Leslie reminded me yesterday that my post about our southwest road trip did not mention a rather freaky experience trying to find a place to eat on our last night. It had been a long day of driving from the Grand Canyon to Nephi, Utah (pronounced “KNEE-fie”). Sitting at the Chevron waiting for the tank to fill we decided that a sit-down meal with a beer sounded good. The only option we could see was JC Mickelson’s Restaurant, across
the street. Once inside we were greeted by a host of weird people. The owner or manager, a tall, pale, bearded man, wore sneakers, white socks, khaki shorts, and a Hawaiian shirt. He greeted us and handed two menus to a small, pretty young girl of about 11 or 12 (although who can be sure these days?), who gleefully informed us that the night’s special was prime rib. I interrupted their excitement about the opportunity to serve us by asking if they served beer. Much wind escaped from sails. “No,” the manager said. He then generously tried to think of a place that could accommodate our request. “Not in this town,” he concluded. We thanked them and left, and headed over to Burger King.
We’d been too tired to realize how naive we were expecting to get a beer in Nephi. It’s funny now, but once we realized the hold of Mormons on small towns in Utah and the control they have over things like the basic human right to have a beer with your burger after a long drive, we were kind of pissed. But we got over it and headed to Wendover, where we camped in a Baptist church parking lot just below a row of strip clubs on the west end of town (the Nevada side).
In thinking about our irritation with Mormon “dry” policies or whatever you want to call their crass violation of our 94th Amendment right to a beer after a long day of travel, it occurred to me that we might be guilty of a double standard when comparing Utah with the Diné (Navajo; also spelled Dineh) and Hopi reservations. Inside the nearly 13 million acres bounding the Diné reservation, inside which sits the 1.5 million acre Hopi reservation, it is a crime to possess or consume alcohol. If we’d been stopped by tribal police for some reason, they could have searched our van and arrested us for the beer and wine we had inside. Thankfully that didn’t happen (or you would have much longer blog entries from me).
There are lots of ways to look at this. First, not being able to buy or drink a beer anywhere you want to just plain sucks. But then you have to think about the “respect for different cultures” we try to make part of our creed. I respect and appreciate American Indian cultures far more than I do Mormonism, which is more of a religion dictating a dogmatic and particularly natural resource-abusive lifestyle than a “culture,” but I’m sure real anthropologists would disagree. I’m probably equally familiar with Mormonism as I am with Native American ways of life, but what I know of both makes it easy for me to favor the latter. Indians have been screwed on this continent since before Columbus arrived, yet
they have continued to contribute some very positive things to civilization in the form of art, architecture, farming, medicine, and spirituality. The only really positive thing I can say about what I know of Mormonism is that they appear to teach decent manners to their kids; if you watch a Mormon family at a restaurant, you won’t usually see a bunch of kids running around like Tasmanian devils who think they’re in their own living room. I won’t go into the long list of what I don’t like about Mormonism, but suffice it to say that they don’t elicit the same level of appreciation in me as American Indians do.
So, to resolve the apparent double-standard of being pissed about not getting a beer in Nephi and appreciating and respecting Indian anti-alcohol policies, I think it’s fair to say that the situations are different enough that it really isn’t a double standard at all. It was – and still is – Indian land to begin with, so they should be allowed to set whatever policies they want and expect everyone passing through to abide by them. In Utah, though, the Mormon control of alcohol policy is excessive because the land there is not exclusively owned or inhabited by a single group. There, dryness should be personal choice. Is it beer:30 yet?
Just got home from a 3,033 mile road trip. Nine days. Boise to Roswell, New Mexico to Santa Fe to Taos to Navajo and Hopi country and the Grand Canyon. Lotsa driving, lotsa adventure. Mostly perfect weather. Rather than boring myself (and you) with a chronarrative of the trip, here are some notes, more or less in order of occurrence:
On our first night we found ourselves camped down a muddy/snowy road near Canyonlands National Park. After discovering our camper’s coach battery – which runs the heater – had boiled over and croaked, I couldn’t get the van started. We awoke to a layer of frost on the inside of the windows, and imagined schlepping our road bikes up the muddy track to the pavement in the frigid morning and riding out to the “main” road to seek help. In looking through the owner’s manual I learned that the van would not start if the passenger seat was facing backwards (which it was). In a flash I had the machine running with heat not long behind. Soon after that we saw that we were surrounded by mule deer more numerous than I have ever seen. We joked about the two Boiseans who starved to death in the southeastern Utah high desert surrounded by hundreds of mule deer.
Make sure you know the difference between the positive and negative terminals of a battery. I wired up our replacement coach battery backwards, and wasted hours of my time and the time of many generous people as a result.
Roswell, New Mexico is – as we were warned – obsessed with the notion that people, especially tourists, are really interested in aliens. Wal-Mart has a huge painting of a UFO on its facade. Spending a couple days there didn’t convince me that it’s paying off.
Friends and family – a cliche nowadays, thanks to the destroyers of civilization as we know it (cell phone companies) – are precious. We hadn’t seen Peter in years since he’d relocated to Roswell, and visits with my dad and Susan are rare. Although too short, we all made the most of our time together, some of which we spent talking on how we might increase the frequency of visits… Stay tuned.
- Leslie and I did an out-and-back road bike ride on a straight, flat highway heading west out of Roswell. We both found it remarkable how polite the motorists there were. Despite having the “safety” of a rumble strip between us and traffic on the two-lane highway, even the huge eighteen-wheelers gave us extra room, often changing lanes. In 25 miles I counted only one vehicle that didn’t go wide for us. Conclusion: road bikers are their own worst enemies; where they are plentiful, as in Boise, there are enough of them doing stupid shit to annoy motorists (like riding two abreast in traffic, needlessly slowing down vehicles) that motorists have become un-conscientious toward cyclists. In Roswell, where cyclists seem to be a curiosity, vehicles seemed to respond accordingly to the massive difference in speed and mass between themselves and cyclists and went out of their way to avoid any possibility of an incident. It was refreshing.
- “…motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for American Indians aged 5 to 44” (Indian Reservation Roads guide, part of the Federal Lands Highway program of the USDOT). Luckily we did not see any crashes. But the roads on the Navajo reservation, which comprises over 12 million acres in Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, are treacherous and in very bad repair. US Highway 491 between Ya-Ta-Hay and Gallup, New Mexico, for example, featured frequent potholes a foot deep, foot wide, and eight feet long. Hurtling down this road at night in dense traffic made me imagine I was doing the Super G with life or death consequences. Road maintenance on Indian reservations is apparently a joint effort between the US Department of Transportation and the individual governing bodies on each reservation, but we saw little or no evidence of repairs anywhere. And every road we took, without exception, struck me as very Third World.
Speaking of worlds, we visited Old Oraibi (pronounced oh-RAH-ee-bee), at Third Mesa on the Hopi reservation, whose 1.5 million acres sit like an island in the middle of the Navajo reservation. My mom had taken me and my brother here in 1970 when she wanted to find particular Hopi pottery makers whose work she was studying. It looked exactly the same. Old Oraibi is the oldest continuously inhabited village in the United States, dating back at least to 1150 A.D.
- Somewhere near the spectacular Vermillion Cliffs I turned on the radio and found only one station, a public radio station broadcasting from somewhere on the Navajo reservation. We learned in Tuba City, which was named by a Mormon missionary to the area long ago, that Navajo is the white man’s name for these people, who call themselves Diné (pronounced dih-NEH), which means “the people.” We had stopped at a roadside piñon vendor, a nice woman with whom we chatted for quite a while. She said “Navajo” and I asked if it was pronounced with a long or short “a”, and she said, “We say “Diné,” with no bitterness. Listening to the radio, the live commentary was in the Diné language, and it struck me as amazing that in the middle of the largest Indian reservation in the U.S. I was hearing a language older than English, which is the most universal language in the world. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
It’s hard to say anything about the Grand Canyon. First, it’s not a canyon. It’s a bunch of canyons each of which was the head of its class, the Summa Cum Laude of canyons. We hit the South Rim viewpoints in the afternoon under spectacular light conditions, and the effect was so awesome that I could hardly take it seriously. I began thinking of writing a press release from the National Park Headquarters informing the world that in an effort to generate more revenue for maintenance of our national parks the NPS had decided to offer sponsorship opportunities. Thanks to generous donations by sponsoring corporations, The Grand Canyon would now be called “The iPad Grand Canyons by Apple.” Yellowstone National Park would now be called “Starbuck’s Yellowstone Machiato Park,” and Arches National Park would be “McDonald’s Golden Arches National Bigmac Park.” Branding would be handled exclusively by the William Morris Agency, with oversight by Designer Emeritus Calvin Klein.
It’s good to be home. We missed our dogs, and – we like to think – they us.