The Turtle in the Tire Track

In 1969 I was in Tucumcari, NM.   I was interested in Indian artifacts so I took a drive to “look around.”  Outside of town, I took the long road of the Chappell Spade Ranch along the Canadian River.  I pulled up to the ranch house where a man was standing.  I asked if there was a place one might find Indian artifacts and was told “Mr. Griggs” might help but he was out walking.  “Out there” the man pointed.   I was driving my 1964 Ford Falcon Sprint – ragtop.  Top down.   So I headed off into the desert — driving on a two tire track “road.”

I bounced along and found Mr. Griggs about 2 miles out.  I asked about artifacts and he shrugged.   “You just have to look.”  Big help he was.    He asked if I’d drive him back to the ranch – so I said “sure” and he hopped in. 

We came to the top of a rise.   Below, the two tire track ruts were full of water from rain the night before.  He said “you better gun it or we’ll get stuck.”  So I did.   Whoosh!  Down the hill.  And then I suddenly jammed on the brakes – skidding and splashing to a stop with water up to my hubcaps.  He said “what the. . .”  I got out of the car and about 20 feet in front of us a big turtle was cooling himself.  In the water.  In the tire track.  If I’d continued, I would have crushed him.  I held up the turtle to show Mr. Griggs.  I set the turtle on the side and got back in the car.  He stared at me.  I looked at him somewhat defensively and said “I didn’t want to kill the turtle.”  He nodded and thought a moment “You did the right thing.  You want Indian artifacts?  Go that way” – he pointed and we peeled off across the desert in another 2 tire track “road.”  And we stopped, climbed to the top of a butte and found an Indian burial ground.  He told me the story of the Anasazis who had lived there.  I found some neat things – some of which I took.   Today, I have in my office a well-used mano (corn grinding stone) – one of three I found that day along with a metate (the stone on which corn was ground).  Every time I walk in my office – and glance at the mano – I think of the turtle in the tire track . . . . and that very special day. 

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