We are rarely surprised when caravans of unusual vehicles
fill the large gravel parking lot of the Twin Rocks Trading Post and Café. We
have seen the grounds graced by visits of Bugattis, Lamborghinis,
Austin-Martins, Ferraris, Harleys, and the occasional 6-stall horse trailer. But
we have never seen anything like the parade of Mercedes-Benz SL sport cars that
pulled in for lunch two weeks ago.
Advanced reservations had been arranged to host one hundred
guests for lunch. They were part of a cavalcade of thirty-eight vintage
Mercedes sports cars doing a group tour of the Southwest. Ten of those cars
were the rare and precious Mercedes-Benz SL Gullwings, a futuristic auto
featuring doors that swing up and out. Produced only between 1954 and 1957,
less than 3,000 were built and shipped to America where they proved remarkably
popular. At a price of about $6,800, the car cost three times more than the
average sports car at that time. There was nothing average about these elegant
autos, and their values today have soared into the 2.5 to 4 million-dollar-zone.
In 1999, this model was named “sports car of the century.”
Joining the Gullwings were another twenty-eight SL
Roadsters, a classic car only produced between 1957 and 1963. In total, more
than $50,000,000 in autos filled the parking lot. All were immaculately
detailed with beautiful leather interiors. A full spectrum of custom paint jobs
were represented, and every visitor to the café came out to take photos of their
The group, driving a Moab-to-Moab circle of the Four
Corners, stayed and enjoyed lunch for about ninety minutes. Eventually,
individual drivers began to exit the parking lot on the next stage of
their journey to Page, Arizona. Finally, all the classic cars had pulled away,
except for one solitary vehicle which failed to start.
It is hard to imagine that any place in America is further
from a Mercedes-Benz dealership or qualified mechanic than Bluff. It was pretty
quickly discovered that the driver had left his headlights on for his entire
visit and he had a very dead battery. After determining that nobody on the
staff had jumper cables, we did what we often do when Bluff faces such a
We called Jamie Olson to help out.
In short order, Jamie arrived in his 1989 Ford F-150 pickup
truck. A remarkably durable and dependable vehicle, Jamie’s truck is immaculate
from the inside to the engine block, but its peeling paint job shows it is a
victim of southwestern Utah’s blazing sun.
Jamie is Bluff’s jack-of-all-trades. Everyone recognizes his
excellence as a jewelry artist, but he is also an accomplished concrete
craftsman, carpenter, and storyteller. It is not at all unusual that when
needed, Jamie is there to help.
To jump start the Mercedes, it was necessary to reach the
sports car’s battery which is rather inconveniently located just behind the
passenger seat. Jamie managed to reach the battery, hook up the jumper cables
to his dependable old Ford truck, and jump started the engine. The greatly
relieved owner thanked Jamie and sped away into the afternoon dust.
Once again, Jamie saved the day. Everyone who witnessed the
scene enjoyed the incongruous image of this flashy sports car next to Jamie’s
old blue truck. Just another day in the Twin Rocks parking lot.
Once in a while we have visitors to Twin Rocks Trading
Post who say things like, "Wow, I am glad I finally caught you open.
I have been here several times and you are always closed." Since our
official hours are long, and we are usually here early and late, I always
wonder how these people consistently arrive when we are closed.
During the winter, traffic through the store slows dramatically, so in late
October or early November we begin closing on Sundays. A while back, I was out
washing the old Ford on the pad next to the trading post when Nellie Tsosie
drove up in a large Dodge Ram truck pulling a horse trailer. Nellie is the
purveyor of Natural Pinon Cream, that magical, mystical stuff Duke maintained
can cure any ailment and make you younger, smarter, and sexier. Duke told
everybody all it takes to turn your life around is a little dab on your toast
each morning. Our patrons often wondered whether it is worth a try, and I was
required to give them a wink and explain that Duke was really just joking, the
bread is not necessary. Just a spoonful of piñon helps the . . . . Well, you
As I scrubbed the long-neglected truck, Nellie strode up the front steps and
crashed into the locked door. After coming to an abrupt stop, she looked at me
and asked, "Closed?" "Yep," I explained. "Why?"
she wanted to know. "Because, after taking advantage of the Navajo people
all week, I need to go to church and ask forgiveness," I said. She
cautiously bobbed her head, unsure whether I was serious or not, and certainly
not wanting to do anything that might prejudice her chances of nailing down a
sale. "Well, Grandpa always told me that the white traders who take the
whole package go crazy when they get to be 55 or 60," she said. "In
fact, the one down home did go crazy and moved to Mancos. You just can't always
take the whole package," she continued. Nellie was working hard to
get me to unlock the trading post and the checkbook. "You know how Grandma
is, she always wants you to give her something extra, even after the deal is
done," Nellie said. "Yes, I know, that's why I will never go crazy
and will surely go straight to heaven when I die. You guys always get the best
of me." She laughed out loud, knowing I was right.
All the Navajo people around here understand that I am an easy mark; so once
the deal is negotiated, they ask for a set of earrings or a few
dollars for gas. Nellie's explanation made me feel better, because I have
always felt the reason for their requests was that they know that I am a sucker
for a sad face or a good story. I now realized, it is simply a matter of
Lorraine Black, for example, told us several years ago that during her latest
healing ceremony, the medicine man had instructed her to get a piece
of turquoise whenever she sold us a basket. If she did not, he
cautioned, she would become gravely ill. So, for several months she insisted on
receiving a nice pair of earrings to go with her cash. At some point, I
decided I could not stand the additional financial strain and suggested I just
give her a simple, undistinguished piece of turquoise. "No way,"
she said. "I need some new earrings." That was when I knew for
certain I had been led down the garden path. When she realized the game was up,
she just laughed and went on her way, happy in the knowledge her scheme had
worked longer than expected.
I reminded Nellie that indeed her mother, Cecelia, had been getting the best of
me for a long time. Years ago, Cecelia wanted one of my rugs. Cecelia had
a customer who needed a storm pattern weaving, and she did not have time to
make it. So, we made a deal, Cecelia left her squash blossom with me until she
was paid for the rug. When she received payment, she would redeem her necklace.
A few months later she wanted to swap the neck piece for a
brooch that, like most of the people here at the trading post, was a few
stones short of a full cluster. I let her take the necklace and took
the pin. Every month or so, Cecelia would stop by to assure me she would come
for the brooch and that I must not give up and sell it. During each
visit, I would go to the safe, pull out the by now well-worn paper sack
containing her jewel, and show it to her. After being reassured that our
arrangement is unchanged, she would climb back in the truck and head home.
Nellie, being the focused type, patiently listened to my story about her mother
and said, "So, do you need any cream?" "I can't buy on Sunday. It's
my day off, and I won't get redemption if I take advantage of you today,"
I said. "Oh, okay," she replied and began to walk back to the truck.
"By the way, that's a nice T-shirt, do you wanna trade?" she asked.
"No thanks, you are trying to get too much of my package," I laughed.
"By the way, did Grandpa say you will go crazy if you keep taking
advantage of the white traders?" I asked. "No. It doesn't work that
way," she responded. I bobbed my head knowingly.
Every week we send out our mailer with stories about the Twin Rocks Trading Post, the artists, and perpectives on trading post life - our own as well as those of others. We have had such a positive and interested response from folks who receive our mailer, and countless requests to publish these "tales", that we are providing them here. In this way folks can browse through them at leisure, and share with us the unique experiences that trading post life brings. Enjoy!