Between Two Places (is a long dirt road)

This “leftover photo” from our September 2018 road trip was made on the way from Monument Valley to Winslow, in Arizona, and it comes with a little bit of an anecdote.

On these trips, we often use “Samantha”, our old Garmin GPS (named so after the English voice that is available), because it is an “offline” system that doesn’t require an internet connection for location and navigation. The problem is that the map data is a little bit outdated by now so when we do have a connection, we double-check with our phones – hoping that the route suggestions of the two devices match.

From Kayenta (south of Monument Valley) to Winslow, they did match, and both devices recommended a short and direct route via “Black Mesa”. It sounded cool too! The mesa might have gotten its name from a coal mine in the area, and indeed, our navigation system told us to make a turn onto Kayenta Mine Road (which is also labelled BIA-41 or Navajo Route 41 on some maps).

The mesa wasn’t black of course and we soon passed the mine. Then, the asphalt ended. Oh well, “how long can this possible be?” we thought. And drove. And drove. Through an area with really wonderful names: Owl Valley. Little Black Spot Mountain. Many Bobcats Hill. Crooked Finger Spring. And many more.

The road changed from Route 41 to Route 8029, the “Turquoise Trail” – and we finally reached pavement again. Yay! Until Samantha told us in her stern voice to make a right turn onto guess what… more dirt road, of course, bringing an abrupt end to our momentary elation. The dirt road was in a good condition, most of all it was dry and not muddy, and not too dusty either. We were grateful for these road conditions because it was really, really a lot of miles on dirt that we drove.

About halfway across Black Mesa, we finally reached asphalt again, passed the Hopi Cultural Center at Second Mesa, and soon made a turn onto AZ-87. This was the second funny part of the drive: I’ve never seen a road that was that straight before! I challenged myself to adjust the steering wheel as little as possible – while also trying to not speed, or fall asleep. :P

Eventually, we came through an area that broke the monotony a little bit: the Hopi Buttes. This is a volcanic field and out of a relatively flat plain, a lot of volcanic cones or buttes rise. It is quite an interesting sight. I eventually had to stop and at least make a photo of one of them – the fence that ran all the way across the plain towards the butte and up its slope was just the right little extra to provide a sense of scale:

We continued further south to Winslow, checked in at the hotel, and returned to the Little Painted Desert for sunset. Afterwards, we had a delicious dinner at the Turquoise Room restaurant of the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, and were ready to retire to bed after this long day.

The only problem with that was: the La Posada Hotel, itself an absolutely wonderful place, is also a former Fred Harvey railroad house and thus, directly at the (nowadays only freight) train station in Winslow. And the freight operations do not stop. And it is assumed that you know this, apparently. Our room (#200) was at the south-west corner of the house, on the second floor – an ideal location to get the maximum exposure to and impact of train noise! Complementary earplugs were on the night stands. How kind! I wish they would have told us about the trains and the noise when I booked the room… (in hindsight, it was a bit foolish and naive to follow the recommendation to stay there without double-checking the place and taking a closer look first, of course).

It’s not just trains passing by. It’s noises of shunting, switching, routing, wagons being disconnected and reconnected, with a lot of loud thumping and thudding, metallic clanking and clanging, accompanied by droning and humming of heavy diesel engines. Apparently, some people love that. To me, it was just highly annoying. This last night was meant to be a treat to ourselves at a special place, and it turned into a sore disappointment because I was robbed of much needed sleep that I was really looking forward to.

The train noises continued long into the night. Eventually, I slept for a couple of hours, but in the early morning, the train noises began again (around 4:30 AM, I’d say). Unable to fall asleep again, despite having my own (better) earplugs, I rose (extremely grumpy) and after a shower, I loaded the car and we checked out as early as possible. After an early breakfast in town we were on the road again, for the long last stretch from Winslow home to San Diego…

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8 thoughts on “Between Two Places (is a long dirt road)”

  1. So did you not take any images of the mine, or have I missed at some point. Sounds like interesting travels. The Harvey House would have appealed to me. We visited Winslow a couple of years ago but had a trailer. I would have liked to see the house though, I document old Santa Fe things.

  2. I remember passing through Winslow, and seeing the rail line, but we weren’t ready to stop for the night yet. Sounds like that might have been a good thing. :-) And the driving on dirt roads reminded me of my first year in college in Socorro. A friend had an old car, don’t remember the model, but it was actually a decommissioned police car with a pretty powerful engine. He’d take us driving on some of the local dirt roads. Probably not a great idea, being in the same car with him driving, but it was quite an experience. There weren’t any speed limit signs and I think he took that to mean there weren’t any speed limits.

  3. Funny – I still have an old Tomtom that we call Thomasina. Oh, that stern voice that we love to joke about! I hardly ever use it now, and yes, the map info is long out of date. I’m not sure if we were on SR 87 but we did a road trip in that area, spending time in Winslow, Canyon de Chelly and and First (or Second?) Mesa, where we had a fascinating conversation with a Hopi silversmith who’s returned to the reservation. We also stopped at the Little Painted Desert and spent an hour or two at the Posada, where once again we had a great conversation, this time with an older Mexican-born gardener raking out the flower beds. We thought, gee, if we ever come back this way, we have to stay at La Posada! Now I know what to watch out for! ;-)
    Thanks for writing this, Alex, I have to admire you for writing so well in a second language. But maybe you’d be hard-pressed to write as well in German after all this time in the US. ;-)

    • Oh wow, I’m just little over a month behind responding to comments! :P Funny that your TomTom also has a name, haha!

      I would probably “dare” to stay at the La Posada again, but would explicitly book a room on the first floor, and one that’s facing AWAY from the train tracks, for sure!

      Thank you very much for the comment about my writing, I was really happy to read that. I try to stay fluent in German with some German friends that live around here, and I also chat with my brother and sister via Signal every now and then. I might be a little bit out of practice to write eloquently in German, but nevertheless think that my English vocabulary is still quite inferior. Being “in command” of a language when writing (they way I used to be in German) is a joy, and I miss that…

  4. Better late than never, right? ;-) If you aren’t as comfortable in English as you once were in German (and I can understand that) it doesn’t show.


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