The Turtle in the Tire Track

(A summer repeat from 2/13/2012)   In 1969 I was in Tucumcari, NM. I’ve always been 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 walking with a young girl who was on horseback.   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.  I slushed out of the water and we lurched across the desert in another 2 tire track “road.” And we stopped, climbed to the top of a butte and he showed me 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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