Part 6 of Northern Arizona
Visiting the Navajo Nation is an adventure. The people are very welcoming, but there are some rules visitors need to follow there.
First is, we’re not just crossing a state line or entering a Park when you enter Navajo land. You’re entering a sovereign, self-governing nation with its own tribal laws and customs. Visitors should leave some things behind. Alcohol use and firearms are strictly forbidden on the Reservation. Photography is tightly controlled and a license is necessary to shoot with professional equipment.
To get along with the Navajo, visitors need to adopt their respectful attitude to the land. It’s important to understand that the Navajo view their land as a spiritual entity. Actions which might disturb that spirit are frowned upon, or outright banned. Rock climbing and off-trail hiking are prohibited. Off-road travel by all terrain vehicles, dune buggies, jeeps and motorcycles is prohibited. The Navajo also ask that visitors do not litter, disturb animals, or remove rocks, plants or artifacts. Follow the back trail slogan: Leave no trace.
All in all, it’s an attitude adjustment I find easy to make.
This trip to Navajoland will take us north from Flagstaff on US Highway 89, with a stop at the Cameron Trading Post. It’s a beautiful place, with a dining room you won’t soon forget and a store with a large selection of very nice Native artwork. It’s a good place to get an introduction to Native American arts and crafts. Looking over their selection of fine jewelry and pottery will help you down the road where roadside stands await, some with cheap Chinese made tourist jewelry.
The trading post It’s been around since 1911. Then it was only visited by the Navajo & Hopi locals to barter their wool, blankets, & live-stock for dry goods. Over time, it became another access point to the Grand Canyon, and tourists came to purchase the trade goods.
Beyond Cameron is Tuba City. Located in the Painted Desert, Tuba City is a good starting point for exploring both ancient and contemporary Hopi and Navajo cultures. And by the way, it’s not named for a musical instrument, but for a well known Hopi who assisted Mormon settlers in the 1800’s.
The Tuba City Trading Post, which dates to 1905, sells authentic sand paintings, rugs, jewelry, and pottery. It caters to both the serious collector and the souvenir shopper. Nearby is the Navajo Interactive Museum which gives a good introduction to the land, history, culture, and ceremonial life of the Navajo people.
The Code Talkers Museum celebrates the important contribution the Navajo made in World War II. The Navajo language was unbreakable code to foreign ears, so Navajo soldiers became radio operators as they could safely share information over the radio between units.
To continue to the heartland of Navajo country, head east on highway 160 toward Kayenta and Monument Valley. Otherwise, a turn south on Arizona highway 264 leads to the Hopi reservation.
About 10,000 Hopi live in a dozen or so villages perched on the nearby mesas. The Hopi lands are within the borders of the Navajo Nation. Ownership of some of the land between the mesas has been disputed by the Navajo for more than a hundred years.
‘Hopi’ translates to ‘peaceful people’. They have been in this area the longest of any of today’s Arizona residents. Some of the villages of Hopi are the oldest continuously inhabited settlements on the North American Continent, dating back to 1100 A.D.
The Hopi are a peaceful and civil people, they are also very private. Visitors are welcome if they are discreet and follow the Hopi Nation’s protocols. The tribe recommends hiring a local guide, who will know where visitors can go and where they must not tread. Photography is carefully controlled and only allowed under specific conditions.
The Hopi Cultural Center is in the Second Mesa village. This combination museum, motel, and restaurant is the tourism headquarters for the area.
The Center can help set up a tour with a Hopi guide to explore the three mesas.
The most popular Hopi village is Walpi on First Mesa. Guided 1-hour walking tours of this tiny village are usually offered daily between 9am and 3pm (8am to 4pm in summer). The tour leaders are local Hopis, who will tell the history of the village and explain a bit about the local culture.
The Hopi are known for the masked Kachina dances. Their ceremonial dances are held from January to July and are closed to the public. Social dances are held August through February and are usually open to the public. The actual dates for dances are usually announced only shortly before the ceremonies are to be held.
Highway 264 takes you to Ganado, back on the Navajo reservation. From there you can travel north to Canyon De Chelly and Monument Valley.