Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday Ride in the Nat'l Park

A warm Easter Sunday
Finally, Gentle Readers of This Blog - finally I get out on the Mighty Trek!  Saturday was a bust as it rained all day.  The forecast called for more rain Easter Sunday - however whatever it was that came through was gone, and now things were clear!  The temps were quickly climbing so with haste I got the bike ready and then set out right at 10 a.m. - 45 degrees - and I'm happy to report NO WIND!

On the Western Boundary of Canyon de Chelly
After the rain, and now with sunshine, the air is sweet-smelling - I can feel and taste the fragrance of sage in my lungs - it's a good healthy breathe to take, Gentle Readers of This Blog!  I'm dressed just right - there still is a bit of a head wind but it does not have that cold bite like back in February and March.

I really want to see if I can improve my time, so I'm only going down to the Mummy Cave Pullout at the Monument.  Round-trip should be right at 30 miles.  With no real heavy wind to ride into, I'm riding pretty fast (for me) and actually I'm not gasping for air as in the past.  Very slowly I think I'm getting used to the altitude of where I live.

Still, while climbing in a headwind, the heart rate on my Garmin goes up pretty high - but my chest isn't on fire like the other rides down this road.  Rain is forecast to come back later today, so I want to get out and home before the wind really starts to get going.  I can see the storm coming, but for now it is far away.

Spider Rock, and in the left top corner, Black Rock
I pulled this image out from when I drove out to Canyon de Chelly and did a hike.  Then I drove up to the Spider Rock Pullout.  You can see Black Rock up there on the left.  There has got to be a way to ride from there to where I am - one big loop.  I need to once again find that Park Ranger and see what he says.  I would only ride back on Indian 12 as last resort - it would be very dangerous.

While coming down to Mummy Cave Pullout, I was passed by some Buck driving about 100 mph - I kid you not!  It was unnerving!  Hwy 64 that runs from Tsaile to Chinle, and then to the Monument Visitor Center is a tough and rugged road - but is has a shoulder.  The speed limit is 55 and really if you drive faster than that you are inviting disaster.  You can lose control, but even as I rode, there were cows, horses, and sheep right on the shoulder.  I also passed a big deer carcass on the shoulder coming back - you can easily hit a deer and get hurt, lose control of your car, and crash and burn!

After a short rest at the Pullout, I headed back.  Normally I would have had a better tailwind, but this time it was more like a crosswind.  With about 8 or 9 miles to go, the road heads back up in a more Northeasterly direction.  That gave me my tailwind and a push up the last two big climbs before I start my fast four mile descent back to The College.

Allure Libre!
My average speed today was 14.6 MPH, which is much better than the 13.2 (or maybe it was 12. something) the first time I was out here.  This road, kind of straight and not too exciting, is a course I can ride after work - go out for an hour to the Pullout, and then return, and well before dark.

Happy Easter!  Cheers!  Bruce

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Cowboy on a Bicycle

Black Rock is an ancient volcano high on the Defiance Plateau
With some warmer weather, but still a lot cold wind these days, I have not gone out on the road bike.  Warm days melted the snow and muddy roads began to dry out.  I need to be outside, Gentle Readers of This Blog - I planned to ride out to Black Rock this day, which I was told was about 5 or 7 miles ride.  It turned out to be more like 12.

Rain and wind now seem to always be planning something - I've done the ride down to Canyon de Chelly, and this trip I wanted to see if I might take the road bike on some of these very hard-packed dirt roads.  I figured I'd just go out a few miles and back - take my time.

Tsaile Lake, and Tsaile Peak
Pretty quick, even on the Desert San Campus Bike, once I leave my place and The College, the world is big and wide open!  I plan to ride out to the Peak, hide the bike, then hike and climb the Peak...

The Sun is bright and I need to protect my white skin these days.  I'm not riding fast - should be wearing my helmet - but the locals know me by my straw hat.  Little Egypt bought it for me, and well, it has become part of my persona I guess.  But it keeps the Sun's rays from burning me, even at 7200 feet in the mountains.  Anyway, back in Tucson, I got the worst sunburn in my life in February!  Plus, this way I don't feel like I got to race or hurry.

Most Northern Boundary of Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument
All the country is new and I want to know it - if I'm going to ride the road bike, I want to sense where I am by the feel and look of he mountains and trees, and the Sun and the feel and look of the road.  Each mile has a different color and hardness - sometimes as you reach the pines, the air smells of a cool earthy dryness.

With the Desert San, it's pretty slow-going mes amis.  I have to tell you I still have on the studded snow tires (from Lawrence, KS via Finland) and they roll heavy on the hard road.  Mostly the road is bumpy and dry.  I would not want to drive my car out here for sure as it would get beat all to Hell.

The few people that live out here probably drive as fast as they can without going out of control - probably just don't care.  From their big four-wheel drive monster type trucks - that thick peanut-butter sticky mud seems to have flung everywhere to the sides of the road.  Here's a sign asking to slow a bit going through here.  "SLOW: Cows on the Road!"

Going out, the headwind I have is fierce!  And I'm really sweating too because, I'm having to pretty much climb over a ridge.  But as was reported to me, Black Rock is only five or six miles from The College I should see it soon!

I finally get over the ridge - looking on, I see more open road and I must be on top of one of the mesas out here.  Road is mostly rough, but with the road bike and my 25 cm tires, I can probably roll pretty quick - the Desert San is heavy and like driving a tank.  And I've seen no cars - so I could probably ride on the best part of the grooves if I have too.

I'm riding along the boundary of the Nat'l Park.  

Old Hogans from times past start to appear out here.  Looks like was good grazing for herds of sheep.  But I have seen no sheep or cattle, and no people.  There are power lines, and they look recent.

The wind is howling, but it doesn't have the cold sting like before.

As always, there will be wind, I'm traveling a bit faster than what Navajo families would be on horseback and by wagon.  I know the tail wind will help me get back faster - and I'll be going downhill mostly.  Still, where is Black Rock?

Black Rock!  My but it still seems far away.   I saw it from about this distance from Spider Rock Pullout when I drove out there in early March.  I talked to a Park Ranger, who was Navajo and he told me that day that Black Rock was between where we were and The College.  Canyon de Chelly is all around but seems like ridges and mountains hide things.  Like it's secret somehow.

Navajo friends tell me you can get down to the canyon and Chinle, but other say you can't - nobody knows for sure but they think I would probably get lost or that riding a bike is just crazy.  One day I might find the road the locals use.  Or they might be right, there's really no way but driving around, all the way around to get to Chinle.

I start to see a few very nice ranches out here.  I believe there's a way to get down to Chinle because if you lived out here, you would have to drive more than 60 miles out of your way to just get gas or groceries.  Best to go by car sometime but that would really tear things up.  I think I'd take the road bike (now I wish I had a gravel bike!) so I could cover more miles.  Again this is just recon for future rides I do, Gentle Readers of This Blog.

Ranchers wave and I'm sure if the old man driving would have stopped to talk to me, he may have told me some information about where this road might intersect.  I suspect with HWY 7, which is all dirt - but I would have to cross into the Park (where there are no tourist pullouts or trails) which I am not allowed without a Navajo Guide.

Very windy now, and getting late.  A photo this time for you and me will have to do.  If I went further the road might end right at the canyon - which I must tell you from what I have seen, is a 900 foot drop.  But there has to be a road that gets me somewhere.   There is a nice ranch here and I don't want to ride around (it is late in the afternoon) and impose on someone's place.  If I could hike to the top, I am sure that I might recognize landmarks, and maybe see some roads to take to Chinle.

Looking back from where I am, just about half mile from Black Rock, I can see that I have about 10 or 12 miles to get back - and rain clouds are creeping up to the Chuska Mountains.  

Now with a tailwind firmly pushing me back, I am flying over the hard road.  I'm a bit low on water too.  I only brought one water bottle when I should have had two.

This old Hogan might still be used as a summer camp, but like many of my Navajo friends say, old folks that used these camps have passed on, and the families seldom use them and keep them up.  They begin to go back into the landscape.  Sometimes the more disrespectful element may steal the logs to use and sell as firewood.  But mostly out here, they just seem to fade and dissolve back into ground.

For now, I'm staying on the main roads - there are scores of other roads that seem to go this way and that.  They're most likely logging roads - or a road to go up and cut firewood.  On my GPS maps, these  roads criss cross and look to go here and there - they're the roads where you can get lost.  Anyway, my road bike can't go too far on them.  But on these hard packed ones, I bet I can go deep into this county.

The College would be off the left a few miles, but this view is much like the view I see when I'm coming back on Hwy 64 after riding down to The Visitor Center at the Monument - except this time about about 10 miles East (maybe less) from 64 on from this dirt road.  I'm kind of surprised that I climbed this high, and in a stiff headwind - now I have a fast downhill.  I really had to take it easy because the dirt although dry, is very rough in places.  It was nice to have an effortless glide down, and no wind roaring in my ears - now I hear signs of Spring with thousands of birds chirping and calling out warnings that a Cowboy on a Bicycle is cutting by the pines.

I want to tell you that a Red Tailed Hawk swooped down to see what I was, and then hung in the air above me for details of my construction - was I machine? or living thing?  But as the late afternoon sun shone on his brilliant wings - and tail feathers - I was witness to what gives him his name!  Tail so red and then him glowing yellow and orange!  Like a Sun himself!

Why all the beer cans and liquor bottles along the road?  Alcohol is illegal on the Rez.  So to not have it on your person if stopped by the Navajo Police,  you toss the empties out the window.   You can rarely go 50 or 100 feet without a beer can or bottle of rot gut in the ditch.  It's foul litter, and even out here in the remotest places, trash is everywhere.

Also, people just throw out everything - coke cans, water bottles - and diapers.  For the most part, Navajo people I know love this land and are very connected to it - I don't get why others don't care.  You don't want to have empties (evidence you've been drinking) so throwing shit out the window is the simple solution.

The College, and to the right, a dam built by the NPS to stem the flow of water down into Canyon de Chelly.  NPS is trying to slow down erosion that would wash away the ancient ruins down there.  The lake is supposed to have trout in it.  I could (and might) hike a bit down into the canyon and get trout out of the streams that flow.  But might just get a fishing pole and try my luck in the lake.

Tsaile Lake and the ice has melted.  Probably time to go fishing!

I had a good ride today!  24 miles round-trip!

A Cowboy on Bike!  That was fun!  I'm glad you came by to check out the blog.

Cheers!  Bruce

Friday, April 18, 2014

Living on the Nation

Spring in the Mountains
I have to tell you all that I am happy and healthy - March and most of April have been constant snow and wind.  I have only been able to ride my bike to work and back.   That's okay as my studded snow tires have served me well!   I want to get out on the road bike soon!

Campus Spring Snow Storm
But as soon as the snow comes, it melts - and a then a thin layer of new green begins to creep into the county-side.  Even with another snow, the green grows bolder.

Tsaile Peak, an ancient volcano core
Navajo friends tell me a lot of different things about Tsaile Peak, which I am wanting to hike and climb too the top.  Everyone agrees that you get up from the North side - but there will be deep snow until Summer.  Some tell me you walk right to the top, others say there's a rope you will find and it helps you reach the top.  One of the Facilities Men tells me he was up there when he was about 15 years old - now that he is in his 60's he says the way to get up there, the rocks have fallen off so now you can't get up.  I am happy to report that everyone says there are no spirits or gods that would be upset should I explore, so that's good.

The Blue Birds have arrived and we have this couple building a nest
The Big Murder of Crows, and I must tell you Gentle Readers of This Blog that they are Big and Black and a Tough Bunch - they have built a huge nest, full of large twigs and branches, in the eaves of the library's roof.  But now Blue Birds - I call Little Friends - have arrived.  They are busy and curious and just seems that they are waiting for the right moment to build their nests.  No one will really tell me, but they have a symbolic part to play in the Navajo Religion.  I will leave it at that -

Last Bull Ride
My Navajo friends from work invited me to go to the Inter-Collegiate Rodeo a few weeks ago.  I have never been to a rodeo, and it was fun - at the Fairgrounds in Window Rock.  Navajo Cowboys are much respected - my colleague's son is a Bull Rider.  He's about to ride and she's going to try and capture the few seconds he will be on that beast's back.

I actually met the Rodeo Clown - he was from Tulsa like me - and he explained to me what was going on and how things worked.  These men and women were young college students.  He told me that a lot of the cowboys in the pros are ex-football players.  If some of these guys don't play pro football, they become pro rodeo cowboys.  You have to be that athletic to do what they do.  I saw many a young man and young woman get slammed into the dirt and mud - the broncs and bulls were huge and ferocious.

I rooted for The College, but there was a young Cowboy from University of Arizona, and ranked 5th in the College Rodeo Circut as a Bronc Rider - I have to tell you that the horse he drew slammed him face-first into the ground in half a second.  It was a tough night for everyone.

Luckily, it was a warm night and I didn't freeze.  The best part of going to the rodeo really was that since I drove us down to Window Rock with my car, my boss bought us dinner