Indian Country

Exploring Arizona's Native American heritage:

Today, Native American cultures are as essential to the character of Arizona as are the Grand Canyon and the golf courses of Phoenix and Tucson. The Navajo, the Hopi, the Apache, the Maricopa, the Tohono O'odham, the Hualapai, the Havasupai. These are just some of the Indian tribes that claim the deserts, mountains, and high plains of Arizona as their homelands. If you're interested in learning more about the state's original inhabitants, there are plenty of places where you can study tribal cultures and crafts. If it's ancient Indian ruins that most interest you, see the "How to Ruin a Good Vacation" itinerary.

The best place to begin an exploration of Arizona's native cultures is at Phoenix's Heard Museum. Within this nationally recognized museum, you'll find not only archaeological artifacts but also contemporary art. Together these collections chronicle the past and the present of the state's many tribes. Numerous festivals and demonstrations are also held here throughout the year.

Ancient petroglyph imagery has become ubiquitous in contemporary southwestern art and jewelry and on T-shirts and souvenirs. However, if you want to see the genuine artifact, visit the Deer Valley Rock Art Center, where you can see hundreds of petroglyphs, some of which date back 5,000 years. This center is located in the northwest corner of the Phoenix metro area.

Indian ruins abound throughout the state, and, in the middle of Phoenix, you can visit the ancient Pueblo Grande Museum & Cultural Park. Not far away, at the Desert Botanical Garden, you can also learn about the many plants traditionally utilized by Arizona tribes. You might even be able to try your hand at grinding some mesquite beans with a stone mortar and pestle.

From Phoenix, head east and follow the Apache Trail (which is a gravel road for part of its length) to Tonto National Monument, where you can visit the southernmost cliff dwellings in the state. It's a steep hike up to the ruins, but well worth the effort. From here, continue to Globe, a copper-mining town, where the 700-year-old Besh-Ba-Gowah ruins have been partially restored. Some of the rooms here have even been furnished the way they might have looked when they were inhabited by the Salado Indians.

Heading northwest from Globe will take you onto the Apache reservation, which is the site of the famous Fort Apache. The old military fort is now a historic park that includes a museum and cultural center.

Heading north from Fort Apache will eventually bring you to the Four Corners region of the state, which is the homeland of the Navajos and Hopis. For information on touring this area, see the "Navajo-land and the Hopi Mesas" itinerary.

After touring the Navajo and Hopi reservations (or preferably before doing so), be sure to visit the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. This museum rivals the Heard Museum for the thoroughness of its displays. The focus here is on the traditional Native American cultures of the Colorado Plateau. Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni crafts fairs are held throughout the summer.

There are also some interesting places to visit in southern Arizona. For information on that region's Native American museums and historical sites, see the "Of Cowboys and Indians in Southern Arizona" itinerary.

The Route:
Spend one or two nights in Phoenix. From Phoenix, head east on the Superstition Freeway (Hwy. 60) and follow signs for Apache Junction and the Apache Trail (Hwy. 88). From Tonto National Monument, take Hwy. 88 southeast to Globe and then Hwy. 60 north to Hwy. 73, which loops through Fort Apache before joining Hwy. 260 just east of Pinetop (spend the night in Pinetop). If you got a late start, you'll probably have to skip Fort Apache today and backtrack from Pinetop the next morning. To continue north and explore the Four Corners region, take Hwy. 260 to Showlow and then go north on Hwy. 77 to Holbrook and I-40, which will take you west to Flagstaff.