Kayenta, Arizona, with a population of less than 5,000 sprang up from the desert floor, a brief dusting of small, rundown buildings as we whizzed through the Arizona landscape on our journey home from Santa Fe.
Kayenta - a Navajo word that means “water going in different directions, like ribbon”.
Kayenta – where we met Jessica.
A mecca for artists Santa Fe had been beautiful and creatively stimulating. Sculptures, paintings, jewelry and mixed media pieces filled every nook and cranny of the city. A glorious retreat, Santa Fe was relaxing and invigorating all at once.
Now, however, we were homeward bound, sailing through a changing scenery of magnificent, rich sunsets offset by the dark desert terrain, cactus reaching skywards and rolling hills punctuated by ribbons of black asphalt cutting through the countryside, heading towards Southern California. And home.
Kayenta quickly became a blur in our rearview mirror, a tiny blimp on the horizon that disappeared as quickly as it came. A nameless town, like so many that we’d passed through, destined to fade from our memory almost before we’d passed through it.
Or so we thought as we sped along, our car overflowing with souvenirs and mementos, snacks spilling over in the backseat to keep our son’s insatiable appetite under control. Our next destination was a quick stop at Hoover Dam and then finally a good night’s sleep back in our own beds.
It was Labor Day weekend and that meant the end of summer, hot weather and traffic heading in all directions. Cruising through Arizona with the rest of the holiday crowd our plans suddenly screeched to a halt three miles outside of Kayenta. Just seconds after passing another car on the two-lane road, our vehicle lurched then stalled. Coasting to a stop along the roadside, we rapidly became just a speck in the rearview mirror as the other cars whizzed by. No one stopped and now, inexplicably no one else drove by. We were alone, broken down with no cell phone reception and no idea where we were.
Mercifully, we saw a house off the side of the road, down a hill. Honking our horn and yelling to get their attention didn’t work. Going down to the house was impossible. So we waited. And waited. And waited. At long last, the heat pounding down, my husband set out to look for help in the little town behind us.
No one stopped to ask if he needed help as he trudged back towards civilization. He stumbled along a car stopped on the side of the road but they quickly pulled out onto the highway as he approached. Finally, just outside town a driver stopped and gave him a lift.
Salvation - almost. He made numerous phone calls trying to hire a tow truck before he hiked back to our car. Thankfully, not long after that one of the tow truck drivers rolled up, taking us back to the garage. That’s where the news became much more dismal. Our engine was blown. There was no way they’d have parts before the next week. We needed to get it to a dealer and the closest one was in Flagstaff. To compound the problem, there wasn’t a way to get it there. The tow truck driver refused to go that far.
Now we were absolutely stuck. The next bus out of town was scheduled to arrive at 5:30 a.m. the next morning, maybe. Since it was a holiday weekend it might not come until Tuesday – three days later.
Chocking back our desperation we crossed the dusty road to a small hotel, unsure what to do. Someone suggested we call a taxi, but that was in Flagstaff three hours away, cost $250, and no guarantee how long it would take for them to arrive or if they would really come.
That’s when we met Jessica. She worked at the hotel and was just clocking out. She immediately offered to drive us to Flagstaff, and better yet, she could leave right away. Following a quick scavenger hunt in our car for those items we needed, we eagerly piled into her beat up old jalopy to begin the journey.
On the long drive down to Flagstaff she entertained us with stories. We learned about Kayenta, its history and traditions, and about the Navajo people. We also learned that you never know where an angel might be hiding – sometimes it’s in a little town in the middle of the Arizona desert.