The Well at Burnham Junction

Johnny Rustywire

Burnham Junction was dry; there had been no water all summer. The sagebrush was a dull gray; the sun had baked the color of straw out of it. It was a long walk heading down the road, a single lane paved road that led from the junction back down the road west sixteen miles to the small place called Toadlena where the road intersected with the highway running from Shiprock south to Gallup.

The sun was hot and there was not a single breeze. The ground next to the road was parched, dry and cracked like an overdone chocolate chip cookie. It was hard to the touch and it crunched when you walked on it.

Walking, walking down the road, walking to the mountain; the sound of horses stirring far off across the valley was the only sound that came through the still air. When it’s this hot, the Navajo Car Wash would have been a good place to rest, just off the road Northwest of Burnham Junction.

A spring had been tapped as a water well with a pipe running up like a gallows. It looked like a straight seven with a rubber hose attached at the end so water haulers could fill their empty barrels when they came to fill up with their wagons or pickup trucks. 

A small switch at the base allowed you to turn it on with your foot. Standing there, you can hear the water as it comes up---making gurgling sounds---and slowly it begins to flow out, slowly at first and then gushing and spilling all over the ground. The water, clean and cool, splashes every which way. The sound of that water gushing out could make a horse turn his head a mile away as the overflow ran to a water trough nearby.

Horse drawn wagons would move briskly as the old horses caught the scent of the water. The water would come down like a shower turned full on, and you could watch it spill all over the ground. But why waste it? Slowly, you step into it and feel it run all over you, from your head to your shoulders, down your arm and then down your back. The water is cool and soon begins to get cold.

Cars on the nearby Shiprock to Gallup highway drive on by with the little kids pressing their faces against the windows to watch that wild Indian dancing under the well water, all soaking wet and laughing at them.

“Look Mom! There’s an Indian dancing around in the water!” Without turning, she says, “Oh. OK.”

They slow but don’t stop. I wonder where they are going? Maybe California or Phoenix. Wherever, they are gone now---just specks cruising off to the southern horizon passing Newcomb on their way south.

Oh, the water feels so good. The touch of it so refreshing as it runs over you, your hair, face, neck and on down your legs. The taste is cool and wet. There is nothing like the fresh taste of cool water on a hot day. Yeeee!

I would like to stand here all day, just like this, but the horses that were so far away have found their way to the trough and looking like, hey, don’t waste it, let us have a cool shower too.

So you wave the rubber hose toward them and they neigh as they like the coolness of it, they flinch and prance, sidestepping back and forth, bobbing their heads as they too dance for their water.

“Hey! You want a ride?”


“Get in, I’m headed back to Toadlena.

“Wa, it’s Manygoats,” he stopped his Ford pickup and shouted out the window. “Get in,” he said, “you must be having heat stroke or something. There is some cold water in the jug by the seat. Have some. You look burned up.”

“Oh,” I said, “I was just thinking about Burnham Junction.”

“That Manuelito woman at the trading post from there is back home. Is that the one you were day dreaming about?”

“No, she is my sister in the Navajo Way. I was just thinking about a horse I saw down there on the flat, that pinto.”

Manygoats looked over from the driver's seat and said, “You have been in the sun too long. Drink some water and let’s head home.

“Just what I needed: a ride and a cool drink along the way. Ayehee (thank you) Hosteen Manygoats.”

The wind picked up from the dusty plain, and the sound of rubber tires whined softly. Looking out the window…now, where was I?

Oh yes, the water was cool and running all over me as I was standing under it at that Navajo Car Wash near Burnham Junction.

It feels pretty good, all right.

Johnny Rustywire is Folded Rocks Clan People on his mother’s side, and born for Tsinahbiltnii, the Mountain People Clan on his father’s side. He comes from Toadlena-Two Gray Hills, New Mexico, where the mountain is cracked and the water flows. He is a father of six and grandfather of 12. He attended Indian boarding schools and grew up on the Navajo Reservation, and has been married to the same woman for 40 years, a Ute from Fort Duchesne, Utah.

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