A great place to be 8
Mexican Springs boasts a tribal park, proximity to Gallup
By Cindy Yurth
NAAKAII BITO, N.M., September 05, 2013
(Editor's note: In an effort to chronicle the beauty and diversity of the Navajo Nation, as well as its issues, the Navajo Times has committed to visiting all 110 chapters in alphabetical order. This is the 50th in the series.)
(Times photo -- Cindy Yurth)
I t turns out 8-year-old girls make excellent tour guides.
They will show you things the adults would never think to show you.
For instance, there are thousands of grey-brown lizards swarming Mexican Springs, and if you're quick, you can trap them under a stick, being careful not to squash them of course, and bring them home as pets.
But you have to be careful, because "some of them bite," warned Layla Dean.
You will also learn from 8-year-olds the best place to turn cartwheels - in the soft sand of the big wash that runs near the chapter house - and the best cottonwoods to climb. If you want to scare yourself, they will take you to The Bridge, where you can sit on the railing and look over.
What you will not learn is why this spectacular chapter, which runs along the spine of the Chuskas and includes the lion's share of Bowl Canyon Recreation Area, is called Mexican Springs.
"We have springs," offered Sarah Johnson. "I haven't seen any Mexicans here.
"But," she added quite reasonably, "I'm only eight."
The chapter president, Richard Bowman, is not much more help.
"I guess there were some here, long time ago," he ventured. "I really don't know, to tell the truth."
What Bowman does know is what his chapter needs to work on.
Before being asked, he mentions the infamous 2011 audit of the chapter, which turned up almost every accounting violation there is and tracked some $168,000 in unauthorized payments to chapter officials.
"There's a lot of planning going on," said Bowman, a former McKinley County treasurer who figures the main reason he was elected was to fix the atrocious financial situation, "but first we have to reorganize the entire way we do things. There was a lot of questionable stuff, but we're getting back on the road."
He's speaking figuratively, but roads do loom large in this chapter. The longest and possibly most beautiful way to Asaayi Lake is through Mexican Springs ... but few people know that.
"Most people just go through Red Lake or Crystal," Bowman said.
From Red Lake, the first seven miles are paved ... but next spring, paving starts on the Mexican Springs side, and then ... look out.
"We need to have some businesses ready to go by the time the road is paved," Bowman opined. A convenience store or possibly a bait shop for fishermen are ideas being bandied about - "Something the tourists would like," Bowman said.
The chapter's only business, a trading post, burned down a few years ago and has never been rebuilt. But this is a prosperous chapter, with houses that would look good even off the rez. The reason is location, location, location.
According to Bowman, most Mexican Springs residents commute either nine miles north, to the schools of Tohatchi, N.M., or 19 miles south to Gallup for work.
"People do have jobs," he said, "they're just not here."
The 8-year-olds confirm this. It seems everybody's mommy and daddy are either working, going to college or both.
If you're 8, there is abundant recreation even aside from the wash and the lizards. A community basketball court sits just outside the chapter compound, and a surprisingly un-vandalized playground is just off the road to the chapter. Bowman would eventually like to see a community recreation center for people of all ages.
"What we're envisioning is a small building we can use just for chapter administration," he said, "and then a recreation hall that people could use for meetings, bingo, birthday parties and such. We don't have anything like that."
The chapter also recently met with the Navajo Department of Transportation to clarify which entity - the tribe or the BIA - has responsibility for which road.
"It was something we wanted to do before the winter," Bowman said. Grading roads is a constant process here in the rugged foothills of the Chuskas, where just about every road is cut by a wash.
"We have to stop just pushing dirt back and forth," Bowman stated. "We need to see where we need culverts. We need to establish a gravel pit."
The chapter is currently lobbying the state of New Mexico for funding to chip-seal the Deer Springs Road, a heavily used route from Coyote Canyon. Because of the topography, it's estimated to cost $1.7 million. But the old county treasurer, who was a county commissioner before that, knows a few tricks.
"If we ask for the whole amount at once, they might say no," Bowman said. "But if we divide it up into segments, and ask for two or three years' funding, I think we can get it."
Most of the homes close to U.S. 491 have water and electricity, "but there are still a number toward the mountains that don't," Bowman said. The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is currently surveying the area to see where the greatest needs are for possible line extensions.
By the time this reporter's young tour guides grow up, this stunning, prosperous chapter may be the envy of the rez.
Contact Cindy Yurth at email@example.com.
Mexican Springs at a Glance
Name - The Times could not find anyone who knew the origin of the name Mexican Springs, although it seems pretty obvious there were Mexican settlers around a spring. The official name of the chapter is in English, Mexican Springs, whereas the main village is generally rendered in Navajo, Naakaii Bito. According to Chapter President Richard Bowman, the name causes a lot of confusion because Mexican Water Chapter in Arizona is also translated as "Naakaii Bito" in Navajo.
Population - 1,418
Land area - 115,000 acres
Assets - most of Bowl Canyon Recreation Area is in this chapter, which also has some good frontage on U.S. 491. Located just 19 miles north of Gallup, N.M. on a major highway, it's an easy commute to both Gallup and Tohatchi for workers in those towns.
Problems - Washouts and flooding are common in the wash-cut foothills of the Chuskas. There are no businesses since the trading post burned down a few years ago. The chapter is recovering from a negative tribal audit in 2011 that uncovered $168,000 in unauthorized distributions to chapter officials.