whoopee Ti-Yi-Yo," Various Artists
  16. "The Cattle Call," Eddy Arnold
  17. "The Old Chisholm Trail," Michael Martin Murphy
  18. "Carry Me Back to the Lone Prairie," Johnny Bond
  19. "Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys," Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings
  20. "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky," Riders in the Sky
  21. "Back in the Saddle Again," Gene Autry
  22. "El Paso," Marty Robbins
  23. "God Bless The USA," Lee Greenwood

If you have some suggestions for songs I could add to this list, let me know!