Visitors to the Four Corners Monument just off U.S. Route 160 are urged to bring plenty of water, food, hand wipes and extra toiletries. The area, said the brochure taken from the lobby of the Comfort Inn in Durango, Colo., is remote: no running water, no electricity, no telephones.
You can feel the desolation of this place. Nothing but sandy red-orange sage, and an occasional stone monolith, for as far as the eye can see. Which is a very long way.
On a windy day, one hears only the flags of the four states — Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico — that share a boundary here whipping in the breeze, like vinyl pennants at a used car lot. On a calm day, one hears nothing. Except, perhaps, the first few bars of the theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
Wah-wah-wah-wah-wah … wah-wah-wah.
The mind plays tricks out here. You see a guy on the side of the road who looks like Jim Morrison. He’s riding a giant snake toward Teec Nos Pos. He’s wearing lizard-skin boots and a backpack — for the hand wipes and extra toiletries, no doubt.
Speaking of monoliths, there are few places in this great land yet to be stamped by the considerable footprint of the National Football League. This could be one. No water? No problem. But no electricity means no TV. No TV is where the NFL draws its collective boundaries.
At least that’s what I thought upon paying $3 at the rudimentary park ranger shack, the fee tourists in recreational vehicles and the occasional scary-looking guy on a chopper must remit to the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department to have their picture taken, Twister-style, in four states at once.
“Under God Four States Here Meet in Freedom” it says in granite and bronze. It might as well say “Left Hand, Arizona. Right Hand, Utah. Left Foot, Colorado. Right Foot, New Mexico. Cheese.”
Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith won’t believe this, but the first person I encountered Saturday, before I could even click open the lens cap, was a young Navajo man removing from the back of his car turquoise jewelry and silver bracelets and wind chimes and all the other stuff one finds in those gift shops en route to the Grand Canyon. Only this stuff looked authentic.
The young Navajo man was wearing an Oakland Raiders jersey with JaMarcus Russell’s name and number on the back.
His car was parked in New Mexico, but he was setting up a booth in Arizona. It took only a minute. And he gained nearly an hour, because they don’t change clocks for daylight savings time in the Grand Canyon State.
In addition to being forlorn and mystical, it’s all very confusing at the Four Corners.
A little later — or earlier, considering I was coming from Colorado and he was hawking self-designed T-shirts in Arizona — I asked another Navajo man if he was a football fan, if he cared at all that Goodell and Smith had reached an agreement in principle to end the 4½-month-old lockout. Oh yes, said Johnny Lowe, of Window Rock, Ariz., who surface-mines coal and uranium and supplements his income by selling T-shirts for $10 each on weekends.
Johnny is a Redskins fan. No, he doesn’t find the nickname offensive. His ex-wife is a 49ers fan. His son is a Broncos fan. His daughter is a Cowboys fan.
Four Corners. Four Native Americans. Four favorite teams. Three NFL jackets to buy at Christmastime. Johnny said his ex-wife will have to buy her own 49ers jacket.
I asked Johnny where he watches Redskins games, imagining, as only The White Man would, a hogan or a cliff dwelling outfitted with a satellite dish.
“At the Applebee’s in Gallup,” he says.
From the Utah side, I heard the beat of a tom-tom followed by a haunting Navajo chant.
This, I will discover, means that old Joe Begay has sold another storytelling bracelet or pair of earrings crafted by his own hand.
Joe Begay is the name The White Man gave him when they sent him away to boarding school in Brigham City, Utah. His Navajo name sounds like a hieroglyphic one might find in a cave, so Joe took my notebook and wrote it down: A ‘ke’ ha’ Lo’ — A Boy Who Runs in Sand. Joe said 71 years ago, it was a day much like this one.
With his Billy Jack hat and long black hair and weathered features, Joe looks as if he just stepped from central casting for one of those “Young Guns” movies, which makes sense, because he was an extra in them. He also has appeared in “Little House on the Prairie” and “Boys on the Side” and “Tin Cup” and “The Buffalo Soldiers,” and has pictures and personalized autographs from Michael Landon and Kevin Costner and Danny Glover to prove it.
In Joe’s scrapbook, there also are photos of a young man in a military uniform and a green beret. This was Joe before the weathered features, and after a haircut. He was a U.S. Army Special Forces paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Infantry Division out of Fort Bragg, N.C., and served his country — all Four Corners at once, just like in those tourists’ pictures — in Vietnam.
No offense to the nice woman from Teec Nos Pos who made our Navajo frybread just the way we like it — powdered sugar on one half, cinnamon on the other — but Joe Begay was easily the most fascinating person hanging out at the Four Corners on this particular afternoon.
He wished us a safe journey in his native tongue, and said he still couldn’t believe the Cardinals lost to the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.
Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.