Day 8: Cameron to Tuba City - Indian Country part two, 2018 - CycleBlaze

May 16, 2018

Day 8: Cameron to Tuba City

Today is a short rest/recovery day sandwiched between two long days. I got up at 8 and on the road at 9:15. Right away I stopped for a few minutes to look at the suspension bridge. It is thoroughly barricaded to prevent people from getting on the bridge. I assumed the pipe is a water pipe but Wikipedia says it's a natural gas pipeline.

Completed in 1911, the 1-lane bridge was an engineering marvel and an important new road connection. It provided road access to previously unreachable portions of the northern Navajo nation. This was before the Marble Canyon bridge was completed in 1929, crossing the Colorado river to provide access from the north.

This 680 foot long suspension bridge was the longest suspension bridge west of the Mississippi. Now used only for a gas pipeline.
Heart 1 Comment 0

The suspension bridge nearly collapsed in 1937 when overloaded with sheep. After repairs, traffic continued to use this 1-lane bridge until 1959.

Adjacent to the suspension bridge is a shiny new 4-lane concrete bridge built in 2015. The highway looks totally different now compared to 15 years ago. Now the bridge and highway are 4 lanes. The bridge has a walkway and the highway has pedestrian tunnels. Kind of strange because it's well north of the tiny town of Cameron. I don't see why it needed to be 4 lanes.

The 4-lane concrete bridge was built in 2015, the second bridge to replace the 1-lane suspension bridge.
Heart 0 Comment 0

North of the bridge I was immediately transported from the Trading Post's green oasis to the most barren place on the tour. The 4-lane highway quickly reverts to 2 lanes with no usable shoulder. Traffic was light.

US 89 has no shoulder north of Cameron. Almost no vegetation. The most arid place on the tour.
Heart 0 Comment 0

I crossed under huge power lines that connect to the Navajo Generating Station which is to the north near Page, Arizona. The power plant is on Navajo land. It burns coal mined on Black Mesa in the Navajo nation. The coal is transported via an electric railroad that I will see tomorrow.

US 160 has a wider shoulder. Power lines lead to the coal-burning Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona.
Heart 0 Comment 0

Navajo coal once fed two giant power plants. Fortunately the Mohave Generating Station near Laughlin, Nevada shut down in 2005. It was the only power plant in the U.S. fed by a coal slurry pipeline. The 350 mile long pipeline consumed 2 million gallons of water per day. Depleting the Navajo nation's desert aquifer just to move coal. Good riddance! Maybe their power lines can be used for a large solar project.

Today is quite barren but that improves the view of the painted desert. No vegetation to hide the amazing colors. Flat areas mostly have pink sand.

Barren painted desert.
Heart 0 Comment 0

The landscape seems too desolate for ranching but I did see livestock in the riparian zone of Moenkopi creek.

Moenkopi creek. The first creek with water that I saw during this tour.
Heart 0 Comment 0

I saw a few abandoned structures in the desert. It's hard to imagine any way to make a subsistence living out here.

Abandoned stone house west of Tuba City.
Heart 0 Comment 0

US 89 has no usable shoulder north of Cameron. I was surprised to see that the shoulder improved after turning right onto US 160. The terrain was nearly flat on US 89. On US 160 I gradually climb 900 feet to Tuba City. No shade but the temperature was pleasant, about 80F in late morning with the usual southwest tailwind.

Bike-friendly US 160 in the painted desert.
Heart 1 Comment 0

Roadside souvenir stands became a regular sight after entering the Navajo reservation. I didn't stop at any because I'm not in the market for turquoise jewelry. I already have a Navajo vase, kachina, rug, and sand painting. This year I want to buy a Navajo wedding basket but I won't find that at a roadside stand.

One of several roadside Navajo souvenir stands. Good places to buy turquoise jewelry.
Heart 0 Comment 0

Today I passed the best examples of painted desert that I saw during this tour. Without vegetation the amazing colors of the land are fully visible. Barren can be very beautiful.

Today is painted desert day.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Today's best painted desert scene.
Heart 0 Comment 0

Closer to Tuba City to the left I could see red cliffs towering above the barren desert. 2 uphill miles later the redness extended out into the desert. Wow.

It was fascinating to see green spill out of red canyons above barren desert.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Suddenly it's a red red world.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Just west of Tuba City. Former mine?
Heart 0 Comment 0

Coming into town I straddle two competing worlds. On the right, south of US 160, is the town of Moenkopi in the Hopi nation. On the left, north of US 160, is the larger town of Tuba City in the Navajo nation. The relationship between the tribes is far from harmonious. The Hopi are generally the underdogs. Their mesa-top nation is surrounded by the Navajo nation. Hopis accuse the Navajos of taking all their water. Here, far below the mesa, both towns seem to have an ample water supply.

The Hopi town of Moenkopi is south of US 160. The larger Navajo town of Tuba City is north of US 160. Both towns have McDonalds.
Heart 0 Comment 0

I turned north of US 160 to go into Tuba City. Uphill for 1.5 miles to the Tuba Trading post, getting gradually more verdant. The upper part of Tuba City has many trees.

Tuba City is named after Tuuvi, a Hopi chief who converted to the Mormon faith. A Navajo town named after a Mormon Hopi chief? Population 8611 makes Tuba City the largest Navajo town.

The Navajo tribe has a huge government complex in Tuba City. The Navajo and other tribes are notorious for building lavish government buildings while under-funding housing and infrastructure. At least that's how it appears to outsiders. It's clear that the most reliable way to earn a decent living in the Navajo nation is to work for the government.

Tuba City's tribal government complex.
Heart 0 Comment 0

I arrived in Tuba City at 1:30 PM Arizona time but now it's 2:30 PM daylight time. The Navajo nation observes daylight savings time. So I don't have to beg for an early check in. Unlike the rest of Arizona the Navajo reservation observes daylight time. I had plenty of time to relax and see the Trading Post, Code Talker Museum, and Explore Navajo interactive museum. They are all next door to today's lodging, Quality Inn Navajo Nation. The motel is very large, with a grassy courtyard. $160 for a standard room. The Moenkopi Inn on the Hopi side is even more expensive and it was sold out when I made the reservation. At least I get a coupon for breakfast at the Hogan restaurant and the location is good next to the Trading Post and museums.

Tuba Trading Post is smaller than Cameron Trading Post. It doesn't have the Old West atmosphere because it's in the middle of town at the intersection of two 5-lane arteries. It is old and well preserved.

Tuba Trading Post is in the middle of Tuba City, largest town in the Navajo nation.
Heart 0 Comment 0

The Code Talkers museum is small but does a good job of explaining the Code Talkers. Hundreds of Navajo were drafted into the Pacific theater of World War 2 for radio communication. Messages were coded, then spoken in the Navajo language. The Japanese were never able to break the double code. Secure communications made the element of surprise possible. The invasion of Iwo Jima probably would have failed without secure communications provided by the Code Talkers. Other Navajo towns have code talker museums. This isn't the only one. Few people know about the magnitude of Native American service and sacrifice in the U.S. armed forces.

Exhibit at the Navajo Code Talkers museum. They also had codes for words in addition to 3 codes for each letter.
Heart 1 Comment 0

The Explore Navajo interactive museum was very interesting. I learned a lot about Navajo history and culture. Things such as the four Navajo worlds (their creation story) and the meaning of the four directions.

Explore Navajo Interactive Museum adjacent to the trading post.
Heart 0 Comment 0

The Navajo people call themselves Diné, which simply means "the people". Throughout Indian Country it's common to hear the word Diné in conversations. Everybody knows what it means.

Hogan inside the museum.
Heart 0 Comment 0

The museum takes pride in being the first place to tell the history of the Navajo people in their own words.

Navajo history, panel 1.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Navajo history, panel 2.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Navajo history, panel 3.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Navajo history, panel 4. After a disastrous exile to southeast New Mexico the tribe returned to their ancestral homeland in the 1880's.
Heart 0 Comment 0

Dinner was a Navajo roast beef wrap in the Hogan restaurant. Good but not much veggies to go with it. No beer, of course.

After dinner I walked around north of the hotel. I saw the hospital complex and walked along the fence of the largest boarding school I've ever seen. The buildings are nicer and more modern than my local public schools. Apparently children in the remote settlements are sent to boarding school. Tuba City also has regular public schools for the kids who live nearby.

Tuba City has many old stone houses. About half seem to be abandoned.
Heart 0 Comment 0

East of the boarding school I saw dozens of old stone houses. About half are abandoned now. I presume they were built for white teachers, doctors, and government officials. Later I found the boarding school's web site and confirmed that the campus has 1200 K-8 students, was founded in 1901, run by Department of the Army until the 1940's, then by Department of Interior until the 1950's. The Navajo tribe has run the school since about 1960 when most U.S. Indian tribes finally achieved a degree of sovereignty.

It was interesting to wander around a Navajo town for the first time. I didn't know what to expect but was surprised at the level of development in Tuba City. They have new shopping centers along US 160. The city streets are decent. Most people drive nice cars. The upper part of town is surprisingly green.

High temperature was 86F (30C) with the usual strong southwest wind. Very pleasant. Tuba City is 4960 feet (1503 m) elevation.

Today I saw awesome painted desert, learned a lot about the Navajo nation, and achieved my goal of being well rested for a very long day tomorrow.

Distance: 26.5 mi. (42.4 km)
Ascent/Descent: +1145/-439 ft (+347/-133 m)
Average Speed: 8.8 mph (14.1 km/h)

Today's ride: 27 miles (43 km)
Total: 351 miles (565 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 1
Comment on this entry Comment 0