The "No Fun" part

Shiprock Travel Blog

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Saturday, April 15th



We were up early, as had been our habit on this trip. This was pretty early in the season, so the nights were still arriving early and they were a bit to cold to do much. Especially so, with two young kids along. It was much easier to go to bed early, and then start the day early.


We were heading home today, with the goal of getting to Cortez. Some people disagree, maybe most disagree, but traveling more than 8 hours per day, by car, is too much. Generally speaking, if your destination is more than that, fly, or break it into smaller chunks and stop and do something. Cortez was not even seven driving hours, but we figured on stopping at the Four Corners (where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado all share a common boundary. The only such point in the US), area and if we got into town early enough take at least a short tour of Mesa Verde.


We had eaten, packed up, taken down, and stowed away everything by 8 AM, and were on the road. I remember continually glancing out my window at the canyon, wondering is this my last look at it forever? Will I ever see the Grand Canyon, again? I’ve never been that circumspect about a place before, but the Canyon is special. But, one of those glances was my last, at least for now, and we headed north into the Navaho Nation, whose northeast section held the Four Corners.


About four hours into our trip the temperature warning light (Idiot Light, called that because you feel like an idiot trying to figure out what is wrong) came on. I had flushed the radiator prior to the trip, to try to make sure there were no problems. Now, well east of Kayenta, on US-160 (the geographical center of the middle of no where) I was having a problem. The engine was still purring like a kitten. There was no steam, smoke, or any other side of trouble. But, it was a not day. The temps would be in the 80s, easy here in the desert. So, relying on my basic knowledge of physics, I told Margo that we had to kick the heater on. She thought I was nuts, but I explained that the heater worked by leaching residual heat from the engine and directing it inside the car. We needed to leach all of the heat we could get out of that engine. It was done, and we were miserable. Jessi still slept. Jolene never complained, after we explained that it had to be done. Neither did Margo. I was plenty worried about being stranded in the desert. Thoughts of, Why is it overheating?  How do I fix this? Could I fix this?, kept replaying.


The heater solution worked in the sense that we kept on plugging along. No additional signs of trouble manifested themselves. It did not work, in that the light never went out. Thoughts of big time engine damage played in my head. I thought of stopping, but we had passed Mexican Water, what passed for a town, not long after we started having trouble. We made it to Teec Nos Pos, and I pulled over. I had to check the fluid level, to see if that was the problem. But you see, we are talking about a 1973 Nova. There was not radiator overflow reservoir to check. You had to take off the radiator cap. With an overheated engine that posed two issues. First, you were guaranteed first degree burns from the superheated coolant that would explode out when the pressure was released. Second, you needed as much of that superheated coolant as possible in the radiator to keep it cool when we started. We were carrying about four gallons of water. Not because of my amazing foresight, but because we had a baby (still sleeping) that was on formula. So my plan was to let the engine cool down, and add water if needed. We waited for about an hour and an half before I coaxed the cap off. It was low on fluid. So we added two gallons. The car started up, but there was no change. The light stayed on.


You old timers out there, who owned a Chevy small block engine, know that they are famous for the abuse they can take before they fail. So the fact that the engine was still purring did not eliminate the fears I had, that it was going to konk out at any minute.  I weighed the options of continuing with the planned itinerary, and hoping for the best. Or, heading for the biggest town in the area, Shiprock, NM, and see about finding a water pump, coolant, and more water. When we pulled over I did an inspection. I didn’t see a leak, but I could smell coolant. I’m thinking that the water pump is somehow malfunctioning, or I have a leak. It was an easy decision, really. Four Corners was out, and she continued on US-160 into Shiprock.

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photo by: Hummingbird