Discover & Explore Northern Arizona

There’s much to see and do in Northern Arizona in addition to the Grand Canyon, particularly if you have an interest in Native American history and culture.

Meteor Crater from the sky (Credit: meteorcrater.com)
Meteor Crater from the sky (Credit: meteorcrater.com)

Flagstaff is also a jumping off point for day trips to see ancient petroglyphs, the ancient rock art of the Native Americans, as well as several unique attractions ranging from the Petrified Forest National Park and Monument Valley, one of the most scenic locations in the American Southwest, to the Meteor Crater, the best preserved crater created by a meteorite in the world where NASA Astronauts have trained.

While many travelers zoom through Flagstaff on their way to the Grand Canyon, the city is home to one of the country’s oldest astronomical observatories, Lowell Observatory, as well as one of the nation’s best museums of Native American art and culture, Museum of Northern Arizona.

Following is a sampling of some of the more interesting attractions in Northern Arizona.

Meteor Crater

Meteor Crater is the breath-taking result of a collision between a piece of an asteroid traveling at 26,000 miles per hour and planet Earth approximately 50,000 years ago. Today, Meteor Crater is nearly one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference, and more than 550 feet deep.

It is an international tourist venue with outdoor observation trails, air conditioned indoor viewing, wide screen movie theater, interactive discovery center, unique gift and rock shop, and Astronaut Memorial Park at the modern Visitor Center located on the crater rim.

The visitor center is located off I-40 at exit 233 (35 miles east of Flagstaff, 20 miles west of Winslow), Meteor Crater Road, then 6 miles south on the paved road.

The full-service RV park is located at the Interstate exit.

Museum of Northern Arizona

The Kiva Gallery at the Museum of Northern Arizona. (Credit: musnaz.org)
The Kiva Gallery at the Museum of Northern Arizona. (Credit: musnaz.org)

The Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff provides an excellent introduction to the Native people who live in Northern Arizona, especially the Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni. The museum’s permanent anthropology exhibit documents 12,000 years of Native American tribal life on the Colorado Plateau.

The museum also offers two-day festivals that feature the music, dance and artwork of Native American tribes. These include the 81st Annual Hopi Festival of Arts and Culture, July 5–6; and the 65th Annual Navajo Festival of Arts and Culture, August 2–3.

Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory is a private, nonprofit, research institution founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell. A national historic landmark, Lowell is one of the oldest observatories in the United States.

Research conducted at this observatory had led to several important discoveries, including the realization that the universe is expanding; the discovery by Lowell of the planet Pluto in 1930; the co-discovery of the rings of Uranus in 1977; the discovery of periodic variations in the brightness of Halley’s Comet; and the first detection of water in the atmosphere of an extra-solar planet.

Lowell Observatory is located in Flagstaff at a 7,200-foot elevation.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Sunset Crater Volcano was born in a series of eruptions sometime between 1040 and 1100. Powerful explosions profoundly affected the lives of local people and forever changed the landscape and ecology of the area.

Lava flows and cinders still look as fresh and rugged as the day they formed. But among dramatic geologic features, you’ll find trees, wildflowers, and signs of wildlife—life has returned.

Self-guided Lava Flow Trail is a one-mile loop through the Bonito Lava Flow at the base of Sunset Crater.

Wupatki National Monument

Wupatki National Monument preserves more than 800 identified ruins. (Credit: nationalparks.org)
Wupatki National Monument preserves more than 800 identified ruins. (Credit: nationalparks.org)

Wupatki National Monument preserves many free-standing masonry pueblos, field houses, rock art, pottery, baskets, and tools. In total there are more than 800 identified ruins spread around many miles of desert within the monument, but five of the largest—Wupatki, Wukoki. Citadel, and Nalakihu—are close to the main road and these are the only sites open to visitors.

All the dwellings were built by the Anasazi and Sinagua Indians during the 12th and 13th centuries

Wupatki is reached by the same loop road that passes Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, adjoining the main north-south route US 89.

Worth Pondering…

Beauty before me I walk,

Beauty behind me I walk,

Beauty above me I walk,

Beauty below me I walk,

Beauty all about me I walk.

In beauty all is restored,

In beauty all is made whole.

—Navajo Blessing Way

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Arizona State Park Saved: Homolovi Reopens

In an earlier post (Homolovi, AZ: What’s in a Name?), I reported that cooperation between the Hopi Tribe and Arizona State Parks would soon result in the reopening of Homolovi Ruins State Park. The Hopi entered into a one-year agreement with Arizona State Parks, contributing $175,000 for the operation of Homolovi Ruins State Park near Winslow. The state will pay the remaining $48,000 to operate the park for a year. The park will retain fees collected from visitors.

Hopi female dancer. Photo courtesy Todd Roth/Navajo Hopi Observer

The city of Winslow and Navajo County were also involved in efforts to reopen the park.
The agreement with the Hopi Tribe allows for two one-year extensions.
If the park isn’t profitable, it could close again.

The park, originally home to the Hisat’sinom (the “long-ago people,” better known as the Anasazi), which encompasses seven ancestral Hopi pueblos that were occupied from about 1260 to 1400, officially reopened yesterday (March 18).

State Park System

Homolovi was one of 13 state parks forced to padlock its gates as a result of statewide fiscal problems.

By February 2010, a phased series of park closures was started with Homolovi Ruins one of the first to close to the public.

But state officials worked to get financial commitments from counties and community groups to temporarily keep several parks open. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park is being operated in conjunction with Santa Cruz County and the Tubac Historical Society. McFarland State Historic Park is being operated by the town of Florence and the Florence Main Street project, a non-profit tasked with improving the local economy.

Yes, Homolovi has reopened!

With Homolovi reopened, only three state parks remain closed—Oracle State Park in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains, Lyman Lake State Park in northeastern Arizona, and San Rafael State Natural Area near the Arizona-Mexico border. State park officials have indicated they are hopeful that an agreement will be in place to reopen Lyman during the summer.

Name Change

The Arizona Parks Board reported that during initial negotiations this past November, the Hopi Tribe requested the word “Ruins” be replaced with another word or removed from the park’s name.

To the Hopi, the word “Ruin” in the park name refers to ‘something dead.’

The state park is the ancestral homeland for the tribe. Tribal members still use the site and consider it to be spiritually alive.

The parks board voted unanimously Thursday (March 17), during its meeting in Winslow to drop the word “Ruins” from Homolovi Ruins State Park. The park will also have a new tagline that reads, “ancestral Hopi villages.”

Place of the Little Hills

Large Kiva at Homolovi II. Photo courtesy freeopinions, Flickr

Homolovi State Park, located on State Route 87 just north of Interstate 40, is 4,000 acres in size and has a visitor center, pull-outs for observing wildlife, picnic tables, and camping facilities.

Homolovi, a Hopi word meaning “place of the little hills,” features a cluster of some 300 archaeological sites including several separate pueblo ruins built by various prehistoric peoples from 1250–1400. The park serves as a center of research for tribal migration of that time period and while archaeologists study the area and confer with the Hopi to unravel area history, Arizona State Parks provided an opportunity for visitors to personally experience two of the seven ruins.

Most visited, Homolovi II, the largest excavated site with about 1,200 rooms, 40 kivas or underground ceremonial chambers, clusters of pit houses, and three large plazas. Petroglyphs can be found along certain sections of the nearby Tsu’vo Trail.

Many of the early peoples paused their migrations to stay awhile in these high grasslands and find a home along the Little Colorado River, tilling the rich flood plain and sandy slopes before continuing north to join peoples already living on the mesas, peoples known today as the Hopi.

The migrations ended when the people settled at the center-of-the-world, the Hopi Mesas north of the park. Today’s Hopi tribal members, referred to as the world’s greatest dry farmers, still consider Homolovi and other Southwestern pre-Columbian sites to be part of their homeland and make pilgrimages to the locations to renew ties with the people of the land.

Location and directions
Homolovi State Park is located 3 miles northeast of Winslow

Take I-40 to Exit 257, then travel 1.3 miles north on Highway 87

Worth Pondering…

Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent.

—Jalal Ad-Din Rumi

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Homolovi, AZ: What’s in a Name?

Arizona could soon rename and reopen an existing state park.  It’s a protected area that already has a state park designation but operating under a different name.

Homolovi II is the largest of the sites at the park. It appears that each family unit occupied four to five rooms. Each room is relatively small, probably due to the scarcity of large logs. Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks

The Hopi Tribe recently entered into a one-year agreement with Arizona State Parks, contributing $175,000 for the operation of Homolovi Ruins State Park. The Arizona Parks Board reported that during initial negotiations in November, the Hopi Tribe requested the word “Ruins” be taken out of the park’s name.

To the Hopi, the word “Ruin” in the park name refers to ‘something dead.’ They would prefer “Ruin” be replaced with another word or removed.

The State Parks Board is open to any suggestions the public may have to offer about this name change and will discuss the matter at the March 17, 2011 public Board meeting in Winslow City Council Chambers.

Those with suggestions and comments on the name change may also send a message to the “Contact Us” tab at azstateparks.gov or write a letter to Arizona State Parks Public Information Office, 1300 West Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ 85007. All comments must be received by March 1, 2011.

Ancestral Hopi Villages

In the high grassland of 14th century northern Arizona, an ancient people found a home along the Little Colorado River. These people, the Hisat’sinom (known to archaeologists as the Anasazi), paused in their migrations to till the rich flood plain and sandy slopes before continuing north to join people already living on the mesas, people who are today known as the Hopi.

Hopi dancers perform for the public during Suvoyuki Days. Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks

The Hopi people of today still consider Homolovi, as well as other precolumbian sites in the southwest, to be part of their homeland. They continue to make pilgrimages to these sites, renewing the ties of the people with the land. The Hopi tell us that the broken pottery and stones are now part of the land and are the trail the Bahana will follow when he returns. Therefore, these are mute reminders that the Hopi continue to follow the true Hopi way and the instructions of Masau’u.

The years have brought many changes to Homolovi. The migrations ended when the people settled at the center of the world, the Hopi Mesas north of Homolovi. However, as new people appeared, such as the Diné (Navajo) and later the Europeans, the Hopi watched as their homeland was occupied by the new people.

In an effort to protect some of these sites, the Hopi people supported the idea of Homolovi Ruins State Park. This idea resulted in the establishment of the park in 1986 and the opening of the park in 1993.

Homolovi Ruins State Park now serves as a center of research for the late migration period of the Hopi from the 1200s to the late 1300s. While archaeologists study the sites and confer with the Hopi to unravel the history of Homolovi, Arizona State Parks provides the opportunity for visitors to visit the sites and use park facilities including a visitor center and museum, various trails, and a campground. Several covered picnic tables are located throughout the park. Pullouts provide the opportunity to observe wildlife in this park of over 4,000 acres at an elevation of 4,900 feet.

The Visitors Center also houses a gift shop that sells Hopi pottery and other handcrafted goods. Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks.

“Homolovi” is Hopi for “Place of the Little Hills”—the traditional name for Winslow, Arizona.

Park Re-Opening Celebration

The Hopi Tribe and Arizona State Parks invite the public to attend the Park Re-Opening Celebration on March 18, 2011. Gain insight into the cultural perspectives, lifestyle, language, celebrations, and history of the Hopi Tribe and learn about visitor etiquette on Hopi lands. Planned activities include lectures, pottery firing demonstrations, and traditional Hopi social dances. Take an archeological tour of pueblo ruins built by various prehistoric people, including ancestors of the Hopi people.

Enjoy learning from carvers, painters, jewelers, potters, and basket and textile weavers while hearing Hopi history through storytelling, music, and dancing, and enjoy interpretive exhibits.

This re-opening celebration is a co-operative effort of many organizations — Sumi’nangwa or “All together”.

On March 19, walking tours will be under the direction of and guided by Dr. Chuck Adams and Richard Lange, from the Arizona State Museum.

This event is part of Arizona Archaeology & Heritage Awareness Month.

Location and directions
Homolovi Ruins State Park is located 3 miles northeast of Winslow

Take I-40 to Exit 257, then travel 1.3 miles north on Highway 87

Worth Pondering…
For all of us have our loved places; all of us have laid claim to parts of the earth; and all of us, whether we know it or not, are in some measure the products of our sense of place.

—Alan Gussow

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