Lee's Ferry to the Little Colorado River - Cedar City to Flagstaff 1987 - CycleBlaze

August 13, 1987

Lee's Ferry to the Little Colorado River

Today was the Character Building Day for this trip.  I am certain that my strongest abiding memory of the Navaho reservation will be of the wind.  The country is lovely, colorful, and culturally intriguing; but all of these attractive qualities were overpowered by a fierce headwind that beleaguered me for eightly straight miles.  I'm POOPED!  The day wasn't all bad though, really.  There were long stretches throughout the morning in which I obtained a peaceful, trancelike rhythm which carried me for miles.  Throughout the early afternoon I was often focussed on the skies, watching the clouds pile up and shower the land sporadically without ever getting serious about it.  Conditions didn't really get bad until about 15 miles north of Cameron, when I had to stay in my next to lowest gear the entire time even though the grade was slightly downhill, and when I started having control difficulties as the wind shifted to more from the west and became a difficult crosswind.  Now, as sundown approaches, it is finally abating - slightly.

There was more to this day than merely the wind though.  It began early as ususal, before sun up, on my picnic bench in Glen Canyon.  The night had been dominated by the wind as well.  The entire campground was fairly exposed and uninviting.  There was little in the way of vegetation, and the best bet for shelter seemed to be the semiprotected picnic benches.  I selected one that seemed appropriately oriented to the wind, and for about the first half of the night I slept reasonably enough, disturbed only by the moaning of the wind.  Somewhere around midnight though it shifted 180 degrees and began blowing directly up-bag.  I endured this for awhile - this was a warm, dry wind - but eventually my skin began to feel raw and I had to shift direction.  Then however, the still nearly full moon glared directly into my eyes.

I biked the five miles back downriver (but uphill) to Marble Canyon for breakfast.  I was too early - the restaurant opened at 6:30 but it was still only 5:50.  While I waited, I hiked down to the river to view the Navaho Bridge, where the highway crosses the Colorado.  Already, after only five miles, the canyon is an impressive 500 foot gash through the land.

Back at the cafe, I ordered an imposing three inch stack of heavy pancakes (I only conquered 1-1/2 inches) and coffee.  Thus fortified, I crossed the bridge and entered the Navaho Reservation, where I was welcomed almost immediately by the winds which were to accompany me for the next 10 hours.  For about the first 15 miles the highway hugs the base of Echo Cliffs, which are the mirror formation to the Vermillion Cliffs.  At Bitter Spring, my road merges with the main highway dropping down very steeply from the top of the ridge.  Looking back up, I can spot the narrow cleft in the ridgeline thrugh which the highway passes, thousands of feet higher.  This road, dropping down from Page, was my original planned route before plans were altered to accommodate my blowout in Zion.  On south from here the highway moves away from the cliffs and passes through the Painted Desert for about 30 miles to Cameron; and from Cameron I leave the main highway to head west toward the Grand Canyon, still another 40 miles distant.

My impressions of the day, looking back on it, are a disjointed collection of thoughts, mostly about the Navahos.  Predictably, about every mile or so throughout the entire day I passed a roadside stand offering jewelry, rugs and sand paintings.  These stands had more or less a uniform appearance - constructed of poles, with either brush, slats or plastic sheeting for a roof, flags of all kinds flapping noisily in the wind, blankets hanging from racks, rows of tray tables bearing merchandise.  Frequently the onset of one of these structures was indicated by signs along the road - typically painted on a car body part propped against a boulder. 

Early in the day I was tempted to stop by one which also advertised cold drinks.  As I pulled off the highway the proprietress pulled out her cooler, anticipating my interests.  Somehow she had divined that I wasn't stopping for the jewelry.

Navaho home life at a distance looks lean, at best.  Especially at the northern end of the reservation the land looks inhospitable - and the homes, situted in the middle of nothing, were minimal - either circular, dome-roofed earthen structures or wooden analogs of these, or small mobile homes.  

After joining the main highway at Bitter Spring the traffic increases significantly.  This is the main northern access to Flagstaff.  There is an eight foot shoulder to the road fortunately, but it is much rougher than the lanes so I tried to avoid it as much as possible.  By the end of the day my personal bottom bracket is aching from the incessant jarring vibrations.

Evening.  The viewpoint at which I am sitting now (and at which I intend to sleep, if noone evicts me) is a beautiful spot.  The Little Colorado has carved its own quite impressive canyon here, 500 feet deep at least.  The sculptured and layered cliffs have a rugged, almost steely character.  My favorite feature though is the blooming agave (century plant) clinging to a ledge about 40 feet below the canyon rim.

There is a splendid view of north central Arizona from here as well.  I can see the entire extent of my last day-and-a-half's journey, beginning at about Colorado City or the drop from Jacob's Lake.  For the past 120 miles I have been tracing a giant hairpin, with its bend at the Navaho Bridge.  All of the surrounding features - Vermillion Cliffs, Echo Cliffs, the Painted Desert - are visible from here.  It is a pleasing feeling to be able to view 180 degrees of distant horizon and mentally translate it into personal experience.

The Navaho Bridge
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The Navaho Bridge
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The Colorado River from the Navaho Bridge
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Another roadside attraction, on the Navaho Reservation north of Bitter Spring
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The Little Colorado, from the scenic overlook
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Sundown on the Little Colorado
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Today's ride: 88 miles (142 km)
Total: 430 miles (692 km)

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