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Thursday, September 10, 2015 : From North Rim to Chinle

 

Since the bed in our log cabin is obviously the same as yesterday, Marie had another lousy night. She merely took the cover off the second bed to feel a little warmer.

 

Today, not many visits, and no real schedule. Let's say we have a lot of time for a rather long drive, a little over 300 miles, taking us to Chinle, AZ, the town closest to Canyon de Chelly National Monument, which we will visit tomorrow

 

However, we have listed a few points of interest :

 

 

The remainder of the day is left up to improvisation.

 

We go back to the main restaurant for breakfast, still as plentiful and diversified. I ask for a custom omelette, with lots of varied and colorful ingredients : diced ham, cheese,  green and red peppers, mushrooms, and so on. Gorgeous !

 

We then return the keys and leave Grand Canyon Lodge. The day promises to be great, weather is beautiful.

 

Young male deer on roadside, Grand Canyon National Park

Young male deer on roadside

 

We have not yet reached park entrance when we see a pack of young deer attempting to cross the road. As in any National Park, they are protected, and they do not fear human presence. That is why we can see them in broad daylight.

 

We pause to let them across and we drive away.

 

At Jacob Lake, we take US Route 89A to Marble Canyon.

 

From North Rim to Jacob Lake, and then from Jacob Lake to Marble Canyon, there seems to be no other human presence than our own. Good thing we refilled the car in anticipation, for I don't know who would help us if necessary.

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Vermilion Cliffs, US Route 89A, between Jacob Lake and Marble Canyon

Vermilion Cliffs, US Route 89A

 

After Jacob Lake, US Route 89A crosses a quite dense pine forest. It is a typical mountain landscape, with a road at the bottom of a valley, winding along its natural curves. Jacob Lake is roughly at 8,000 ft elevation.

 

After less than 15 miles, we leave the mountain and are back on Colorado Plateau, with its sparse vegetation of dry regions. We are now only at 5,600 ft elevation.

 

A few miles further, we stop on the edge of the road for some pictures. We are facing the first group of Vermilion Cliffs, the ones of the National Monument. They are still as beautiful as they are dramatic.

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Colorado Plateau and Vermilion Cliffs, US Route 89A, between Jacob Lake and Marble Canyon

Colorado Plateau and Vermilion Cliffs

 

This picture pretty well shows Colorado Plateau vegetation, some prairie grass, some shrub, and that's it. The soil is stony.

 

The weather is beautiful, and it is already rather warm. Since the air is very dry, we are not affected by high temperature.

 

Just to know, I check my mobile phone. Still no network. Considering the population density or, should I say, the lack thereof, I kind of expected it.

 

The more we drive towards Marble Canyon, the more the ground becomes sandy and bare. Even vegetation gradually disappears. We are in the middle of a desert.

 

I notice the many signs warning of a road flooded with sand hazard, without worrying too much about it. At some point, however, we are forced to slow down. The road has been totally covered with sand, only a narrow lane remains, which we have to cross at very slow speed. These are huge, giant mudslides, at the scale of this country where, definitely, nothing can ever be small, including Mother Nature's quirks. It does not rain frequently, in this desert, but when it ever does, runoff water takes part of the mountain with it.

 

US Route 89A crosses a hamlet of a few houses, a restaurant and a gas station. Officially, there is no town with the name Marble Canyon.

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Colorado at Navajo Bridge,US Route 89A

Colorado at Navajo Bridge

 

We make a stop at Navajo Bridge, on  which US Route 89A crosses the Colorado. With the exception of the two footbridges inside Grand Canyon National Park, only accessible to pedestrians and mules, this is the last bridge before US Route 93 overpass immediately after Hoover Dam ... over 300 miles from here !

 

There are actually two Navajo Bridges. The old one, which opened in 1929, ended up no longer being able to serve an ever-increasing traffic flow. It was replaced in 1995 by a new bridge, more than twice as large, with much wider access curves, providing a greatly enhanced visibility. The old bridge became a pedestrian footbridge, from which Marie took the pictures.

 

As the crow flies, we are less than 15 miles away from Glen Canyon Dam. Colorado has not yet fully recovered its light brown color. Here, it is sort of greenish.

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Navajo Bridge, US Route 89A

Navajo Bridge, US Route 89A

 

As shown on the picture, Navajo Bridge is a single-arch metal bridge, with no intermediate pier, resting on each side of Marble Canyon. The frame is light, slim, really beautiful. It is a great work, in both engineering and aesthetic terms.

 

Unlike the old bridge, the new one has no weight restrictions. The heaviest vehicles can cross it.

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Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center

Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center

 

On the right bank of the Colorado, we make a stop at Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center, a visitor center managed by Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, with an information desk, a shop and restrooms.

 

On the picture, the building looks closed. It is actually open. To help air conditioning keep its inside cool, it has no windows. It has been designed in a style reminiscent of Navajo houses, low, made of bricks.

 

Right under the Star-Spangled Banner, the second flag is the Flag of Arizona.

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Echo Cliffs, along US Route 89A, between Navajo Bridge and Bitter Springs, AZ

Echo Cliffs, along US Route 89A

 

On the left bank of the Colorado, Navajo Nation territory begins. It is spread across three states : Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. For consistency purposes within such a vast territory with only 173,000 residents at 2010 census (out of slightly more than 300,000 Navajo overall), the whole Nation uses Daylight Saving Time. This implies some moderate mind gymnastics, since the rest of Arizona does not use it. Save for a few miles here and there, the Camaro's onboard GPS system roughly does the job, resetting the clock to local time.

 

Between Navajo Bridge and Bitter Springs, we drive parallel to Echo Cliffs for a while. Those cliffs belong to the same step of the Grand Staircase as Vermilion Cliffs.

 

At Bitter Springs, we meet US Route 89. We stop for a refill about 25 miles further, and Navajo excise taxes apply, cutting about 10¢ per gallon off the price of gas.

 

We follow US Route 89 up to US Route 160 junction. We actually meet an old acquaintance again : we already took US Route 160 a few days ago, when we crossed Colorado from Fort Garland to Durango to Cortez, and later again from Kayenta to Shonto, after our quick stop next to Monument Valley.

 

We make a brief stop in Tuba City before taking Arizona State Route 264, Mesa Road.

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Second Mesa, Hopi reservation, Arizona State Route 264, between Tuba City and Burnside, AZ

Second Mesa, Hopi reservation, Arizona State Route 264

 

The Hopi reservation is enclosed within Navajo Nation. Arizona State Route 264 crosses it west to east, thru, in this order, Third, Second and First Mesa. Hopi villages are settled on top of the mesas, or immediately nearby.

 

In a desire to preserve their privacy and way of life, the Hopi demand that visitors take no pictures of villages, houses and their immediate vicinity. We respect this demand. Marie takes a single picture of Second Mesa, where no village or house can be seen. Basically, this demand makes a lot of sense. How would we like it if Hopi, or anyone else for that matter, came and took pictures of our homes without permission ?

 

We drive further along Mesa Road. Yes, it is scenic, to some extent. It is a relative disappointment, and it's not the Hopi's fault.

 

At Burnside, we meet US Route 191, which we also already know : it is the one which took us to Moab, a few days ago, and which took us out, too. We follow it to Chinle.

 

Since we arrived early, we drive up to Canyon de Chelly National Monument visitor center. The visit is fast. It is daylight saving time, and we have but a few minutes to stamp our National Parks passport and take the park brochure.

 

Our hotel is a very nice Holiday Inn. The main building reminds of local architecture. Outside, on the parking lot, an od chariot and other Wild West Age relics are displayed. The whole staff seems to be Navajo.

 

Ouf of a highly commendable sense of business ethics, the receptionist is not willing to recommend one company among the dozen or so on her list offering Canyon de Chelly visits. I make an online reservation for our visit tomorrow.

 

After spending a relaxing moment at the pool, and since we again have a good wi-fi connection, I begin to catch up on my backlog of picture backup and blog updates. We then have dinner at the hotel restaurant, also in the local style, with great food, great service, and great value.

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