Caught in a Dust Storm Crossing the Navajo Nation
The Navajo Nation offers an enticing shortcut across the southwest for those who want to stay off the main interstates and enjoy the quiet desert landscapes between Flagstaff, AZ and Durango, CO.
I enjoy riding this part of the country but, I must warn other riders to check the weather as microclimates can change quickly here, so you can avoid being absorbed in one of Arizona’s famous dust storms.
This is the largest Native American reservation in the US, containing dozens of national monuments, including the spiritual Monument Valley. Before you cross this empty territory I encourage you to do some reading on the tribal history of the Navajo and that of the several other tribes who have called these deserts home.
The famous Navajo Code Talkers, who fought gallantly in the Pacific during World War II, were heavily recruited from this area to answer the nation’s call to service and turn the tides of war. Without their cryptic radio transmissions utilizing their language the Marines might not have been able to overtake the Pacific.
If you are making a trip to Four Corners, the intersection of four state boundaries, you can stand in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado at the same time. Be aware, this is a typical tourist trap in the middle-of-nowhere costing $5 to enter the property without much to do but snap a photo and buy some trinkets.
Without much else to see unless along the highway it’s worth a look if you are not easily disappointed. Four Corners is open during daylight hours and there are no services like electricity, water, or cell reception here in this remote region of the desert.
Vendors are usually on hand to sell handcrafted Native American goods such as Kachina dolls, dream catchers, forged jewelry as well as Navajo rugs, blankets, and pottery. I personally recommend the Frybread accompanied by a snow cone for lunch.
Rich red dunes found around this section of Highway 160 make up nearly 10,000 square miles of the 30,000 comprising the Navajo reservation. Keep in mind that just riding across it the landmass alone is larger than a dozen of US states. If you are unfortunately caught in a dust storm, as I was, ensure everything you own is zipped up and wrapped in plastic.
Chrome on your Harley? Not for much longer if you are caught in this! If riding with an exposed air cleaner I suggest installing it’s rain cover to protect your engine from the unforgiving sand which can blow up to speeds of 80mph.
I had ridden sideways this day trying to make my destination in Colorado that evening and have the red stained headers to remember the trip. It took months to wear down the grinding sound of sand particles anytime I inserted a key or used a switch on the bike’s controls.
If you wish to avoid the pain and suffering inflicted by a blizzard of blowing dust, creating limited visibility what can be hazardous, look at staying in one of the overpriced hotels in the area or avoiding it if forecasts look sketchy.
Don’t end up like I did, without options and spending a week with an air compressor and a pressure washers to get my bike and gear back to normal.