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    Indian Route 12: scenic route between Arizona and New Mexico

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    Martí Micolau

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    We are in New Mexico ready to move from Gallup to Goosenecks State Park in Utah. We have two options: the first would be to continue north towards the sacred and surreal area of ​​Shiprock, then detour west through the Four Corners where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet and then take the roads 41, 162 and 163.

    The second would be to move immediately westwards along the I-40W until you take in a northbound direction, shortly after the small urban agglomeration of Lupton, the Indian Route 12 that we never traveled and, subsequently, take the 191 and then the 163. After various considerations we choose the second option, in order to discover a small unpublished portion of Arizona. From the map we realize that after a while of its journey it crosses into New Mexico, practically along the state border, and then completely re-enters the Grand Canyon State.


    • Main points of interest
      • St. Michael's Mission
      • Window Rock e Navajo Nation Museum
      • Fort Defiance
      • Canyon de Chelly
      • Round Rock

    We are happy to enter route 12 for the first time and the excitement grows because we do not know what to expect from this access road which also acts as a connection with arteries that lead to mythical places of interest. On its way north through the Navajo Indian Reservation immediately we are given a kind of welcome. Yes, because in Arizona the colors of the hills, hills, rock formations and cavities created by erosion are brighter.

    We didn't think we would find so much to admire and photograph instead we should always stop to take some shots. As we continue our journey north, the change in the landscape is even more evident. The small villages give way to the earth, to an environment accentuated by suggestive rock formations that stand out against the blue sky for kilometers, almost endless.

    Main points of interest

    Traveling the plateau Defiance, the road leads north to Oak Springs and a small farming community. Then we meet a wooded area that extends westwards from the plateau; is Hunters Point, with its homonymous and tiny urban agglomeration, which takes its name from John Hunter, once superintendent of the southern jurisdiction of the Navajo. For a better view of the area, stop at Mile 16 on the eastern side of Route 12.

    St. Michael's Mission

    Then we make a short stop at St. Michael's, a mission founded in 1898 by Franciscan priests who used the current stone building as a chapel and residence. St. Michael's Indian School, founded by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament led by Mother Katherine Drexel, opened in 1900 with fifty Navajo students. Mother Drexel, who gave up a comfortable life as an heiress to take vows, was canonized as a saint in 2000 by Pope John Paul II.

    The stone school building has become a museum while St. Michael's Mission and School still serve the Navajo community. The village, with the homonymous name, offers accommodation opportunities, a few restaurants and the possibility of scenic tours or historical sites. To our right, monoliths, planks, high spikes of rock that seem to have the "beak" flow next to us, then a little further on we begin to see other red rocks around the city of Window Rock; in reality we are waiting for them because this is the only information we have about route 12.

    Window Rock e Navajo Nation Museum

    We know that we are about to see something special and in fact, about a mile north of the town, the homonymous sacred stone structure shows itself in all its spectacularity; it is a large circular “window” with a diameter of 14 meters, imposing and suggestive in a 60 meters high sandstone hill. If you really want to look for a flaw, it is that it is located close to the fenced area of ​​the administrative buildings of the Navajo and not in an open space that would have enhanced it more.

    We enter the property slowly without meeting anyone to ask if we need to obtain a permit and even the offices seem closed. In the green space under the large hole in the rock, an imposing bronze statue of almost 5 meters certainly does not go unnoticed. It depicts a military man and is a symbol in honor of the legendary Navajo marines whose language was used as a strategic communication technique in battle during World War II.

    The memorial continues with a series of bayonets and a circular walkway that goes beyond the rock. Aside from being a spectacular venue, Window Rock is home to the Navajo Tribal Museum. In the surroundings you can visit Anasazi ruins, on foot or on horseback in the company of a guide. Simply contact the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department in the country for information on sightseeing opportunities.

    We continue with the unknown of what the landscape will be like that will keep us company up to Goosenecks State Park and this uncertainty makes us very ready with the camera. Fortunately, not many vehicles pass by and this is a point in our favor: we can stop or reverse every time we want to click. The beauty of the rocks gives us no respite, but if we continue like this, who knows when we will arrive at our destination? Let's do some rough calculations and establish a plan for dosing the length of the stops. These “silent charm” places contain a lot of history and an often turbulent past.

    Fort Defiance

    A few kilometers north of Window Rock the green and lush valley of Tséhootsooí, (meadow among the rocks) was a peaceful refuge for horses and sheep of the Navajo people many years ago. In that sacred land medicinal herbs grew and water flowed then in 1851 the land was confiscated from the natives for the establishment of Fort Defiance and be used as a base to protect settlers in the region.

    Known by soldiers as "Hell's Gate" presumably due to its remote location, the site was the scene of several battles and later became a prison camp for the Navajos before being driven to Bosque Redondo and Fort Sumner in New Mexico. Today it has become one of the main centers of the Navajo reservation as confirmed by the fact that, according to the 2000 census, 92,9% of the population is made up of natives.

    Canyon de Chelly

    Then, still heading north on Route 12, we pass the Navajo town and in the vicinity of Tsaile "fingers of rock" rise towards the sky; this is what comes to mind admiring curious works of nature that we never tire of admiring. The landscape is particular, as if you were in another world, then the sight of a horse grazing in the distance and of sheep around bushes make you come back to reality.

    In the distance you can see a hogan, a characteristic Indian hut, and then in the locality of Tsaile you can stop to visit Diné College, the oldest and largest tribal college, or you can make a stop at Tsaile Lake and Tsaile Creek which continues to flow in the Canyon del Muerto and in the Canyon de Chelly. And speaking of the latter, when along Route 12 you see the sign to turn west on 64 route, we do not think for a moment and make a detour of about thirty kilometers.

    One of the advantages of route 12, already splendid in its own right, is the fact that other highly attractive roads branch off or continue from it. Now we are consciously out of our path and it seems right that we should be so because we want to at least take a look: we do not know how long we will come back from here! Some observation points along the north rim of the canyon are accessible by car and allow you to admire historical and archaeological sites and cliffs that exceed 300 meters.

    The first overlook accessible from route 64 is called Massacre Cave Overlook precisely because of its past when, during a Spanish military expedition, 805 Navajo (women and children in particular) were killed by the collapse of the vault of a cave in which they had sheltered, in one of those canyons that were their strongholds . From this point of view you can see a series of cliffs interspersed in some points by the green of trees. We like to be accompanied by a riot of cliffs, plateaus and different rock shapes that "make" Arizona so much!

    Read our article on Canyon de Chelly

    Back north on Indian route 12 we meet the Lukachukai mountains and continue our march that we can define triumphal for the gifts that nature is reserving us. In fact, along the way, those that in the distance seem to be single large rocks, often reveal themselves as a series of splendid, single formations that shape the scenery as they approach; this is pure charm of nature!

    Round Rock

    We reiterate that Indian Route 12 is like a long and splendid trunk from which suggestive branches develop. We arrive at Round Rock where a large monolith and a smaller one signal the end of the Indian route and its continuation along route 191.

    We imagined, or rather we hoped that the route would reserve us some pleasant surprises, in reality it fascinated us. But for us it doesn't end there because our destination is the Goosenecks State Park: which means take the 191 and then deviate on the 163.

    What opens before our eyes is all a crescendo of beauty and when we arrive at the spectacular Goosenecks, shortly after the border with Utah, along the horizon we can see the Monument Valley almost like a mirage, and it is a splendid vision that can be transformed into a concrete reality by continuing south along the 163.

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