Never a Wrong Turn (Part I)

I found a puppy burrowed beneath a dead horse on the desolate flats north of Canyon de Chelly.

Horses run free on the high mesas of Navajoland between Canyon de Chelly and the San Juan River. They graze along the weathered highways while cars precariously speed by. All too often, the horses are struck and killed by motorists or attacked by ravenous predators. Carcasses in various forms of decomposition are frequent along these desolate and lonely stretches of road.

After I passed the “Welcome to Arizona” sign, I realized that I had made a wrong turn some 20 miles back at the junction in Yah-Ta-Hey, a small village north of Gallup, New Mexico. I had not planned on being in Arizona for another few hours; my original plans were to enter Arizona briefly near Four Corners and continue into Southeastern Utah. I was meeting my friend John form Tennessee that evening to camp amongst the massive rock monoliths in Valley of the Gods. After consulting with the map, I decided to press forward through Arizona on Indian Route 12 rather than backtracking. The highway runs along the New Mexico/Arizona border through Fort Defiance, Tsaile and Rock Point. The route would give me a chance to see new scenery.

Driving north on the winding Indian Route 12 provides a spectacular display of red rock laced valleys, forest and high desert mesas. On the high desert plains, north of Canyon de Chelly, I passed dead horse after dead horse. Some lay on the embankment while others made it a bit further into the scrubland before dying. The third dead horse I passed provided surreal scene. A black puppy was playing in the grass tufts behind the massive carcass. I immediately decelerated and made a u-turn. As no shoulder exists, I drove down the embankment and stopped a good distance short of the black puppy that was now fleeing. As it ran, I called to it in every silly voice you would try when attempting to woo a puppy. I whistled and clapped, but nothing seemed to stop it. My heart sunk as I watched the dog fade into the distance.

Movement in the shadow of the dead horse caught my eye. It was another puppy; this one was black and white. My steps were slow as I approached and talked sweet to the little dog, hoping it would not bolt for the hills. Then I saw why she couldn’t run away, or even sit up for the matter, her belly and paws were riddled with spines and goat heads. The packed earth beneath the dead horse’s ruptured belly was pink and packed as if the little dog had rolled beneath the beast for days. The torn horse hide hung like drapes over her burrow. It was clear that she had been eating at its flesh and had licked parts of the hide bare. The smell of decay was heavy in the air. I let her get a view of me for a minute or two before getting closer. She squirmed and grunted as I reached down for her, but she didn’t growl or snap. While sweet talking to her, I picked her up and held her to my chest; her tail started to wag. The spines and goat heads embedded in her skin made holding her like embracing a cactus. As I walked back to the truck and scanned the barren horizon I couldn’t believe she was still alive—she was a miracle.

 Never a Wrong Turn (Part II) CLICK HERE