American Bear Day 30: Tuba City

Tuba City - sounds like it belongs nestled in the big open bowl of a tuba. But I think even the shiny gold of a tuba is duller than the colors here and probably much wetter. Though most of the homes were nestled against the curving hillside, it was no tuba we were looking at - it was a folded, holey landscape - maybe a harmonica or an accordian. Or a set of pipes woven with wool.

I love dry land. I have lived in a desert all my life and this feels comfortable. But I forget how chapped my lips get and how my skin starts to feel like dry clay.

I think we were scared of Tuba City. Our first encounter was with some intense, drunk, stumbling hecklers at the "dinosaur tracks". We pulled off the highway just a few miles before the city because I am very much interested in dinosaurs. I want to see dinosaur foot prints. Before we had even parked completely there were two men at Greg's window arguing over who got to give us the tour.

They said it was free, except for tips.

Finally, I said, "look if you guys can't stop, we are just going to go."
"Fine, just remember to tell them about the jewelry..." So a single man led us towards the red desert. And there were dinosaur tracks alright. Tons of them, in different kinds. It was actually pretty cool, but the visuals kept being interrupted by the stumbling broken sentences of our guide. He kept missing words, asked us three times where we were from and each time had a different response, "I used to live there," "I went skiing there once," "Ah, I hear it's beautiful." He tried to draw the outline of the less visible footprints with a water bottle, but what was left behind was just a lot of curling dots that obscured what we could already see.
The whole time he was talking about money. He awkwardly tried to get us to bribe him to see the t-rex tracks.

Back at the car he said he usually got a lot from people with cameras. I had two ones, a ten and a twenty. We had been on the sand bed for all of 7 minutes. I asked if he had a five (he had taken out his money during the tour to count it and I knew he had exactly 55 dollars), he said no. He brought out his money, said "Only twenties" and fanned it, revealing a five and a ten. "I saw the five out there. And I can see it now. It's up to you. I have two ones or you can give me that five for my ten." "I usually get more than that." "If you had been honest I probably wouldn't mind giving you more than that, but you weren't. You want this or not." "Nah." I handed him the two ones, feeling guilty but also frustrated at this drunk man trying to hassle me. "Dont forget to look at the jewelry, " he said, and then punched the car door as we drove away.

And so with that we toured out town. We discovered a museum, a trading post, a McDonalds, a Taco Bell, and tons of boarded up houses.

Today was a special day. I was going out alone, with just audio and a notebook, so Greg could transfer footage from our trip to Bear. I was nervous. And I am very rarely nervous.

I started at the museum. The woman I spoke to was nervous and shy. She said she couldn't but sent me to a manager. The manager wasn't in her office, so I ended up at a general store.

There I met Milton. He was the first person to agree to an interview. and the first person to say yes. He called his wife.

"I am with this crazy white girl and she wants to stay at our place tonight."
I nod.
"She says what if you kill us?"
"I promise I wont kill you."
"She says she promises she won't kill you."
They talk in Navajo for a while.
"She says yes."

And so I reported back to Greg and we spent three more hours in Taco Bell doing some producing and tech stuff. We met two very friendly girls named Kiana and Tiffany.
At 8 pm we still hadn't heard from Milton, so I called.

He said his tour was running late. Expect him at 10pm.

So we went to the Grand Canyon as fast as we could - stopping at Little Colorado River Canyon just in case we missed it. We were chasing the sun - speeding down the road towards the fading light.

It was beautiful. Maybe the most beautiful thing I have seen on our trip - and there have been a lot of beautiful things. Tiana had asked us in Taco Bell just a couple hours before - and we had cited the Badlands, the lake in Montana, the hills in Bear, Washington. But the Grand Canyon on fire - with the brightest reds and oranges fading into the deepest blues I have ever seen. After running down the slope to a view point. After speeding down the road. After listening to good music. That is a sight to see.

At 10:15pm we still hadn't heard from Milton, so I called.

He said the tour was still running behind. Expect him in 45 minutes. At a gas station.

Greg was getting nervous. The postponing of time and defnitely the fact that he had never seen or heard Milton, made for an eventful 45 minutes.

We went over safety procedures again, we made a backup plan. We brushed our teeth in the sketchy gas station bathrooms.

Then Milton arrived and we followed him home. The second Greg set foot in the door, I felt him ease up.

Milton's wife Lynette had to go to bed early and their son Tanner was asleep already, so the three of us sat outside under the stars for 2 hours.

We talked about art - about his photographs, some so vivid and crisp and swirling they looked like oil paintings - we talked about aliens and spirits - skin walkers and other worlds. We shared beer from the brewing company a few days past. We saw shooting stars.

In the morning we talked more - with Tanner on Milton's lap talking about bugs and heat and his older brother. Greg talked extensively about his nervousness and his fear. Why seeing someone is so important. We learned about the other side for just a second. The idea of not really knowing who we were staying with really frightened him. I am sitting next to Greg and he has two things to say, 1 - " I was a-scared" and 2-" four corners, schmore-corners. I'll just have to go to five corners now. Take that!" (we just passed the four corners monument on our way to colorado and it's closed...)

His discomfort was less about never seeing him perhaps and more about the way that our time to meet him was being pushed back. The mystery involved in those changes really made him nervous. It was a little hard to gauge. But in the end it was a great night.