A visit to the Hopi Mesas, located in northern Arizona, is a trip back in time. The Hopi people came to the Mesas in ancient times. Hopi is the oldest continually practiced culture in the United States. According to Hopi guides, Hopi religion and culture have been practiced for over 3,000 years.
Because the Hopi have maintained their religion and culture over the years, they are naturally protective of their practices and their lifestyle. In order to see the most at the Hopi Mesas and to be respectful of the people's privacy, it is recommended that you visit with a guide.
Choosing a Guide
The Hopi have a unique religion and philosophy. To gain any understanding of the people, it is imperative that your guide be from one of the Hopi Mesas. In order to choose a guide, consider:
- Is the guide native Hopi?
- If the guide is driving you, does the guide have commercial insurance and licensure?
- Does the guide speak Hopi?
We worked with guide, Ray Coin, who has an office behind the Hopi Cultural Center, Sacred Travel & Images, LLC. Ray has a background which includes time at the Museum of Northern Arizona. He has lectured on the Hopi at Northern Arizona University and is an instructor with Exploritas. I enjoyed Ray's perspective as a person who has lived both at Hopi (he was born at Bacavi)and in the outside world. Ray was in the travel business for years and has the licensure to drive groups of visitors.
Other recognized guides can be found on the Experience Hopi website.
Before I toured with Ray, I didn't have a clear sense of where I could go in Hopi and where I could not. I knew that things were often closed due to the ceremonial calendar, but I, of course, was not privy to that information. Having a local guide will smooth the way for you just like it does when you visit a foreign country.
Touring the Hopi Mesas
We asked for a tour to the top Hopi destinations and found that it would take a minimum of a day. We had a leisurely breakfast at the restaurant at the Hopi Cultural Center and discussed our plans. The food there is excellent, by the way.
First Mesa and the Village of Walpi
Our first stop was First Mesa. First Mesa consolidates the towns of Walpi, Sichomovi and Tewa. Walpi, the oldest and most historic, stands above the valley at 300 feet. We drove up the winding road (ok for cars and vans) and enjoyed vistas of the valley dotted with homes and agricultural plots. It was a gorgeous sunny day with little wind.
We parked at the Ponsi Hall community center and went inside to use the restroom and await the tour. (our guide had already paid the fee and registered us). Eventually (there are no specific times) the tour began with a lecture by a patient Hopi woman.
We learned about life on First Mesa and were told how our walking tour would unfold. We were excited about walking the short distance to Walpi, high above the valley. We carefully read the rules posted inside the community center which reminded us not to pet the dogs and indicated the ceremonial dances on First Mesa would be closed to visitors.
As we walked, Kachina carvers and potters offered their wares to us. We were often invited in to homes to see the crafts. I highly recommend that you enter a home when invited. The insides are as fascinating as the outsides of these traditional buildings. In one home I had the pleasure of seeing a long row of kachina dolls hung on the upper wall. They were the dolls of the potter's grand-daughter.
All craft offerings were authentic and some were of the quality seen in galleries. Prices could be negotiated. When you tour in Hopi, bring plenty of cash!
Just before we entered Walpi, we noticed that the electric wires stopped. The few families that still live in Walpi live traditionally with no outside utilities. As we toured, our guide pointed out the Kivas, the plazas where ceremonial dances would take place and we peered over the edge of the cliff amazed that the early inhabitants climbed the cliff daily to transport water to their homes.
Everyone on the tour was awestruck by the history and beauty of Walpi. We visited with the carvers, admired their wares and vowed to return after saving up more cash to purchase a true Hopi treasure.
First Mesa and Walpi tours are open to the public. There is a $13 charge per person for the one-hour walking tour. More information.