With the exception of Upper and Lower Moenkopi, which are near the Navajo town of Tuba City, and the recently settled Yuh Weh Loo Pah Ki community east of Keams Canyon, the Hopi villages are scattered along roughly 20 miles of Ariz. 264. Old Oraibi is the oldest, but there are no official tours of this village, and visitors are not likely to feel very welcome here unless they’ve been invited to visit by a resident. Walpi, one of only two villages with organized tours, is the best place for visitors to learn more about life in the Hopi villages. Most of the Hopi villages listed below aren’t especially picturesque, but they do have quite a few crafts galleries and stores selling silver jewelry.

FIRST MESAAt the top of First Mesa, parts of the village of Walpi still look much like the ruins of Ancestral Puebloan villages in Canyon de Chelly, Navajo National Monument, and Wupatki National Monument. Small stone houses seem to grow directly from the rock of the mesa top, and ladders jut from the roofs of kivas. The view from the village stretches for hundreds of miles—it’s easy to see why the Hopi settled on this spot. Walpi was originally located lower on the slopes of First Mesa, but after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 brought on fear of reprisal from the Spanish, villagers moved to the top of the mesa so that they could better defend themselves in the event of a Spanish attack.

Immediately adjacent to Walpi are the two villages of Sichomovi, founded in 1750 as a colony of Walpi, and Hano, founded by Tewa peoples who were most likely seeking refuge from the Spanish after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Neither of these villages has the ancient character of Walpi. At the foot of First Mesa, the settlement of Polacca was founded in the late 1800s by Walpi villagers who wanted to be closer to the trading post and school.

SECOND MESA—Second Mesa is today the center of tourism in Hopiland, with the Hopi Cultural Center located here. Villages on Second Mesa include Shungopavi, which was moved to its present site after Old Shungopavi was abandoned in 1680 following the Pueblo Revolt. Old Shungopavi is said to have been the first Hopi village; it was founded by the Bear Clan. Shungopavi is notable for its silver jewelry and its coiled plaques (flat baskets).

Mishongnovi, which means “place of the black man,” is named for the leader of a clan that came here from the San Francisco Peaks around 1200. The original Mishongnovi village, located at the base of the mesa, was abandoned in the 1690s, and the village was reestablished at the current site atop the mesa. The Snake Dance is held here during odd-numbered years.

Sipaulovi, located on the eastern edge of the mesa, was founded after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

THIRD MESAOraibi, which lays claim to being the oldest continuously occupied town in the United States, is located on Third Mesa. The village dates from 1150 and, according to legend, was founded by people from Old Shungopavi. A Spanish mission was established in Oraibi in 1629; the ruins are still visible north of the village. Today, Oraibi is a mix of old stone houses and modern ones, mostly constructed of cinder blocks. Blue-corn piki bread, dolls, and other traditional goods are available for sale, and you may even be invited into someone’s home to see the crafts they have to offer. For this reason, Old Oraibi is the most interesting village in which to shop for local crafts, especially weavings, baskets, and jewelry.

For centuries, Oraibi was the largest of the Hopi villages, but in 1906, a schism arose as a result of divisive Bureau of Indian Affairs policies, causing many villagers to leave and form Hotevilla. This is considered the most conservative of the Hopi villages, and it has had frequent confrontations with the federal government. Kykotsmovi, also known as Lower Oraibi or New Oraibi, was founded in 1890 by villagers from Oraibi who wanted to be closer to the school and trading post. This village is the seat of the Hopi Tribal Government. Bacavi was founded in 1907 by villagers who had left Oraibi to help found Hotevilla, but later decided they wanted to return to Oraibi. The people of Oraibi would not let them return, however. Rather than go back to Hotevilla, they founded a new village.

MOENKOPI—Forty miles west of the Hopi mesas, this village was founded in 1870 by people from Oraibi. Moenkopi sits in the center of a wide green valley where plentiful water makes farming more reliable. Divided into the villages of Upper Moenkopi and Lower Moenkopi, Moenkopi is only a few miles from Tuba City off U.S. 160.

Visiting the Three Mesas

Start your visit to the Hopi pueblos at the Hopi Cultural Center, on Ariz. 264 in Second Mesa (tel. (928) 734-2401). This combination museum, motel, and restaurant is the tourism headquarters for the area. Check at the Center for hours, which can be irregular, and entrance fees to the museum.

The most rewarding Hopi village to visit 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). Your tour leaders will be local Hopis, who will share with you the history of the village and explain a bit about the local culture. Tours are arranged by the First Mesa Consolidated Villages’ Tourism Program and cost $20. To sign up for a tour, call in advance (tel. 928/737-2670).

Another interesting village to visit is the historic community of Keams Canyon, at the far eastern end of First Mesa on Highway 264. The village is named after a pretty little canyon about 1 1/2 miles to the north, where you’ll find, carved into the stone walls, an inscription left by Colonel Christopher “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, 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.

Please be aware that travel off 264 into any Hopi-owned areas other than the villages is allowed only in the company of a certified Hopi guide.

Hopi 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.

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 (traditional ceremonial rooms) 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 are often playfully targeted for attention by 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.

Check with the Hopi Office of Cultural Preservation to check which ceremonies and dances are open to non-Hopi visitors.

The Spirit of the Hopi Katsinas

Whether in the form of dolls or as masked dancers, kachinas—or, as artists more often refer to them, katsinas—represent 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.

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.