Friday, July 14, 2023

Not Even Not Traveling 31: Monument Valley

Monument Valley - Saturday, June 24

In the dark, we loaded our rental car. We thought we had to leave before the coffee shops opened. 

We knew we might arrive an hour earlier than we needed. There didn't seem to be any way to reliably tell. Our driving plan included a change in time zone. We had caught our phones giving us wrong time estimates already as we passed from Nevada to Utah. Now we were headed from Utah to Arizona, another clock change, and we couldn't tell if our phones were lying about the projected arrival. The drive estimate showed us as exactly right. But we had been wrong about our appointment at the Grand Canyon. 

We knew the phones might have been giving us arrival times according to our current locations, not in the time zones of our destinations. 

Through the desert landscape, we drove long, usually narrow roads around and over mountains between Utah and Arizona. When we got to Arizona, we turned from route 190 to 161. As we crossed the state line, of course we passed into a different time zone. Finally, we took the last leg of the trip into Monument Valley. When we got to the visitor center for the valley, we discovered we were, once again, an hour early due to a time change. 

Better early than late. We took time to apply sunscreen, drink water, visit the gift shop, and send text messages to our kids. We asked for directions to the Navajo-led horse tour. It turned out to be in a different, un-marked spot. But we had time to drive there and we were still early.

Our guides arrived late. A small dog, Danger Pup, arrived to greet them. Danger Pup (sorry, this was my name for him almost instantly because the Navajo teens didn't seem to have assigned one) loved the smell of everyone's shoes. He started biting us, just little play nips. And more nips at clothing hems, fingers, wrists, and other extremeties if you leaned too close. We spent ten minutes of standing around getting those bites. The other two riders, a mother and daughter pair, reached their limit within a minute.

"Can't you keep him away?" the mother asked me, not our guide. The guides had not spoken much and seemed regretful to be awake. They avoided us in favor of their stable.

"I'm trying." I had been feeding the puppy sticks and pieces of straw. He bit them in half and dropped them. If I acted quiet and boring for even an instant, perhaps as I turned my back to look for another stick, he ran off to bite at the mother and daughter.

And he was so cute. He was five pounds of pup covered in a half-pound of red dirt and fleas. But he was so, so fun.

Eventually, though, we got horses. Danger Pup could no longer reach us to administer his teething nibbles. 

Our sighs of relief did not last. The guides, in their quiet, expert way, had equipped us with odd-fitting saddle blankets, saddles, mis-adjusted stirrups, and other apparently careless gear. And our guide thought it was all fine. His companion, who apparently wasn't going with us, strode among the horses, spotted most of the problems, and fixed them. He evened out my stirrups. He tightened the belly strap so the saddle would stop sliding off from under me.

"Are you ready?" our guide said, almost his first words of the morning.

Without waiting for an answer, he turned and rode. I noticed he had no saddle or stirrups. He was good without them. He was a fine enough horseman but, as it turned out, he was not really a guide. He didn't like to talk. His sole job seemed to be to ride in front.

My horse, Trigger, was a pretty calm mount. He was easy to manage. Diane's horse Mack, unfortunately, kept dropping back every time the line of us ambled down a slope, which was often. The trail consisted, mostly, of rocks and slopes. Mack didn't try to make up the distance when we reached an upslope, either, or where the ground was level. He made up the difference, barely, when we stopped and waited. Left to his own devices, Mack would have turned around and headed back home to the stable. Whatever he was thinking, he showed us he was in no hurry to keep up with his herd.

After an hour, the horse strap holding my saddle in place on Trigger had slipped loose again. I'd thought our guide was good at riding bareback but I was a bit dismayed to find myself doing essentially the same. Half my attention went to keeping the saddle on top of the horse. 

When we halted, our guide noticed my problem. Like his friend, he tried to adjust the tack. Unlike his friend back at the stable, though, he didn't notice that he hadn't tightened the band. He had, apparently by accident, adjusted the stirrups, which had been fine, and made my left leg position shorter than my right. 

Every horse tour nowadays says the same thing: please don't get off the horse. I wanted to dismount. 

I resisted the urge, barely, though I had an uncomfortable ride the rest of the way. The saddle kept falling to the left. Often, I had to stand up in the uneven stirrups and adjust the saddle so it didn't pull me off the horse. Meanwhile, Mack made Diane drop further back behind the group. Nothing seemed to make him speed up for her. I took my feet out of Trigger's stirrups for a while. However, the saddle threatened to slip all the way down to the horse's belly and take me with it, so I gave that up and stood in the stirrups for about a quarter of the return trip.

Between Diane coaxing Mack and me pulling the saddle into position on Trigger, we were exasperated by the end. 

"That might be the least amount of guidance we've ever gotten from a guide," Diane remarked after we dismounted. 

I sympathized with our teenage Navajo leader but I couldn't disagree with Diane's assessment. We retreated to a Navajo cafe for lunch. Afterwards, to establish a better rhythm in the day, we drove to Mexican Hat Rock.

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