Day 53 – Celebrating the Fourth in Navajo Nation

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Wednesday, July 4, 1984
El Morro National Monument to Gallup, NM
67 miles
Locator map

I’m reprinting the day-to-day journal entries of a cross-country bike tour my friend and I took in 1984. More about the TransAmerica Tour 1984

Bis’ Journal

I’ve seen fireworks shows at golf courses, football stadiums and along lakefronts. Never have I seen one at a rodeo grounds, where the announcer translated everything into English from Navajo, and where an errant flare set off a series of explosions that set afire the scrubby undergrowth on a hillside.

El Morro

We had read about the fireworks display at Gallup in the newspaper, so we got an early start at El Morro. We passed by the huge Inscription Rock and headed downhill into the Zuni Pueblo Reservation. A sign posted the rules: No pictures. No alcohol. We turned  onto Route 32 and bypassed the Zuni Pueblo itself, one of the 7 Cities of Cibola sought by gold hungry Spanish conquistadors.

Along the way to Gallup, we could see six-sided hogans, the trademark home of Navajos, dotting the landscape. We also saw several herds of sheep.

We passed through Gallup on old Route 66 and rode out to Red Rock State Park. We were camped by 2 p.m., very early for us, and we took needed showers and relaxed the rest of the day.

At the Fourth of July barbecue, the caterers charged $3.95 for a serving of barbecue and $1.25 for a beer. I needed two of the former and three of the latter to quench my hunger and thirst.

We sat at a table with Roy and Jayne Hawthorne and their two grandchildren. The longer we sat there, the more we learned this couple had quite a story to tell. Roy was Navajo, and he and his wife invited us to stay at their place in Window Rock, Ariz., tomorrow night.

The Navajo rodeo was insane. The Navajo cowboys are fearless, and took chances with bareback bronco riding, calf roping, saddled bronco riding, bull riding, and steer wrestling. The announcer spoke in Navajo first, then translated into English. Laughter from the Navajos in the crowd warned us a punchline was coming. George “the Clown” did his schtick in the middle of the ring to take the audience’s mind off the sight of some poor cowboy being loaded into an ambulance after being thrown from a bull.

The paramedics returned in a fire engine during the fireworks show. About five minutes into the show, the overflow crowd saw a dazzling finale of ground fireworks. The show seemed short, and we could see an orange glow over where they set off the fireworks. We all cheered, then hushed when we realized the hillside was on fire. We later learned that about $2,000 in fireworks went up in a flash when a dud didn’t take off but exploded on the ground, igniting about 250 fireworks.

Roy and Jayne said it was the best show they’d seen. We made plans to meet them at their house tomorrow.

Headline: July 4, 1984
Air Florida declares bankruptcy protection.
The airline had been considered a success story of
airline deregulation…

Bruce’s Journal

Fourth of July. We watched the sun rise at El Morro and got an early start to Gallup. We rode very hard, and that, together with a gentle downhill grade, let us cover 58 miles in four hours. Terrific time. We were in downtown Gallup by 11 a.m., and then to Red Rock State Park, where we camped and later in the afternoon took in the BBQ and rodeo.

This was the first rodeo I had ever seen, and although it was not professional, it was exciting.

We met a very nice couple who were down from Window Rock with their grandchildren for the festivities, and we ate with them and sat with them at the rodeo.

Roy and Jayne Hawthorne. He is Navajo and she is white (from the Southeast–Nashville). He is born again, and has a church at Fence Lake. He was a Marine, and during the second World War, he was one of the famous “code talkers.” Navajo is an oral language only, so by using it to send messages, the enemy was unable to interpret or break the code.

Many Indians in this part of the country use their native tongue and even the rodeo announcers talked in English and then in Navajo. Roy and Jayne said that most everybody in the crowd understood the Navajo language. [It sounded to me faintly like an Arabic language, and is spoken fast.]

Roy was also in Korea, where he lost a leg. [When he walks, you can see his impaired gate, obviously, but what made the most impression on me was the way the leather straps on his prosthesis sounded when they were working.] Recently, he underwent a 5-bypass heart surgery, but he said he recuperated very quickly. He and his wife have lived all over, including Silver Spring, Md. But they returned to his land about 25 years ago.

We have been coming through Indian land for the past few days, and will see much more in Arizona: Hopi, Zuni, Laguna, Acoma, Navajo and many other nations, we are told.


Day 54 — We learn about Navajo code-talkers

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