There’s no direct route from Chaco Canyon, in northern New Mexico, to Canyon de Chelly, across the border in Arizona. Rugged badlands, sandy washes, and vast tracts of arid, roadless country get in the way. Centuries ago, Native Americans traveled back and forth on foot or horseback, but today, in a truck towing a vintage 20-foot Airstream, there are only two ways out of Chaco Canyon: the northern road, or the southern road. And it’s a toss-up which is worse.
Both roads are notorious for roughly 20 miles of washboardy dirt moguls that look benign but are big enough to swallow an Airstream whole, then spit it out in pieces. In our Airstream road trip the day before, we'd lost an entire window coming in from the north, and were so scarred by the experience that for a second it seemed almost preferable to abandon the trailer forever in Chaco than to face that road with it hitched on behind us. The next best thing would be to try our luck on the southbound route. We actually thought, How could it be any rougher?