Canyon de Chelly by Julian Smith

Touring Tribal Lands

By: Teresa Bitler

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June 25, 2017

Get firsthand knowledge of the many tribal lands in Arizona with an American Indian guide.

About the author

Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Sunset and Valley Guide magazines. She is the author of Great Escapes Arizona as well as four Arizona-related iPhone travel apps and is currently working on her second guidebook, Backroads & Byways of Indian Country. She can be reached at www.teresabitler.com.

You can visit many tribal lands in Arizona on your own, but with an American Indian tour guide, you can access areas usually off limits and gain cultural and historical insights you’d otherwise miss. Below is just a sample of the American Indian tour companies offering one-of-a-kind Arizona experiences.

Note: Many of the more limited locations and popular tours fill up fast, so consider booking as soon as possible.

Canyon de Chelly

For more than 90 years, the Staley family, owners of Canyon de Chelly Beauty Way Tours, has escorted visitors—originally by foot or wagon, today by Jeep—into Canyon de Chelly, located in northeastern Arizona. Their popular three-hour tour stops at highlights such as Kokopelli Cave, Petroglyph Rock, and White House Ruin.

Other tours allow you to customize your experience with a visit to a Navajo weaver and excursions to Spider Rock or Mummy Cave. Hikes and overnight camping trips are also available.

Monument Valley

You’ll see more of Monument Valley’s iconic landscape in northern Arizona—and experience fewer crowds—on a Navajo-led tour. Book with an established company, like Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours, whose guides were all born and raised in the valley. The company offers several Jeep tours, including a 2½-hour tour to 11 of the most photographed stops, as well as customized photography tours and an overnight stay in a traditional hogan.

Antelope Canyon

Inside the Antelope CanyonAntelope Canyon / Credit: Todd Brenneman

You can’t enter Antelope Canyon, east of Page, without a Navajo guide, so if seeing the curvy walls of this spectacular slot canyon are a priority, reserve a spot on a guided tour before you go. Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours offers two options: a guided sightseer’s tour and a photography tour. The first one lasts one hour and includes information on the history and geology of the canyon, while the photography tour, offered daily at 11 a.m. when the light is best, doubles your tour time so you can set up the perfect shot.

Grand Canyon and the Colorado River

Get a new perspective of the Grand Canyon—from below on the Colorado River that winds through it. Tour company, the Hualapai River Runners, operates one- and two-day river rafting excursions that include hiking at Travertine Cavern Falls, local wildlife viewing, and end with a helicopter ride to Grand Canyon West, the park operated by the Hualapai Tribe. For an additional fee, visitors can opt to experience the Skywalk over the Grand Canyon after you've helicoptered to the rim.

KBegay Tours is a Navajo-owned tour provider in Flagstaff that builds custom itineraries for clients. Tours include trips to Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley, as well as activities like Colorado River rafting and Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hikes.

 

Explore on your own

Hopi Arts Trail

A collage of images representing what can be seen on the Hopi Arts TrailMeet Hopi artists and purchase authentic American Indian art on the Hopi Arts Trail

You can pick up a Hopi Arts Trail Passport and map at the Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites in Tuba City—in northern Arizona—and take a self-guided tour. For a better understanding of Hopi arts and crafts and an opportunity to interact with the artists themselves, go with a guide instead. You’ll be able to connect with local guides listed on the Hopi Arts Trail website, and tours can be customized to incorporate stops at Old Oraibi, Taawaki Petroglyph, and other ancient sites.

San Xavier Co-Op on the Tohono O’odham Nation

A 1,500-acre farm near Mission San Xavier del Bac on the Tohono O’odham Nation near Tucson, San Xavier Co-Op holds regular workshops on harvesting and preparing American Indian foods like cholla buds, mesquite, and prickly pear. There has even been a class on raising bees for honey. Most of the attendees are tribal members, but anyone is welcome.

If you’re not confident in your green thumb skills, you can shop for native beans, spices, canned vegetables, and other goods at the co-op store.

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