Visiting the once mysterious land of the Hopi people in Arizona makes for an intriguing and exciting getaway. The Hopi Arizona Mesas are not far from Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, and Sedona and will afford you the opportunity to learn about the Hopi people, their traditions, and art.
The Hopi Mesas of Arizona, surrounded by Navajo Nation land, are now more accessible to visitors than ever via new tourism programs. You can reach the three Hopi Mesas, with 12 villages, and the Hopi Cultural Center serving excellent traditional and modern food, via a scenic drive from I-40 on AZ-87.
Continue on through the land of the Hopi to Tuba City, and you’ll find a modern and comfortable home base for exploring the mysteries of Hopi Arizona.
Moenkopi Legacy Hotel
Tuba City, with Hopi land on one side of the street and Navajo Nation land on the other, is home to the beautiful Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites, an enterprise established by the Hopi Upper Village of Moenkopi. The colorful hotel blends well with the desert landscape and colors, especially at sunset.
This modern hotel has 100 rooms on three floors with 16 suites. There is a seasonal outdoor heated pool and Jacuzzi, conference center, a breakfast room, and—my favorite—displays of Hopi art and historical photos.
After a good night’s rest and hearty breakfast, we met with our guides for a day of exploring the wonders of the Hopi Mesas.
Guided Tours of Hopi Arizona
While you can pick up a brochure and map of the Hopi Arts Trail and visit Hopi artists on your own, it is only through a guided tour led by Hopi tribal members that you will discover true wonders. For example, there is the petroglyph-rich Dawa Park, where your guide will tell stories about the meanings of these 2000-year-old symbols left by the ancient ones as they established camps, villages and, moved on.
Our group of six enjoyed a comfortable small touring bus as we took a modified tour—part arts trail and part cultural tour. The guides will tailor a tour to your interests but no matter where you go, you’ll discover the authentic Hopi land and people. The tour guides available through the Moenkopi Legacy Inn and Suites are certified by the Hopi Tribe and can take you to visit artists, villages, and cultural sites.
We began our tour with a visit to the stunning Coal Mine Canyon—a deep canyon with striking black layers of coal around the rim. The canyon was accessible by a dirt road and the small touring bus handled the sand and gravel well.
Our guides told us that the traditional Hopi potters would dig for this coal as it worked well for firing their pots. Today, most potters use dung for the fires and we were told it just isn’t as good as the hot coal fires of yesteryear. After taking photos of the canyon, listening to the winds, and learning about the uses of some of the desert plants, we were off to Dawa Park.
Dawa Park is an amazing site that is closed to visitors. You must have a Hopi guide with you to get there and, it is only through your guide, that the multitude of symbols on the rocks will come to life for you. This place was accessible by a difficult-to-find dirt road.
As we approached Dawa Park, we realized it wasn’t a typical park. It was a large, protected canyon with high walls and rocks. We were alone in the canyon as our guide led us to some easily viewed petroglyphs. Circles, wavy lines, figures of men, dots, and animals—once just interesting designs to us—became a history of the ancient ones as our guides interpreted the stories told by the rock art.
Our guide pointed out a male figure. He was a village chief who held a high position. You could tell by the symbols he held in his hands and his size. There were other men next to him. Our guide explained that the chief was not depicted higher than the others because “leaders are on the same level as the villagers—equal.” We saw how a village could be symbolized with concentric circles and a dot within them might represent a spring. We were to learn, throughout the trip, that water was important then and today.
Our guides took us from rock wall to wall as the stories unfolded from the ancient symbols. I had visited the same place many years ago and was surprised by all the new information. After inquiring, I found that the younger Hopi guides, while treasuring the stories passed along to them from their elders, were allowed to be much more open in sharing the meaning of what we were seeing. My guides in the past still held the stories close to them and were not comfortable answering questions from visitors. Things do change, but traditions, fortunately, are still carefully passed from generation to generation.
Hopi Cultural Center
We drove along the top of the mesas and saw small fields readied for the spring planting. Our guides commented that they hoped that this spring there would be enough rain and snow melt so they could plant the corn, beans, and squash (often referred to as the “three sisters”). Most of the Hopi fields are dry-farmed just as they were during previous generations.
We stopped for lunch at the Hopi Cultural Center. The sunny dining room was a great place to share a meal with our guides and learn even more about Hopi. Much of the menu is traditional, focusing on corn, beans, and squash. You can enjoy soups, stews, and salads. The favorite of visitors to the Southwest is a taco (flour or blue corn) heaped with beans, meat, and salad. Add a little salsa and you’ll be ready for the afternoon’s activities. The Hopi Cultural Center has a few rooms where you can stay overnight and displays of Hopi art and history. It also makes for a great ice cream stop when traveling along AZ-264 or AZ-87.
As you leave, be sure and visit the vendors who gather each day to sell their katsinas (carved dolls), weaving, and artwork. You never know what you’ll find at the outdoor tables.
The Hopi Arts Trail
While you can make appointments with artists and visit on your own, the Hopi Arts Trail is best enjoyed with a guide. They know the artists and galleries that are open, and can tell you a little about what you will see.
Hopi art is a significant part of Hopi cultural and spiritual life. The galleries and artists’ homes on the Hopi Arts Trail take you to all three of the Hopi Mesas. You’ll find traditional artwork along with the more contemporary. All of the artists have been taught by their elders and continue to pass along the skill and traditions to those eager to learn. Over 50 percent of the Hopi people earn a living from their art, so sharing their work is very important.
We were pleased to visit a well-known artist who is known for his traditional Hopi silver overlay work. When making overlay jewelry, artisans cut a design from a flat piece of silver and then fuse that to another oxidized piece. It is very detailed, intricate work and, as we were to find out, very time-consuming.
Duane Tawahongva lives and works on Second Mesa—when he’s not traveling to art shows. We were invited into his home, a trailer guarded by two friendly dogs on a lightly traveled road. As is with many Hopi homes, he did not have electricity and relied on a generator to run his grinding and polishing equipment. The Hopi don’t really want to run underground pipes and lines to the villages because beneath them lie remnants of earlier villages and vestiges of the lives of the ancestors. They feel it’s best to leave things as they are rather than disturb the land.
Sun was streaming through the windows of Duane's kitchen/workshop. He had a view of the valley below and pointed out the health center way in the distance where his daughter worked. He was working on a butterfly-design pendant and he explained each step to us as he progressed with his creation. Duane is often called upon to do jewelry-making demonstrations so he was at ease with us hovering around him. He explained that a piece such as that pendant can take up to five hours to cut, fuse, oxidize, polish, and attach a bail. When he finished, the butterfly pendant gleamed in the sun.
After visiting Duane, we were off to the old village of Oraibi (or Orayvi) on Third Mesa, quite a treat because it is the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the U.S. and accessible only with a guide. We stopped in front of Sandra Hamana Sh’oh’s shop (which is open to visitors) and went inside the adobe-walled rooms. There were treasures to behold and stories to hear as she told us about when she was a child and discovered a room under one of the current village homes. Pottery jars from that room were on display in her little gallery. She also showed us the yarn art with traditional Hopi designs that she is known for—bright, colorful and full of symbolism.
Our guide then took us on a walking tour of the old village, showing us the plaza where people gather for dances and ceremonies and the kiva. As we walked to the end of the village we saw the remains of an old church and heard the story of how the villagers were once divided in their opinions about allying with the newcomers who built the church and how they resolved things with a restrained tug of war. The side that lost agreed to move to another village.
When You Go to Hopi Arizona
You can visit Hopi as part of another tour like Donovan Hanley’s Detours Native America as we did. However, whether you are solo or with a tour, you’ll need an official Hopi guide to visit most of the places mentioned in the article.
The Hopi ask that you not take photos without permission. Guides are very helpful in telling you where you can take photos and where you cannot. If in doubt, do not take a photo as you visit Hopi, Arizona.
Enjoy more stories about traveling in Arizona by Wander With Wonder authors.
Note: The author toured as a guest of the Grand Circle Association. As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary accommodations, meals, and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.