New York, Los Angeles, Florida, California, these are the places that usually come to mind when thinking of the USA. The country is so much bigger than that though, and has many different experiences that most people would never consider- even those who call the USA home!
This Native American experience road trip will take you through some of the most spectacular vistas in the country and open your eyes to a way of living that was old when the world was young. In ten days you will travel through four of the most beautiful states in the country, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico- a region known as the Four Corners.
You will start in Phoenix, Arizona, and end up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A car is a must, either your own or a rental. And a word about the weather- this trip is best enjoyed in Spring or Fall. Winter will be snowy and difficult to drive in some areas, and the Summer can get very hot!
Day 1: Phoenix
The first goal on this trip is to get an overall view of Native American culture so you will have a better reference point for what you will see on the way. So head over to the Heard Museum for an expansive collection of Native art, archaeological finds, and historical information. Don’t forget, each tribe was like its own country before the United States was formed, and the Heard Museum will help you begin to understand the differences between the different tribes so you have a better reference point for the many tribes you will be visiting for the next eight days.
Also, get your first taste of fry bread, a delicious and filling Native American delicacy!
Day 2: Grand Canyon, North Rim Skywalk
The Hutapai tribe believe that the first humans lived in the Grand Canyon. These were children of the gods, born in the canyon after a huge flood covered the earth and then cut the Canyon as we know it as the waters receded. It won’t be hard to believe that the Canyon is a mystical and holy place when you see the spectacular scenery on offer here in one of the most famous natural places on Earth!
The best place to experience the Grand Canyon is on the North Rim, where the Hualapai tribe has constructed a way to view the Canyon that is not for the faint of heart! It’s a seventy-foot long walkway, extended out into space and suspended 4,000 feet above the bottom of the canyon. Oh, and we forgot to mention- the floor of the walkway is made out of glass! But don’t worry, it’s four inches thick and perfectly safe. A really unique way to get up close and personal with this natural wonder!
A great place to stay while you are in this area is the Kaibab Lodge, a rustic lodge located near the Skywalk which has a “get away from it all” philosophy. No TVs, no cell phone reception, just a quiet lodge surrounded by nature. A real treat to try something different and get away from the modern world for at least one night!
Day 3: Lake Powell, Utah
After the majesty of the Grand Canyon, head over to Lake Powell and Wahweap Bay, a spectacular lake full of recreation that was created by the construction of Glen Canyon Dam. There are many accommodation options here, from camping to luxury hotels – and everything in between!
Take a boat tour across Lake Powell to visit several different natural rock formations and caves including Antelope Canyon and Rainbow Bridge, one of the world’s largest natural bridges and sacred to the tribes inhabiting the area.
Day 4: Monument Valley
Monument Valley has been the favorite location of cowboy-movie filmmakers since movies were created, and once you get here you will surely recognize some of the incredible rock formations. The valley is on the enormous Navajo reservation and the tribe has built a hotel and visitor center at the entrance. Take a tour around and through this amazing area on specially constructed vehicles, or, if you are feeling very brave and have a heavy duty, four wheel drive, high center vehicle, drive through it on your own!
At night, stay either at the hotel or the newly constructed premium cabins built near the entrance(my personal favorite). Staying in these cabins among this incredible natural and untouched landscape is a special experience you won’t soon forget!
Day 5: Shiprock
Traditional Navajo believe that a giant eagle carried the Navajo people from another land to where they live now, and that Shiprock is the remains of this enormous avian helper. It is a spectacular rock formation that rises suddenly and dramatically out of the surrounding flat area, and pictures do not do it justice.
Just make sure you suppress any inclination to start climbing it- it is said that there are spirits waiting on top for unwary travelers (not to mention it’s illegal!).
Day 6: Mesa Verde
Mesa Verde National Park preserves the homes of the Pueblo people who lived in the area from 600 AD to around 1300 AD. The interesting thing about this tribe is that they lived in cliff dwellings, homes built into cliffs for natural protection from the elements and enemies. These are spectacularly preserved homes that you can wander through and imagine what it was like to live and work in those long ago days.
It doesn’t hurt that this park is located amongst some of the most incredible mountain scenery that the United States has to offer.
Day 7: Taos
You’ve already seen the history and how Native Americans lived hundreds of years ago on this trip, now you will see how some of them still live today. Taos Pueblo is a UNESCO Heritage site and a working Native American community that has been continuously occupied since at least 1000 AD. Natives living here have committed themselves to living traditionally, for example there is no electricity or running water inside the Pueblo! This is a great way to really experience and understand the Native culture and style of living.
Day 8: Santa Fe
Shopping time! Santa Fe, the capital of the state of New Mexico, is a mecca for Native art, jewelry, handicrafts, and other types of Native products. Some of the most famous Native art galleries in the country are located in Santa Fe such as Shiprock Santa Fe. Whatever type of mementos you want to get to remember your trip, you will find it in one of the many shops here! This is also a great place to get Native jewelry(pictured below), such as pieces by the legendary Navajo artist and designer Calvin Begay.
Santa Fe is also your best chance to see a traditional dance, with events throughout the year, a great finale to your Native American adventure!