In the Navajo Nation town of Kayenta, Arizona, Jon Yazzie runs a guide company called Dzil Ta’ah Adventures. Its intent is to educate visitors on the history of the areas surrounding Kayenta through guided bike trips. This particular route is one he’s been working on for a while which parallels the mighty Comb Ridge before climbing the Sandstone Backbone via an old Mormon dugway, overlooking Kane Valley where the US government drilled into the Earth, uncovering uranium for the Manhattan Project. The result would send waves of radiation through the community for decades to come…
On November 1st, 2018 I rolled out to cover 1200 miles of the old Butterfield Overland Mail Route from San Francisco to Tucson, AZ. For almost a year prior the headlines had been dominated by news of things happening along America’s southern border. Child Separations. Immigration Caravans. National Guard deployments. On social media channels the rhetoric from all sides, which had already been getting increasingly strident, ramped up to a fever pitch. Normal conversations spiraled completely out of control. I found myself caught up in it all, furious at family members, friends, and strangers alike.
Before we all realized the great changes that were in store for us due to the increasing spread of COVID-19, six friends and I set out for a 3-day bike ride on the historic El Camino Del Diablo. The El Camino Del Diablo is believed to have started as a series of footpaths used by desert-dwelling Native Americans. Today, the Camino Del Diablo is a road only a lonely few have traveled that runs along Arizona’s southern border in a remote section of the Sonoran Desert. With signatures signed, safety videos watched, permits printed and a shuttle set, the crew was ready to roll out.
“See that rock formation over there, and the other skinnier one in the distance?” Jon Yazzie says, “they represent the story and fate of Big Snake and Owl Maiden. Big Snake came from what is called Sugar Loaf near Mexican Hat, Utah slithering its way down, and eventually ending up coiled around Agathla Peak or (what Kit Carson called) “El Capitan.” The Owl promised to look over Big Snake until he came back to life again. Owl is frozen in sandstone looking right at big snake on Agathla Peak.” Having passed through Kayenta countless times, driving from the southwest US to Moab, or further into Colorado, these prominent volcanic plugs and sandstone towers rising iconically out of a sea of sandy fields and sandstone mesas have always caught my eye. As we rested there just a few miles into the ride, legs slung overloaded bikes attempting to absorb everything Jon was telling us about the surrounding landscape, I knew this was going to be a special weekend.