From Flagstaff it was just thirty miles to Sedona, famous for its red rocks, spires, and pine forests, as well as the New Age seekers that it famously attracts. I’d been there before and was just passing though. My real destination was a monument in southern Arizona, and that was a long-ass drive, over four hundred miles.
It was another beautiful morning. What could I say? On this trip those had been a given, only three or four days impacted by rain and no storms strong enough to keep me from staying in a tent with no pegs. Two nights I’d had to use rocks to weigh down the tent. That’s the windiest it had ever gotten. Now I drove south on the 89A, arriving in Sedona to find galleries and boutiques, places for yoga and renewing. It was so early still almost no one was out, just a few couples out looking for coffee. On the way out of town I passed a mall, with a statue of an Indian, looking like he’d just put up the sign. That was telling.
I’d just gotten onto the 17 heading south when I came upon a sign for the Montezuma Castle National Monument. This ended up being a cliff-dwelling residency, which viewed from underneath resembled the mud nests that swallows build beneath freeways and inside of caves. The monument was next to the Yavapai Apache Nation Reservation, which housed the Cliff Castle Casino Hotel. If all went according to plan, I would be driving through the Fort Apache and San Carlos Reservations later that day.
The Apache are a group of tribes from the Southwest that are distantly related to the Navajo. They have a long history with Mexico, both as foe and friend, and spent their time trading with some villages while raiding others. They sided with the US in the 1842 war against Mexico, but conflict began when the war was won and they began to be placed on reservations. Although skilled warriors and strategists in battle, their outsized reputations for blood-thirsty savagery, in many cases were attempts to justify the brutality that was inflicted on them.
Because I wanted to drive through Fort Apache, I took the 260 all the way to Show Low, through the Tonto National Forest, and then headed south of the 60. The White Mountain Apache populate the reservation, so named because of its use as a military outpost during the Indian Wars.
When I got to the 70, I headed east, and soon came across the Apache Gold Casino on the San Carlos Reservation. Some kind of motorcycle rally was going on in the parking lot. Once described by an army officer as Hell’s 40 acres, it appeared a few of the visitors were eager to fan the flames and get the fun started. I got gas and looked at some posters for upcoming events. It looked like there was an upcoming fair and rodeo, and also a Miss San Carlos Pageant.
By the time I reached the 10 east, I was heavily zoned out. I’d been driving so long and so hard, it appeared the nerves in my lower back might be permanently pinched. The highway seemed to go on forever. At one point I glanced down and saw I was going a hundred miles an hour.
By the time I got to Road Fork, I was back in New Mexico. I got off on this tiny country road, the 80, and started heading south, still zipping along. At one point I saw a vehicle parked on the shoulder of the road ahead of me, and thought I should probably slow down. A little further and I knew I should. I jammed on the brake a hundred yards from passing a police cruiser. Then I looked in my rearview mirror and saw it do a U-turn and hit the red lights. All this driving around the country without an issue. Why now? How fast had I been going?
The officer came over and asked for my license and registration. He’d caught me going sixty-five in a fifty-mile-an-hour zone. Fifty miles an hour? What was that all about? There were tumbleweeds going faster than that. I slumped and stewed until he came back to me. He was willing to knock five miles off my recorded speed, making it a slightly less egregious offense. I could use their website to pay the fine. He went back to his cruiser and I drove off at a crawl. Less than five minutes later, I crossed the Arizona state line.