Hopi Villages (Arizona)

One of my biggest apprehensions as a tourist is—being viewed as a tourist. Not that there is anything I can do about it. You kind of stick out, so to speak, whether it’s the backpack, camera, REI clothes, synthetic zippered-khaki pants, even shorts in certain parts of the world, anything that pegs you as being different from the locals. Economically speaking, many people rely on tourism for their livelihood. It’s the classic dichotomy: you are the income and the intruder, a necessary evil.

And so it was that my wife and I went to visit a Hopi village, one of the oldest pueblos in the Southwest, a community of people living high atop a mesa in a remote part of northern Arizona. Many families still live there in modest homes. The drive to the top was over a dirt road. Rather than just roaming around unescorted, guided tours are provided that can be arranged at the community center.

Hopi pueblo, probably Walpi - NARA - 523645

Hopi pueblo, probably Walpi – NARA – 523645 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We went on a guided tour of Sichomovi and Walpi, the latter one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the United States and where there is no electricity or water. Besides a rehearsed explanation of Hopi culture and life, one that sounded like it had been given many times before, there were stops at tables where artists were selling kachina dolls and pottery, most of them exquisite—and beyond our means. So here we were, tourists, upon whom the artists’ livelihood depended. We felt guilty each time we were invited to look at an artist’s wares, only to decline a purchase after each was gracious enough to talk about the symbolism of his/her artwork.

After the tour, we were free to walk around. On our way to the car, a grandmotherly woman was standing outside her home and invited us in. I knew we were in trouble. She showed us her crafts for sale. It took all our will power to thank her and not buy anything.

The sun was intense at this high altitude, even though the temperature was only about 80 degrees. I’m not sure how I felt about the visit. This was our first visit to a pueblo, and it was informative. The guilt-trip that was gnawing at me was self-imposed, of course. Was it better not to have come at all? No, of course not.

No photography is allowed in this (and many other) Indian pueblos, so there are no pictures I can share.

Down below the mesa, we had a Hopi lunch at the Hopi Cultural Center, a lamb stew and a pinto bean stew, each with hominy, served with blue corn frybread.

Blake’s Lotaburger (Gallup, NM)

Gallup is a city that is over 7,000 ft above sea level (like Flagstaff) and is therefore noticeably cooler than the surrounding valleys. At this elevation, there are Ponderosa pines everywhere. We stopped here for the night before moving on.

For dinner, a restaurant recommended by Yelpers was closed, as were almost all restaurants in the center of town. Apparently, business is not brisk enough on Sundays. So, we settled for Blake’s Lotaburger, which many New Mexico foodies consider to serve one of the best green chile cheeseburgers in the state. It’s a chain, found only in NM. I would compare it to Inn-N-Out for quality, which means it’s a cut above Mickey D’s but not quite the product you’d expect from a good burger joint. The patty is 100% Angus beef, on the thinner side. The chopped green chiles were spicy and delicious. The great thing is that all the food is made-to-order.

Blake’s Lotaburger
2618 E Highway 66
Gallup, NM 87301
(also multiple locations throughout the state)

Little Painted Desert County Park (Winslow, AZ)

Like its sibling to the south (the Painted Desert in Petrified Forest National Park), the Little Painted Desert showcases the same pastel-striped, eroded hillsides that characterize the eerie badlands topography, as if great, colored layers of powdered chalk had been laid on top of each other. The attraction is part of a county park in Navajo County, 15 miles north of Winslow (AZ) on Hwy 87. There are hiking trails and picnic tables, but no camping facilities.

On our way to the Hopi Pueblo, we made a brief stop to gaze at these colorful hills, the likes of which we’ve seen in other parts of the Southwest, as well as in South Dakota. They are very distinctive owing not only to their colors but to petrified wood which is typically found in these layers of the geologic Chinle Formation, dating to Triassic times.

This area is a free alternative to the national park for seeing badlands scenery. If you can time it, take photographs of these hills at sunset when the colors take on deeper tones and contrast increases.