The chassis of the van crunched into the dirt, and every light inside came flashing on. The engine stopped instantly and steam started spewing out from under the hood. I remembered I had read that if all the lights ever flashed on inside, it meant the engine was overheating. I'd forgotten that water leak! And I was stuck, and stuck real bad! Why did both things happen at the same time? I don't know, but they sure did.

I got out to inspect the situation. The wheel was dangling in the air over a ditch, the frame was resting on the roadway, such as it was, and I had a massive amount of dirt I'd have to pack under that wheel to get it up and rolling again. For some reason, I was totally calm; even though it was pitch black by now, it wasn't late and it was nice and warm. I had all night, no hurry. No big deal, I hoped. I went to get my jack out of the back when I happened to look up in the darkness. The stars! A billion of them! No moon, clear skies, and a trillion stars! I even forgot my new problems for a bit. Would this land's wonders never cease? I picked out my favorite constellations like when I was a kid and would go out for hours with a star chart -- I still remembered them. But then -- back to work.

I had to dig a hole under the frame with my hands to put the jack in. Up it went. Stuck a big branch I found under the frame. Down again. Packed dirt under the jack. Up again. Bigger branch. Down. More dirt under jack. Etc. etc. The jack kept sinking and slanting and twice the van came crunching down again, but I eventually got the frame six inches off the ground. Time to start packing dirt under the wheel now. After each load of dirt, I'd let the tire down a bit to mash it solid, then up again -- had to put dirt under the jack each time too, to get it higher. Of course I soon ran out of nearby dirt and had to go off and bend over and scratch it doggy-fashion through my hind legs, shooting it in the direction of the van, then collect it and dump it under the tire. I didn't have a shovel, you know.

Down again, up again Ö after 20 times, the wheel was just about up to the road level. I had already decided I would just take my time and do it right the first time, and not try to bull my way out before it was all the way up to road level. The engine was by now plenty cooled off and started easily. I had to move slow and carefully, my whole dirt pack could easily collapse to either side, it being not much wider than the tire. I backed up, and I was out. And whump! The left front wheel goes down! But no biggie, I could ram my way out of this one, and so I did. By going wide to the left, I could go forward and avoid both holes, and once again wheee! -- I was on my way.

With one problem. Needed water. The needle was climbing right on up. Too hot. I soon came on in to the few houses that made up the town of Cove, but there sure wasn't anything like a store or station and I wasn't about to go knock on some door in the middle of the night. So where could I find some water, and find it quick? The chapter house! At least maybe; it was the only public building around and maybe it would have a faucet outside somewhere. It was a mile away, up a hill, but the van made it there, the needle clear up on red now.

Nobody was around. Good. There were actually two large buildings there with a house between them, and no lights on anywhere. I couldn't find a faucet along the front of the right building so I crept all the way around it, hoping the house next door was uninhabited -- all I needed was to get caught in the dark prowling around some important tribal building. But it was just a barn, with no water anywhere. A few cows wandered up, so I asked one, "Take me to your water!" But she didn't want to help. I decided to just watch them and maybe one would eventually trot off into the dark pasture for a drink somewhere. Instead, more and more just kept wandering up out of the pasture to stare at me.

Swinging wide around the dark house, I went up to the other building, and all down the side of it. Nothing. Nothing in back. Then around to the front; a sign there said it was the official chapter house. There was a fence making a little yard there across the front with flowers in it; and where there are flowers, there should be -- water! A nice little faucet. I had to take off the wire that was holding the gate shut, and then drove the van up close. All I had was a dirty peanut butter jar to carry water in, so I made a dozen trips with it, and then the van wouldn't take any more. It started spewing it all back up like a sick baby, and maybe it was. I put a little more in, and it spewed it all out, so I figured it had enough. Main thing I wanted was to get out of there! The needle had gone down below red, so I took off. I could hardly believe I had gotten away with it all. No Indians in sight. I was on my way! About a mile down the road, I remembered I'd forgotten to wire the little gate shut. Oh well, I'd let that be a little mystery to them the next day. But one mile farther down the dirt road the needle shot right back up to hot again.

Nothing to do but go back up to the chapter house again, all uphill, with the engine steaming and spewing. Back through the gate, and this time I got 20 more jars full of water into it before it started spitting it back out on me. I waited a while to make sure it wouldn't take any more. I looked off into the distance, and then I saw them -- headlights.

They stopped. Went on. Stopped. Backed up. Turned -- oh no!! The Indians were coming!

A big red pickup came right on up the hill. I didn't move. I just stayed leaning over halfway under the hood, trying to make it look obvious I was having car trouble of some sort. They stopped right beside me, and a very pleasant-looking Navajo couple got out and asked me if they could help me! I just told them I had needed some water but now I had enough and it looked like it was all okay -- that I thought I'd be able to make it down to the main road, Highway 666, and maybe get some more water there if I needed it. "But there's no station for 40 miles, till you get to Shiprock." Oh, great.

The man stuck his head under the hood with me and poked round and pronounced the thermostat faulty. The wife said she was director of the chapter house, and that was why they'd come up, they'd noticed my van there. "Why don't you wait here and we'll go home and get you a jug to carry some water in?" That would be great! So they did.

They must have had a ways to go, because it took them 20 minutes to get back with a gallon plastic lemonade jug of water for me. They were just full of questions this time -- where was I coming from and going to and what was I doing in Cove of all places? I didn't mention the arch or anything else, I just told them I'd had to drive all the way into Cove desperately looking for water, and now I was on my way back out to highway 666. So they assumed I'd just come from the highway too, and not the other way, from over the mountains out behind town.

They gave me detailed directions to an old farm along the way where I could get water if I needed it; then they took off for home. The last thing the lady said was, "Be sure to wire up the gate before you leave, or the cows will get in and eat my flowers." I certainly did.

So this time I was really on my way! The temperature was normal, I had a spare gallon, and I didn't even need to stop at the old farm for water. Highway 666 turned out to be a very nice 4-lane road, and as soon as I got on in to the town of Shiprock, I got a bunch of junk food and drank a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi. I put more water in the radiator, and drove on towards Farmington, New Mexico, stopping at six more stations along the way, none of which were open or had water available, but I got some at the seventh and went on into town. I would fix the leaky water hose first thing the next day (the thermostat was fine), but I was dead tired and all I wanted now was to get to sleep! I parked on a nice dark neighborhood street, pulled all the curtains, and crawled happily into bed at last.

The Pepsi kept me
wide awake for the next five hours, during which I had plenty of time to think out the exact wording for this entire story in my head!

*****************

Postscript:

I went back to Cove seven years later (the same time I went to Snake Bridge), since my pictures didnít turn out very good, and this time I had a new camera. I also had one of the biggest 4-wheel-drive Dodge pickups you can get. It made the rough trip so easy that I kept thinking, "When is the scary part coming up?", never even realizing I had already gone right on through it without even noticing it. This time I camped out there all night, and got some good morning shots, and even hiked the canyon behind and below the arch to get a picture from the backside too.

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