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roads and bridges

January 1, 2010

I’ve talked a lot about the mission and the people there, but I haven’t said much about Rock Springs Community. So Ill start off to fix that omision. The area got its name from a spring that welled up from back in the rocks a little to the west of the actual community. As to be expected, a white man had established a ranch headquarters at the spring site. He also walled the spring up. I guess that was good for sanitation purposes, but maybe not for community relations. He didn’t prevent anyone from taking the overflow water, but the bulk of it was captured and run down into tanks and troughs for live stock.

I don’t know who established the ranch originally but when I lived there a man named Bobcat Wilson owned it. He was well loved among the Navajo community and spoke the language. Over the years he had provided jobs for the community men and during branding season and other times of year he had even paid some of the women to cook for the working men he was using. Now his son owns it. He is a nice enough guy, but the community relationship is not there anymore.

The road to the community and the ranch road started off from the highway at the same point but back about a quarter mile the road split. The road to the right went to Bobcat’s and the one to the left went to the community center. When I was there we had only one main road that ran the length of the community. Smaller roads branched off it to family holdings, but there was one main road. Back east we would hardly have called it a ‘road’ maybe more a glorifed lane.

It was just a graded dirt road with no gravel. Once a year, usually in the spring the tribe sent a road grader through to smooth out the washboards and scoop the blown sand out of the ditches. These weren’t little ditches like we know in Ohio, but they were sometime two or three feet deep. A few of them were drop-offs and could easily have tipped a vehicle onto its side or worse. In one place there was a bridge across the Big Wash.

You had a choice when crossing the Big Wash. You could drive down through it or cross the bridge. It was rather like choosing the lesser of two evils. The wash was deeper than my head or more than five feet deep, probably more than six feet. I never measured it but I have stood in the bottom and looked up, up to the rim. During most of the year you could drive down to the bottom and up the other side in one place where the sides had been worn down (and graded) to make a very steep road down and back up. However when it was rainy time the wash ran half full of rushing water and when the rushing was finished the bottom was still covered in mud for a couple days. In order to get to the houses back south of the wash we had to cross the wash. During the rainy time they were cut off until the water receded and the bottom dried.

So, logically, there had been a bridge installed. This wasn’t a bridge like I had known all my life. It was only wide enough for one car or truck at a time. The bridge was made of heavy planks placed crosswise over two heavy beams spanning the Wash. There were two other sets of planks running lengthwise of the bridge to make tracks for the tires. The entire width of the bridge was probably only another two feet on either side of the tracks. You had to drive on the longitudinal planks. It was a scary bridge in good weather. In bad weather it was a nightmare.

Technically it was wide enough to cross safely, once you were used to gauging where your tires were. In reality, most people don’t have those kinds of driving skills. It took me quite a while until I could drive the church bus over it without a special prayer first! The tires fit, but the bus itself was as wide as the bridge!

The greater danger was in bad weather when the bridge became snow and ice packed or mud packed from muddy roads. Then the longitudinal tracks became little humps that the tires had to stay on top of. Scary. More than once my tires slid off that ridge. Thank the Lord I never slid off down into the Wash.

Two young men were coming out one winter, shortly before Linda and I came back east. They had the one man’s toddler with them. As they were crossing the bridge their front tires slid off the track and then further off the bridge! The truck went off front first down into the ditch. The guys were quick enough and nimble enough to grab the baby and jump out before the truck hit the ground. It was a three day wonder in the community. They had a wrecker come and pull the truck out of the wash. It was smashed but not totaled.

Everyone was scared into using the bottom road for a while, but soon we went back to using the bridge. Late they put two by four railings on the sides, but I always thought it wouldn’t help a bit if a truck started over the edge. Really it was just kind of a psychological security. Now there is a metal bridge with steel railings.

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