Skeletons in the Valley

“It’s a hard thing to explain to somebody who hasn’t felt it, but the presence of death and danger has a way of bringing you fully awake. It makes things vivid. When you’re afraid, really afraid, you see things you’ve never seen before. You pay attention to the world. You make close friends. You become part of a tribe and you share the same blood. You give it together, you take it together.

― Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

The drive away from New Mexico was a lot harder than the drive away from Tennessee. There’s something about staring out the window at nothing but dilapidated double wides and rusty pick-up trucks that makes you acutely aware of the desolation surrounding you on all sides.

For the first time since leaving Minnesota, the lonely reality of this seven-month solo mission really started to sink in.

If breaking down outside of Santa Fe was bad, breaking down on I-40 would’ve probably meant game over considering the fact that cell reception is spotty at best, and the closest mechanic is located 1-2 hours away.

Maybe it was the ever-present fear that something else could go wrong, only this time I wouldn’t be so lucky.

Maybe it was the realization that I’d be spending the Thanksgiving holiday at a table for one at Ruby’s Inn for the all-you-can-eat Turkey Day Buffet, instead of in Nashville with my family.

Maybe it was because after 38 hours of the best country radio has to offer, I’d listened to all of the good songs and would finally have no choice but to resort to the collection of audiobooks that sat in my library collecting dust.

Or maybe it was just one too many episodes of late-night Dateline.

I don’t know what exactly it was that got to me. But I do know that whatever it was, it’s been hard to shake.

See, there was something extremely melancholic about the drive through Navajo Nation. About the endless ruins of dilapidation, rust, all the limbs and bones left to rot against a backdrop of the same arid desert, alpine forests, mesas and mountains we love to print on our tourist t-shirts. Limbs and bones that are evidence of the gruesome and sorrowful history of displacement that occurred on this land.

As I looked out at the dilapidated double wides, the rusty pick-ups, the tumbling sweat lodges and the stray dog hobbling beside the road — I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like around here before everything was left to become skeletons in the valley.

Stop five: Horseshoe Bend – Page, Arizona

The longest 51 minutes of my life were definitely the ones that passed during the drive from Tuba City to Page, Arizona. Reason being–it was somewhere right outside of Tuba City where my TPMS indicator light illuminated itself in the same obnoxious, iridescent orange of a traffic cone that’s become all too familiar recently.

My heart immediately sunk to my toes.

I swear, if and when I make it back to Minnesota in April I will be able to recite the entirety of my owner’s manual in my sleep.

Luckily, unlike its predecessors, all this warning light required was two bucks and an air nozzle.

We arrived at Horseshoe Bend around 1:30 in the afternoon. I don’t know what exactly I was expecting to see, but what I wasn’t expecting to see was mobs of people outfitted in America the Beautiful’s finest tourist t-shirts packing a variety of Amazon’s top-selling selfie sticks.

Ok, fine, that’s an over exaggeration. Still, I like to imagine what it might’ve been like to step foot on sacred land or pay a visit to a national monument, before smartphones and social media got the better of us.

Now don’t get me wrong–the views were nothing short of spectacular. No matter how many times you’ve scrolled past them in your feed. No matter how many times you’ve seen them printed on a t-shirt, nothing will ever compare to standing in front of it and seeing it with your own two eyes for the first time.

If you haven’t, you should.

After roaming around the bend for the better part of an hour, Arlo and I made our way to town to see what kind of trouble we could stir up before the sun went down. We decided to pop a squat on the patio at The Grand Canyon Brewery + Distillery and may I just say, the 3.8 stars on Google are sorely mistaken.

Ask for Matthew, a Bourbon Peach Smash and some hand-tossed Buffalo Wings — you can thank me later.

Stop six: Wirepass Trail – Kanab, Utah

On Sunday, we slept in and despite some weird dreams, it felt good. I took a stroll past the underwhelmingly impressive continental breakfast counter, poured myself a cup of the Days Inn and Suite’s finest morning brew and without further adieu, we were on our way to scope out the next adventure.

After completely blowing past our turn and the consequential 20-minute detour down Highway 89, we made it to The Cockscomb which turns into House Rock Valley Road and is essentially an 8-mile stretch of withstanding rocks, potholes and whiplash.

Although the off-roading makes for a slow trek to and from the trailhead, especially if you have vehicular trust issues, it is absolutely 1000% worth every minute. The slots are comparable to Antelope Canyon, the crowds are sparse and you won’t find anyone wearing a tourist t-shirt.

True cowboys only.

Stop seven: Terrill’s Place – Tropic, Utah

We arrived in Tropic right before sundown and made a pitstop at Clarke’s Country Market to pick up the supplies needed to get me through the week. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find much in a market that also doubles as the town’s gas station, drug store and local watering hole.

Nonetheless, I made out like a bandit with a six-pack of Pacifico, a lime, a bunch of bananas, broccoli, a tub of peach yogurt, a package of cold cuts, a can of tomato soup and a bag of Hawaiian rolls. I knew I had entered small-town USA when the woman at the register asked if I wanted a sack for my beer.

Since the cottage’s kitchen equipment includes and is definitely limited to a mini fridge, a Keurig and a microwave, I’m making it up as I go.

So far, I’ve only managed to lock myself out of the place once and so our week is off to a great start.

Stay tuned.

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