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Start your visit to the Hopi pueblos at the Hopi Cultural Center Museum, on Ariz. 264 in Second Mesa (tel. 928/734-6650). This combination museum, motel, and restaurant is the tourism headquarters for the area. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm and Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 3pm (closed weekends in the winter). Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for children 13 and under.

From here, it's just a few miles to the Second Mesa village of Sipaulovi and the Sipaulovi Visitor Center (tel. 928/737-5426; www.sipaulovihopiinformationcenter.org). At the visitor center, you can watch a 20-minute video about the Hopi culture and arrange for a 1-hour walking tour of Sipaulovi. Tours are offered Monday through Friday from 8am to 4pm and cost $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $10 for children ages 10 to 17.

The most rewarding Hopi village to visit is Walpi, on First Mesa. Guided tours of this tiny village are usually offered daily between 9am and 3pm (8am to 4pm in summer). Admission is $13 for adults, $10 for youths age 14 to 17, and $5 for children 5 to 13. To sign up for a tour, drive to the top of First Mesa (in Polacca, take the road that says FIRST MESA VILLAGE) and continue through the village to Ponsi Hall Visitor Center (tel. 928/737-2670), where you'll see signs for the tours. The tours, which last 1 hour, are led by Hopis who will tell you the history of the village and explain a bit about the local culture.

About 1 1/2 miles north of the community of Keams Canyon, in the pretty little canyon for which this historic community is named, you'll find, carved into the stone walls of the canyon, an inscription left by Colonel "Kit" Carson. It was Carson who led the war on the Navajo during the summer of 1863 and who, to defeat the tribe, burned their crops, effectively leaving the Navajo with no winter supplies. The inscription reads simply, "1st Regt. N.M. Vols. Aug 13th 1863 Col. C. Carson Com." To find the inscription, turn off Ariz. 264 in Keams Canyon and drive north on the main road through the community. You'll also find some picnic tables along this road.

Dances & Ceremonies

The Hopi have developed the most complex religious ceremonies of any of the Southwest tribes. The masked kachina dances for which they are most famous are held from January to July. However, most kachina dances are closed to the non-Hopi public. Social dances (usually open to the public) are held August through February. If you're on the reservation during these months, ask if any dances are taking place. Who knows? You might get lucky. Snake Dances (usually closed to the non-Hopi public) are held August through December.

Kachinas, whether in the form of dolls or masked dancers, are representative of the spirits of everything from plants and animals to ancestors and sacred places. More than 300 kachinas appear on a regular basis in Hopi ceremonies, and another 200 appear occasionally. The kachina spirits are said to live in the San Francisco Peaks to the southwest and at Spring of the Shadows in the east. According to legend, the kachinas lived with the Hopi long ago, but the Hopi people made the kachinas angry, causing them to leave. Before departing, though, the kachinas taught the Hopi how to perform their ceremonies.

Today, the kachina ceremonies, performed by men wearing elaborate costumes and masks, serve several purposes. Most important, they bring clouds and rain to water the all-important corn crop, but they also ensure health, happiness, long life, and harmony in the universe. As part of the kachina ceremonies, dancers often bring carved wooden kachina dolls to village children to introduce them to the various spirits.

The kachina season lasts from the winter solstice until shortly after the summer solstice. The actual dates for dances are usually announced only shortly before the ceremonies are to be held. Preparations for the dances take place inside kivas that are entered from the roof by means of a ladder; the dances themselves are usually held in a village square or street.

With ludicrous and sometimes lewd mimicry, clowns known as koyemsi, koshares, and tsukus entertain spectators between the dances, bringing a lighthearted counterpoint to the very serious nature of the kachina dances. Non-Hopis attending dances have often become the focus of attention for these clowns.

Despite the importance of the kachina dances, it is the Snake Dance that has captured the attention of many non-Hopis. The Snake Dance involves the handling of both poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes. The ceremony takes place over 16 days, with the first 4 days dedicated to collecting snakes from the four cardinal directions. Later, footraces are held from the bottom of the mesa to the top. On the last day of the ceremony, the actual Snake Dance is performed. Men of the Snake Society form pairs of dancers -- one to carry the snake in his mouth and the other to distract the snake with an eagle feather. When all the snakes have been danced around the plaza, they are rushed down to their homes at the bottom of the mesa to carry the Hopi prayers for rain to the spirits of the underworld.

Due to the disrespectful attitude of some past visitors, many ceremonies and dances are now closed to non-Hopis. However, a couple of Hopi villages do allow visitors to attend some of their dances. The best way to find out about attending dances is to contact the Hopi Cultural Preservation office.

En Route to or from the Hopi Mesas

On the west side of the reservation, in Tuba City, is the Tuba City Trading Post, Main Street and Moenave Avenue (tel. 928/283-5441). This octagonal trading post was built in 1906 of local stone and is designed to resemble a Navajo hogan or traditional home (there's also a real hogan on the grounds). The trading post sells Native American crafts, with an emphasis on books, music, and jewelry. Across the parking lot from the trading post, you'll find Hogan Espresso, Main Street and Moenave Avenue (tel. 800/644-8383 or 928/283-4545), one of the few places on the reservation where you can get espresso. It's open Monday to Friday from 7am to 9pm and Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 7pm. Behind the trading post, you'll find the Explore Navajo Interactive Museum, 10 N. Main St. (tel. 928/640-0684), a small museum in a tentlike structure that was used at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Although small, the museum provides a good introduction to Navajo culture. There is also a good Navajo code talkers exhibit here. In summer, the museum is open Monday through Saturday 8am to 6pm and Sunday noon to 6pm; call for hours in other months. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $6 for children ages 7 to 12.

On the western outskirts of Tuba City, on U.S. 160, you'll find Van's Trading Co. (tel. 928/283-5343; vanstradingcompany.com), in the corner of a large grocery store. Van's has a dead-pawn auction on the 15th of each month at 3pm (any pawned item not reclaimed by the owner by a specified date is considered "dead pawn"). The auction provides opportunities to buy older pieces of Navajo silver-and-turquoise jewelry.

West of Tuba City and just off U.S. 160, you can see dinosaur footprints preserved in the stone surface of the desert. There are usually a few people waiting at the site to guide visitors to the best footprints (these guides will expect a tip of a few dollars). The scenery out your car window is some of the strangest in the region -- you'll see lots of red-rock sandstone formations that resemble petrified sand dunes.

The Cameron Trading Post (tel. 800/338-7385 or 928/679-2231; www.camerontradingpost.com), 16 miles south of the junction of U.S. 160 and U.S. 89, is well worth a visit. The main trading post is filled with souvenirs but has large selections of rugs and jewelry as well. In the adjacent stone-walled gallery are museum-quality Native American artifacts (with prices to match). The trading post includes a motel, convenience store, and gas station.

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.