Discovering Navajo land

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INDIAN COUNTRY, Ariz. - Where the ancient meets the modern joined by a panorama of color, rock, water, sun and culture, the Navajo and Hopi Nations can be found.

Within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation curious travelers, historians, photographers and those people prone to explore the culture will find an entire world where no starting point is evident.

The White Mountain Apache have turned from logging to a ski resort and casino. With help from private groups, restoration of Fort Apache is underway. The tribe will display its culture and art from a location used to fight American Indians.

The Apache chose to take steps to preserve the culture before opening the doors to the renovated fort, always an attractive tourist stop for those interested in history.

The Navajo Nation depends on tourism as economic development. The Navajo, unlike other Arizona tribes, do not rely on gaming to provide jobs. The Nation reports the unemployment rate on the Navajo Reservation is at 45 percent.

To help the job market and draw more tourists, the Nation is developing a marina and resort on Lake Powell. The tourism guide for 2000 shows why the area is so popular. Partnered with the Arizona Department of Tourism, sponsor of Native American Spiritual Journey, the region should afford the traveler with every taste a plate full of entertainment.

The Hopi long ago closed the Oraibi, the oldest continuously inhabited village in North America. But now the Oraibi, and other villages are open. But, without a formal tourism program, visitors are most often confused, Hopi officials say. A program in the planning stages will assist people who want to buy crafts and art and those who want to visit. Some 140,000 people visit the Hopi reservation each year.

The Hopi plan to add 60 rooms to a 33-room motel at the Hopi Cultural Center. In contrast, the Navajo plan to build a $60 million project that includes a 200 room resort, cultural center, gift shops and campsites. The marina will have docking space for 500 boats, Navajo information states.

But while the resort concepts are under construction, visitors have to make decisions on where to start on a tour of the Navajo Reservation. The Navajo Reservation covers more land than 10 of the 50 states. In some locations it was home to tribes referred to by historians as the earliest occupants of North America.

Nestled in the rich canyon near to Canyon de Chelly National Monument, modern Navajo ranches exist in the backdrop of cliff dwellings of the Anasazi. Just to the east lies Chaco Culture National Historical Park, where more than a dozen Anasazi ruins at one time were home to more than 7,000 people. Anasazi is the Navajo word for ancient enemies.

The Navajo, however, maintain a spiritual connection to Canyon de Chelly. The valley in the canyon is near tropical with its abundance of trees and flowers. This canyon is one of the most popular stopping spots for tourists on the reservation.

From ancient people to dinosaurs, the Navajo Reservation is awash in sites to ponder and from which to learn. And, if you plan a trip to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, you must take a camera. It is labeled as the most photographed place in North America. The red sandstone formations reach upward from a desert floor to showcase what people have come to visualize as the great American Southwest.

Yet for some, a trip to the Four Corners would not be complete unless they took home a substantial amount of authentic art. Many Navajo and Hopi artists sell their work directly to the public. The Hopi katsina dolls are known worldwide. But, the Hopi also are masters at creating silver overlay jewelry, pottery, baskets and rugs.

While in search for the perfect Hopi artwork, a visit to First Mesa for a guided tour of the village of Walpi is required. Walpi has been continually inhabited for more than 1,100 years.

Visitors are prohibited at times from taking photographs of Hopi artisans at work and from participating in or observing some ceremonial events, so ask first.

Navajo weavers are considered among the best in the world. Tribal lore holds that this art was taught to the women by the Spider Woman who constructed a loom from directions by the holy people.

The styles of rugs are distinctly different in the various regions of the reservation. But, if Navajo rug weaving is not to a person's liking, silver work with turquoise is always pleasing.

To receive more information about the Navajo Nation Spiritual Journey tours, call (800) 331-4968 or (480) 985-4200. For more information about visiting the Navajo Nation call (520) 871-6436 or visit their web site at www.navajoland.com, link on tourism.