Tourist Season on the Colorado Plateau
The high season for tourists on the Colorado Plateau is April 1 through November 1. This includes the Hopi and Navajo Nations, north and south rims of the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, and the Lake Powell/Page area.
The Navajo Nation joins the rest of the U.S. in changing to daylight saving time (MDT) beginning the first week of April and ending the last week in October. The rest of Arizona and the Hopi Nation stay on mountain standard time (MST) year-round. The Navajo Nation switches because the reservation extends into New Mexico and Utah, states which also move to DST.
Obviously, this causes a good deal of confusion in towns that honor both time zones. In Tuba City, for example, the Tuba Trading Post and the Hopi village of Moenkopi stay on MST, while Bashas’ Market and the Tuba City Hospital switch to DST. In some homes, husbands and wives go to work in different time zones.
The Colorado Plateau is classified as arid. It receives less than ten inches (25.4 cm) of rain per year. Most precipitation comes in two seasons: winter, from December to March, and summer, from July through August. Summer thunderstorms, known locally as monsoons, dump about 65 percent of the entire year’s moisture. Amazingly, most of these summer storms have a diameter of only three miles.
The average summer temperature depends entirely on your elevation. A good rule of thumb is for every 1,000-foot (305 m) increase in elevation, the temperature will drop about three degrees Fahrenheit (1.7ºC). On average, summer temperatures at 5,000 feet (1,524 m) are in the 90s to 100s (32ºC–38ºC). At 7,000 feet (2,133 m), the daytime temperatures are usually in the 80s (27º–32ºC). Nighttime temperatures can drop considerably, especially in the mountains, so carry something warm to wear.
As you motor through the Navajo, Hopi, and San Juan Southern Paiute homelands, you will have the chance to see many of the mountains, rocks, birds and other animals, and plants that make up the core of the traditional belief system. Consider this: only medicine people may climb a mountain. Mountains are revered as sacred places. Traditional medicine people have been schooled in the appropriate behaviors and rituals that protect them as they travel among the Holy People to collect specific herbs, earth, or rocks needed for ceremonial healing. Failure to maintain harmony through inattention to the laws of nature, they say, will result in illness.
Through one of more than fifty ceremonies, such wrong action and illness can be corrected and harmony restored. Your respect for this belief and your gentleness with all things you touch, walk on, or look at is appreciated. Please do not take anything. Under the Preservation of American Antiquities Act, it is a crime to remove artifacts from federal property. To include natives in your pictures, please ask their permission first. Many will definitely not want their pictures taken. Others, such as models working at Monument Valley or Canyon de Chelly, expect a gratuity. Hopis do not allow any photography at all, so don’t even take a camera to a Hopi village.
If you are lucky enough to see a Hopi dance, the appropriate etiquette is to stand toward the back of the crowd, leaving the front for villagers. During the dance, maintain silence and do not ask questions about the names or identities of the masked dancers, especially in front of children. Photography and sketching are prohibited in the villages and at dances. Tape recording and taking notes are also not allowed. If there is a “closed” sign at the entrance to a village, this means the ceremony is closed to outsiders and you may not enter.
The Navajo Nation
Ask a Navajo elder to tell you a story, and you may be occupied for a while. Often an explanation of a current event must be put into perspective by beginning with the creation. The Navajo creation story involves three underworlds where important events happened to shape the Fourth World, where we all now live.
It takes years to develop a true understanding of Navajo oral history. Diné College offers an excellent cultural orientation program for newcomers to the area. A two-day workshop called “The Winter Stories” features the legends that can only be told “after the thunder sleeps.” Summer cultural orientations for health workers and educators offer an overview of the important cultural points needed to work successfully in this society. For more information about these programs, contact: Diné College, Continuing Education, (928) 283-6321.
Navajo Homes Most of the newer houses and small subdivisions you will pass on the highway are there to make it easier for Navajo children to catch the school bus. These families probably have a camp in a more remote location where they graze their sheep and cattle. Today, just about every camp has a hogan with a frame or cinder-block house or a trailer close by. The modern homes are for the extended family to live in, with the hogan used by the grandma or reserved for ceremonies. Hogan construction follows a very specific blueprint handed down by the Holy People to maintain the spiritual meaning of the dwelling and its use for curing ceremonies. The male hogan, rarely seen today, has three logs placed in the ground at the northern, southern, and western cardinal positions. Two poles form the entry, and the entire hogan is covered with dirt.
The more common dwelling is the female hogan, built in a round shape with six or eight sides of logs laid one on top of the other to form a wall. The entire hogan is covered with earth except for the smoke hole in the top. All hogans must have their entrance facing the rising sun, to greet the Holy People in the morning. Traditional hogans have dirt floors to maintain a connection to the earth (Mother Earth) and an opening to the sky (Father Sky).
If you find that you must stop at a Navajo camp, drive up slowly to the front of the hogan and stop. Do not get out of the car. Sit and wait a few minutes. If someone is home, they will come out to greet you and invite you in.
Navajo Rug Weaving
Spider Woman, one of the Holy People, taught Navajo women how to weave. Spider Man taught her how to build the loom in a very specific way. The loom that was created is much like the Pueblos’ vertical loom. Pueblo refugees came to live with the Navajos after the Pueblo Rebellion of 1680 and were known to weave cotton long before the Spanish arrived in 1540 with three thousand sheep from Spain. The Navajos started to build their sheep herds around 1640 in raids against the Spanish.
What to look for if you want to buy a Navajo rug The best place to buy a rug is from the weaver. This often takes time, so the next best place is from a roadside vendor or a trading post. Examine the rug closely and use all of your senses to determine if you have an authentic Navajo handmade rug.
Look at the rug
Lay it flat and look at both sides to see if the weaving is straight and the sides are even. Then fold the rug in half to see if the edges match up. Do this both for the length and width of the rug. Next, fold the rug in half and peel it back to see if the two halves mirror each other. Look at the colors. They should be the same throughout the rug. Many weavers leave a “spirit line,” or a single line exiting the rug across one of the borders, to prevent their spirit from being trapped in this living entity they have just created. Today, some weavers do not put in the line. It’s left to the weaver’s discretion and may mean that this particular weaver did not feel a need for a spirit line.
Smell the rug
If it smells like goat or sheep, this is a good indication the rug is Navajo. However, many exceptional Navajo rugs are made from commercial yarn and won’t have this smell.
Touch the rug
Feel how tight the weave is. Imitation Navajo rugs made in Mexico will have a loose weave and feel soft to the touch. A good Navajo rug will have a consistent weave throughout. Two characteristics of almost all Navajo rugs are: (1) there are no exposed warp threads (the strong thread running the length of the rug), as found in Mexican or East Indian rugs, and (2) a Navajo rug will have double cotton warp threads on the selvage edges (top and bottom edges of the rug). Mexican rugs will have only one, but you will have to gently separate the colored threads on the edge to see the selvage warp.
Talk to the weaver
If at all possible, meet the weaver and ask her what type of wool she used and whether the colors are natural or commercial dyes. If this is not possible, most reputable trading posts will know quite a bit about each weaver and her rug. Her name and what part of the reservation she’s from should be on the rug. If you know what you are doing, one of the best places to get a good price on a rug is the Navajo Rug Auction at the Crownpoint Elementary School in Crownpoint, New Mexico. Throughout the year on the third Friday of the month, the auction offers more than two hundred rugs from all regions of the Navajo Nation. Viewing is from 3 to 6 p.m., with the auction starting at 7 p.m. For more information, call (505) 786-5302.
- This information is condensed with permission from Native Roads: The Complete Motoring Guide to the Navajo and Hopi Nations, by Fran Kosik, Rio Nuevo Publishers, Tucson, Arizona, 2005. Fran's full book contains much more wonderful information on traveling our Native roads. For more detailed information, the book can be purchased from:
Northern Arizona Museum bookstore, 3101 N. Ft. Valley Rd., Flagstaff, AZ 86001; phone #: 928-774-5213 or direct 928-774-5211 + Ext 261. Or, contact the publisher, Rio Nuevo Publishers, PO Box 5250, Tucson, Arizona 85703; phone #: 520-623-9558 or 800-969-9558. Trip numbers generally correspond to chapter numbers.