Native Trails of Arizona

You may think you're venturing off into the great unknown when you take off across Arizona, but believe me, others have been here before you. Down in the southeastern part of the state near the present-day San Pedro River, archaeologists discovered a mammoth kill site that proves humans were living in Arizona more than 10,000 years ago. All across Arizona you'll find signs of those who have come before. Cliff dwellings, pueblo ruins, and petroglyphs abound in the desert. This itinerary will help you search out the outstanding remains of Arizona's Native American cultures both past and present. Along the way, you can also learn about the state's Native cultures at museums that focus on Native American art, artifacts, and heritage. Of course, you'll also have plenty of opportunities to meet today's Navajos, Hopis, and Apaches, as well as members of other tribes.

Days 1, 2 & 3: Phoenix

The best "trail head" for an exploration of Arizona's Native trails is Phoenix. Here you should visit the superb Heard Museum to learn all about the tribes of the region and see samples of their traditional arts and crafts. When you visit the Heard Museum, be sure to have lunch at the nearby Fry Bread House, where you can try fry-bread tacos, which are a staple on reservations across the state. Right in Phoenix, at Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park, you can visit the remains of a Hohokam village and learn about the people who once built an extensive network of canals here in the middle of the desert. On Day 2, visit the model Hohokam village in the Arizona Museum of Natural History, check out the Desert Botanical Garden to see desert plants used by ancient Sonoran natives, then drive north to Cave Creek and hike to the Sears Kay Ruins. On Day 3, head northeast of town to visit the reconstructions at Besh-Ba-Gowah Archaeological Park, and then Tonto National Monument, the southernmost cliff dwelling in the state. Unless you suffer from acrophobia, return to Phoenix on the winding, gravel Apache Trail route, which is spectacular but scary.


Days 4 & 5: Sedona

From Phoenix, journey north to Sedona. En route, there are three stops you should make. At Camp Verde, detour to Cottonwood to visit the reconstructed hilltop ruins of Tuzigoot National Monument. Head back to I-17 and continue north to Montezuma Castle National Monument, another well-preserved cliff dwelling. At the Ariz. 179 exit for Sedona, get off I-17, but turn away from Sedona, not toward it. A few miles down this road is the V Bar V Heritage Site, which preserves one of the most impressive petroglyph sites in the state. The next day, after you've spent some time ogling the red rocks, head west of town to Palatki Heritage Site, where you can see the ruins of Sinagua cliff dwellings. While you're out this way, hike up Boynton Canyon, where you may spot some of the canyon's small ruin sites.


Day 6: Flagstaff

It's barely an hour's drive from Sedona to Flagstaff, and the first place to visit there is the Museum of Northern Arizona. This museum has outstanding exhibits on the Native cultures of the Colorado Plateau. Outside of town, you'll find two national monuments that preserve old ruin sites. Wupatki National Monument is, in my opinion, the more impressive of the two. Not only can you wander around several Sinagua pueblo sites, but at the main pueblo of Wupatki, you'll also find both a ball court similar to those found in Mexico and a fascinating "blowhole" that either blows or sucks air, depending on temperature and barometric pressure. Closer to Flagstaff, you can explore small cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon National Monument. The small rooms wedged into the cliffs at this monument were also built by the Sinagua.

Day 7: The Hopi Mesas

From Flagstaff, head east to the villages of the Hopi mesas. Along the way, you'll pass numerous shops selling Hopi silver overlay jewelry, as well as katsina dolls, pottery, and baskets. Stop at the Hopi Cultural Center to tour the small museum and have a lunch of traditional Hopi stew. At First Mesa, you can take a guided tour of the ancient cliff-top village of Walpi. Continue east to the Navajo community of Ganado, where you can tour the historic Hubbell Trading Post, and then backtrack a few miles to head north to Canyon de Chelly National Monument.

Day 8: Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Do a "shake-and-bake" truck tour of Canyon de Chelly. These tours, which are in rugged military surplus trucks outfitted with bench seats, head deep into the canyon to places you're not allowed to visit without a Navajo guide. You'll stop at numerous ruin sites and see well-preserved pictographs. You may even encounter Navajo farmers and shepherds who still live in the canyon during the summer months.


Day 9: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is really a landscape attraction and not a cultural attraction, but you can't visit this park without meeting a few Navajos. Local families operate jeep tours, horseback tours, and hiking tours. Take a jeep tour, and you'll see some interesting petroglyphs, along with some of the most memorable landscapes in the desert Southwest, made famous in several classic Western movies.

Days 10 & 11: Grand Canyon

Okay, so the Grand Canyon isn't known for its cultural heritage, but for many centuries, Native Americans lived in and near the canyon. All through the canyon there are caves, cliff dwellings, and pueblo sites. However, most of them are way off the beaten track and hard to get to. Besides that, the park service doesn't even want you to know most of these sites exist, for fear you might vandalize them. That said, you should be sure to visit the Tusayan Museum, which is built on the site of an Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) ruin. En route to the Grand Canyon from Monument Valley, be sure to visit Navajo National Monument, where you can take a 1-mile walk to a viewpoint overlooking the large Betatakin cliff dwelling. If you have an extra day to spare and can be here at the monument early in the morning, you can try to get a space on one of the guided hikes to the Betatakin ruins. Spend Day 11 in Grand Canyon National Park exploring along the park's rim drives or hiking down into the canyon.

Day 12: Phoenix

Head back to Phoenix by taking Ariz. 64 south to U.S. 180 to Flagstaff, where you'll pick up I-17. Once you reach Phoenix, check into your hotel, pull up a lounge chair by the pool, and meditate on all that you've seen as you've followed the Native trails of Arizona.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.