Road Trip Day 4: Padding stats at Four Corners Monument

We wake up on an Indian reservation and look forward to visiting Four Corners Monument.

You gotta love a road trip.

The complimentary hotel breakfast is quite good. We decide to hit Kayenta's only apparent shopping center to load up on provisions for today's drive. On the way over, we notice again that Kayenta is full of pickup trucks and stray dogs.

At Basha's, we get yogurt and baby finger foods because that's all Mary eats. The walls have departments - Produce, Meats, Dairy - listed in English and Navajo. (Somehow, I didn't take any pictures. Sorry.) We are the only non-Navajos in the store until some European tourists come in, including a guy in a tank top and pink capris.

We gas up, taking a few last pictures, and pull off toward Four Corners Monument. The shopping center with the Basha's has several closed-up storefronts. Along the road out of town, I notice other former businesses - mainly brick buildings with smashed windows. Once of them is an auto repair shop.

The stretch of US 160 that approaches Four Corners National Monument must be the least traveled highway I've seen - and I've driven U.S. Route 2 in Upper Peninsula Michigan. There are no billboards anywhere in Navajo Nation. The only signs are homemade, perched on side paths. They generally advertise summer Bible camps or other church functions. There are no buildings visible down these paths; they are either back from the road or non-existent. And there's no warning when these roads come up. How do people know where to go?

If you look at a Four Corners area map, you'll notice that Teec Nos Pos is the closest town to Four Corners Monument. There's a small, turquoise-painted post office and a Teec Nos Trading Post that sells fast food, Navajo kitsch, and gas. Just before you reach the intersection where the post office is located, you need to turn left and go up Arizona 160 towards Four Corners.

We're pleasantly surprised to see that Four Corners Monument is not a gaudy tourist trap. True, the monument itself is surrounded by Navajo jewelry stands and Navajo fry bread booths. But it's easy enough to walk behind the booths if you want to admire the view. Since we're here on a Monday, there is only a short line to take pictures on the corners. Nobody is clowning around or playing Twister on the corners.

We walk all around Four Corners Monument, and then make another lap just to be sure. You really can span four states in a matter of seconds. But again, it nags at me: what does it mean to be somewhere? St. George is all about the red rocks. Kayenta felt like...Kayenta. Standing in Colorado - which normally makes me think of Rockies and skiing - only seconds after standing in Utah doesn't really feel like anything.

Actually, it just feels like we're padding our stats with four states in one day. But as my father-in-law would say, "Now we can tell people we've been to Four Corners Monument."

On the way back, we stop at the Teec Nos Pos Trading Post, and I say to Michelle, "I'm going to go in and take a Teec Nos Piss." She nods and smiles indulgently. I've been saving up that line for weeks.

Past Teec Nos Pos, the road leads out of Arizona. We listen to Steve Reich's "Different Trains," though the wind noise blocks out most of the voices and we only get the creepy, repetitive strings.

New Mexico is instantly browner than Arizona, but with more vegetation. The city of Shiprock is self-explanatory, given the rock formation nearby.

We pass through Farmington, easily the largest city we've encountered since St. George. In Farmington, there's a prominent sign for an adult bookstore. A few feet away, a billboard reads, "Jesus Is Watching You - sponsored by the Catholic Churches of San Juan County." Ha!

We intend to stop somewhere in Farmington for lunch, but somehow never quite find a place that appeals to us. We finally eat lunch at a Sonic Drive-In in Bloomfield, which is where we'll pick up the highway south to I-25. Mary eats the yogurt we bought in Kayenta - it has been preserved in our cooler - and then sits kicking on the grass while I stretch.

ROAD TRIP TIP: Taking a road trip gives you a chance to see lots of gorgeous scenery. But let's face it: most of it is off the side of the highway. You don't get to touch it, smell it, or bask in it. So, try to make your stops in areas where you'll have a chance to sit in some grass and soak up some sunshine. You'll return to the car relaxed and refreshed.

Failing that, play Twister and fill up on Navajo fry bread at Four Corners Monument.

Overall, this is Mary's best day so far. She sleeps on the way to Four Corners Monument, plays on the way to Bloomfield, then naps again as we head toward Santa Fe - all while securely fastened in her car seat, of course. The chance to play in the grass obviously helped to balance out her day and to keep her from feeling confined.

On U.S. Highway 550, we go over the Continental Divide at 7,380 feet. The terrain changes to trees and more conventional hills and mountains, rather than rugged rock formations. We see more homes, ranches, and farms.

About 30 miles north of I-25, the scenery stops just short of becoming farmland. White and pink cliffs abound. New Mexico is a considerate host, offering just enough scenic variety to keep you enchanted but not overwhelmed.

Interstate 25 is the final leg. We pick it up north of Albuquerque. It's a suburban area, sandwiched between New Mexico's two best-known cities. But even though we're approaching rush hour, the traffic isn't too heavy. We pull into Santa Fe and find our hotel without any difficulty. Now, this is a city that really feels like...somewhere.

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