You round the corner and out there in front of you, in very wide angle, sits a magnificent setting of bluffs and light dances and canyons - and the first thing you think is, "Uh-oh."
Finding two cop killers in this place hasn't been easy.Maybe you're like me, maybe you've seen too many Rambo movies, maybe you've seen too many commercials with Chryslers perched on top of Monument Valley bluffs, maybe you're sitting in your city house with your mountain view and your three-car garage and you're watching the drama unfold on the nightly news about suspected fugitive cop killers Monte Pilon and Jason McVean and you're thinking: why don't they just put on their infrared night vision glasses and zoom in with their helicopters and get those bad guys out of the badlands?
But to get a feel for the country you have to drive to its edge and see it.
There is a national notion that the white man disabused the Indians terribly, that they were left with nothing. Well, this ain't nothing.
If the Navajo Reservation were a state, it would be about the same size as Indiana. You could put 27 Rhode Islands into the Navajo Nation that begins in southeastern Utah, here at Bluff, and sprawls into Arizona and New Mexico as far as the eye can see.
The great Colorado Plateau was the last area mapped in the United States, and that's using the term loosely. There is the story of the white explorers rounding a corner one day and finally finding Rainbow Bridge, an arch so magnificent it has been proclaimed the eighth wonder of the world.
This was in 1909.
This is the land the cop killers are in.
Marcia Hadenfeldt sat at the counter of the Twin Rocks Cafe polishing silverware. Like the rest of Bluff's 290 residents, she has plenty of time on her hands these days. If it's not the World Cup keeping the foreigners away, it's scumbags like Pilon and McVean working against the domestic trade.
Marcia works part time at the cafe and the rest of the time with her husband Vaughn running Far Out Expeditions. Their motto: "We'll take you as far out as you want to go." And for another $25 a day, they'll also cook you breakfast.
Yes, she says, Far Out has had clients cancel. "We get calls from New York," says Marcia, an amused look of exasperation in her eyes. "They've seen the coverage on TV and they ask, `Shall we still come?' I mean, they're from New York and they're asking that?! Think of the odds. We've got two bad guys . . . ."
Seated next to a display of every badlands book Tony Hillerman ever wrote, Marcia offers her take on the terrain the manhunt is dealing with:
"What we're talking about," she says, "is a land open and empty, criss-crossed by canyons, mesas and rocks - where you can hide if you want to and escape if you have to."
Still, like most people around here, she thinks they'll get caught. Because deep down they're not survivalists, or Indians, or even a reincarnation of Butch and the Kid. Strip away the camouflage pants and the short-wave radios and what you have left is white trash on the run, and sooner or later it will resurface.
I took my bicycle out of the trunk of the car at dusk. I had to do something to counterbalance a lunch that consisted mostly of doughnuts. I popped on the tires and headed north out of Bluff and then east on the road to Montezuma Creek.
It is in this vicinity, along the banks of the San Juan River, that Pilon and McVean have been sighted.
For more than an hour I rode. Just four cars passed me. Even the highway is open and empty.
As sunset cast a brilliant glow on the bluffs beyond the river, I saw the sun's rays reflect off something in the distance. I couldn't help but wonder, could it be the cop killers?
This is not going to be easy.