I didn’t get much of a chance to see what Kayenta looked like last night, but as I was pulling out of the motel this morning, it quickly became apparent that it was every bit as depressed as Tuba City, that I’d passed through the previous evening. This whole area is Navajo land and it’s pretty obvious that your chances of living an affluent lifestyle are considerably less if you’re an American Indian.Other than the motels and gas stations, the only building that look like it was put up properly was a very substantial structure labelled, ‘Corrections’. Everywhere else, there were houses that looked like they’d arrived on wheels, accompanied by a selection of vehicles, mobile and immobile, propane tanks and paddocks of horses.
Stopping at the gas station for my morning tank of premium, I noticed this splendid rig. Yes, that’s right – when they’re running out of petrol, they can refuel themselves from the sodding great big bowser of hydrocarbons in the back there.
My first stop of the day was Monument Valley, about 20 miles down the 163. It’s one of the roads from Easy Rider and a classic bit of US motorcycling. Big skies, distant horizons and the most enormous rocks, rising out of the desert looking for all the world like alien megaliths.
Anyone can drive along this road and take in the scenery for free, but if you want to see the really good stuff, you have to go just over the Arizona border and hang a right down to the Visitors Centre, where they will relieve you of ten bucks to go and look at what might be one of the most extraordinary views you’ll ever see in your life. I don’t resent the fee – it’s Navajo land and goodness knows they don’t have many opportunities to make money from the people who come to visit.
I parked my bike up amongst the Japanese tourists and proceeded to give them all a lesson in the art of the selfie. Lightweight racing tripod… deploy! Bluetooth remote? You got it. Balancing on a motorcycle? Yeah, go on then…
If you think that this photo looks hyper-real, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was shot in a studio in front of a painted background. I won’t lie, it’s seen a little mobile Photoshop, but my Instagram game is on point, and I’m only getting better.
There’s a little museum in the visitors centre and I was surprised how few people were in there (most of the visitors not taking photos were either chugging sodas or in the gift shop buying dreamcatchers). I spent a while reading about the history of the Navajo and I’ve got to tell you, it’s not a happy one. Pretty much the whole time since the Europeans arrived in North America, the Indian Nations got a fucking rough deal of it. Prior to that, it was the Mexicans trying to screw them over.
Planning this trip, I’d been excited to go to as many states as I could (and the four corners monument was a definite on my list of stops). Spending time contemplating the Native American story, I realised that the straight lines denoting states were mainly just political bullshit because all of this land once belonged to the Dené people and they have more right than anyone else to this place. I found myself humming Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land and contemplating the irony of a white guy singing to other white guys about a country that was settled by white people at the expense of so many brown people.
Did you know that it wasn’t until 1924 that the US government recognised Native Americans as citizens? It wasn’t until 1953 that Native Americans got voting rights in Utah? And now, in 2017 an estimated 43% of Navajo people live below the emerald poverty line, with an average per capita income on the reservation of $7,300. So yeah, they’re welcome to my ten bucks and more. After I had done with the museum, I went to the gift shop and bought a bunch of children’s’ books to take home to my daughter to teach her about the Navajo.
Leaving Monument valley, I rode to Bluff, about fifty miles down the road. I was planning on a bit of an early lunch and hopefully, a call home to Julian if I could get some WiFi. As luck would have it, I found a place that not only knew what a vegan was, but had an excellent home-cooked felafel dish, made with local grains and accompanied by a delicious salad. Through the magic of the inter tubes, I had lunch with my partner, who was having her dinner at the time. It was weirdly normal, we chatted about her weekend just like I was right back at home.
After Bluff, it was back on the bike (kickstarting it for an appreciative audience of diners outside the cafe) and off to the Four Corners monument. En route, I rode through the village of Mexican Hat. I’d not even thought how it came by that name – and I shall leave that as an exercise for the interested reader.
I’d downloaded a Spotify playlist of USA road trip songs for the day and I was totally loving being served up with Tom Petty, Steve Harley, Dolly Parton, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. Listening to scenery-appropriate music is a pretty cool way to ride and I could have doubled the distance and still been happy. Riding round here is awesome and the tunes just make it even better. Also, they stop you hearing the noise of the locals shooting at the road signs.
Four corners is an arbitrary sort of place, but despite being in the middle of cocking nowhere, they have 3G, sodas and stalls sellling locally-made gifts and trinkets. They also have a queuing system for selfies, I shit you not. That’s the problem with four states meeting at one single point – you can only get one grinning berk on it at a time for a photo. I stooged around for the best part of an hour, doing a photo, looking at Navajo gifts and coming back for another photo. Turns out that if you help other people by taking their pictures for them (and being entertained English in the process) they will tolerate your pratting about, working the Instagram poses:
As I was getting ready to go, one of the stallholders who was packing his truck came over to me and said that he liked my style. I didn’t know whether he was referring to my Instapratting or my motorcycle. Turns out it was both. He asked where I was riding to, so I told him New Orleans. When he found out where I’d come from already, he asked (in all seriousness) whether I was writing a book. So I gave him one of my cards and he gave me some free Four Corners stickers. I like this sort of thing.
I’m staying in a motel in Farmington tonight. It was suspiciously cheap, but it’s very nice – despite the town itself being a bit shit. I’m afraid I did a bad thing this evening (readers from my Advanced Motorcycling group look away now, okay?)
I checked in to the motel, dumped my insubstantial luggage and rode the two miles down to Walmart to get a picnic supper without a helmet. New Mexico law doesn’t require one and a great many of the bikers I’ve seen in NM, UT and AZ just don’t bother. Before you comment that I’m an irrersponsible and beg me not to do it again, it was a thing I wanted to do and I promise I didn’t go any faster than 25mph the whole time. I can ride my pushbike faster than that and I don’t wear a helmet on a bicycle unless I’m actually racing one…