Thursday 16th June 1983
We leave Navajo at a few minutes past 8:00 with the intention of arriving in Albuquerque in the early evening. That should give us plenty of sight seeing time on the way. From a review of the map and route we have identified a number of potentially interesting stops on the way: Zuni Pueblo, El Morro National Monument, the lava fields and the ice caves.
Stewart is driving and I sit back and relax. At least I try to but I have a dull headache and it feels the sort that is likely to get worse before it gets better. I close my eyes and try ignore it.
We arrive at Zuni Pueblo, which is the main village in the Zuni Indian Reservation, home of the Zuni native people. We are not sure whether there are any sites or facilities for tourists but we are interested in learning more about the native culture. It is not something either of us learned about at school. When we were growing up we saw many "Cowboy and Indian" films and other "Westerns" which at the time we thought were great adventures without understanding the underlying racism and humanitarian injustices perpetrated by many of the so called heroes.
Stewart drives slowly and we look for information signs. We are so busy looking for tourist information signs we miss the road signs and drive straight through a stop sign at a four-way junction. My headache is getting worse. I think it maybe my sinuses. It throbs more if I try to move my head and focusing on objects at the road side as we move along is making me feel sick. I am not much help spotting signs and Stewart is now concentrating more on the road.
Before long we are clearly heading out of the village. We decide not to turn round but to continue on to the El Morro National Monument.
We arrive at El Morro monument, a location popular in the past with travellers because it is an oasis in the desert; a pool at the base of an enormous sandstone rock. On top of the rock is a ruined Zuni village dating from about 700 years ago. The rock is known in English as Inscription Rock because for centuries travellers passing by carved their names into it.
We walk around the rock looking at the inscriptions and taking photographs and then continue on a two mile loop to see the pueblo ruins. I try to imagine what it must have been like travelling here, across the desert, on foot or horseback and finding the water. My head is still throbbing, it is hot, the sun is beating down and there is almost no breeze. Collapsing in the water is an attractive idea and we have only walked from the car park.
The air conditioned car feels comfortable after the sun on the rock. I still have a headache so Stewart continues to do the driving. Our next stop is the volcano, lava fields and the ice caves. The brochure we pick up there claims that it is the only place on Earth where there is a lunar landscape. I ask the guy leading the tour about this claim considering that the US Astronauts went to Iceland to train. Without missing a beat he replies saying that if this isn't the only lunar landscape on the planet it must be one of the better examples.
We follow the guide out onto the lunar landscape and I bite my tongue to stop myself saying I wasn't aware there were pine trees on the moon.
The crater we see is similar to those I saw in Iceland but it is by no means as bleak and the path doesn't take us to the rim, but to a "gap" in the crater wall, so the view, although interesting, is not as dramatic as I expected. The lava fields are clearly visible but a considerable amount of vegetation has taken root including grasses, bushes and small trees. Interesting it may be, but dramatic it is not. I can't help comparing this to Iceland, which is spectacularly dramatic. Maybe my headache is making me grumpy, but I can't shake off this cynicism and enjoy myself. Everyone is friendly and this is the US desert, not the cold northern island of Iceland.
We leave the crater and follow the guide along a hot, sunlit path across the lava field, to the ice caves where there is perpetual ice. The thought that there is permanent ice here, where it is so hot, is mind boggling but as we decend the 25, maybe 30 steps to the entrance of the cave the temperature begins to drop. About half way down there is a sudden drop and the guide tells us that the temperate here never rises above 31oF (-0.56oC).
The ice is at the entrance of the shallow cave as well as lining its walls. Now this is amazing. Ice in the desert, so close to the blazing heat. Stewart and I speculate that the cave faces North. The guide also explains that it is sheltered from the warm air flows. We both try to take photographs of the icicles and we need the flash. I don't think my pictures will come out and I do not want to waste many exposures. As we turn to leave the cave I realise I am shivering.
A young man of Indian appearance is watching us as we walk back from the cave. He comes across and speaks to me. He asks where I come from and when I say England he asks where it is. "Europe" I say and he is impressed we have come across the Altantic to see their caves. He said he lived there and hadn't travelled far. Another member of the party says he is from New Mexico (our current state) and has travelled extensively within the US but never been abroad.
The US is a large and varied place. I suggest that travelling within the US is in someways like travelling across Europe but without the variety of languages. Then I the notice the young native indian man looking at me again and realise there may be just as many languages and nations in the US as in Europe but they are hidden by the modern states and the use of English. Too many cowboy films when I was young!
We arrive at the motel in Albuquerque. The receptionist is Pakistani. He has been in the US for two years and seems delighted to see people who are not American. He points out their upside down light switches, their back to front dates which he finds confusing and the oddity of driving on the right. He gives us the impression that he has waited two years to say this. We experience the strange bonding between strangers in a foreign land.
My headache has eased now we are indoors. I decide it was caused by too much sun and possibly dehydration, not sinusitis. There is no way I'm going to try running so I am sitting with Stewart watching the TV. We find it difficult to follow because the programmes, even the news, are frequently and suddenly interrupted by lengthy advertisements. Short news headline then five minutes or more of adverts, but the comedy programme we come across by chance is very funny.