Just about any road in northeast Arizona can be considered to be a scenic drive. The unspoiled beauty of the landscape in this region does have a way of mesmerizing all that pass through. The route that runs from Winslow to the Hopi Nation near Tuba City certainly is a scenic drive that is well worth taking the time to do. This scenic drive is also an alternative route for those who are heading towards Glen Canyon from Route 66. Navajo Tourism destinations like the Tuba City Dinosaur Tracks and Navajo National Monument await at the end of the line on Highway 160. The Hopi Villages are also located along this travel route, which are artisan cultural destinations that many tourists from around the globe wish to experience.
The start of this scenic drive begins on Interstate Highway 40 (Route 66) near Winslow. From Winslow, it is easy to catch Arizona State Road 87 heading north. SR 87 goes many miles through some wide open Navajo Nation country to where this road intersects with SR 264 in the Hopi Nation. At the 264 Intersection, visitors can travel east to the Hopi Village artisan trading posts in Keams Canyon or they can follow this route north to the Hopi artisan villages near Coalmine Canyon and Tuba City. The photographs for this article were taken along the Tuba City travel route.
Because most of the roads in this region are in the Navajo Nation and Hopi Nation, there are many points of interest that are overlooked by mapping software services and mainstream travel brochures, because of politically generated bias. The best way to find the lesser known native destinations and heritage sites in the west is to browse the tribal nation websites! The Navajo Nation Tourism Website is one of the best resources that one could possibly ask for when planning a visit to the northeast region of Arizona.
When visitors travel through the tribal nations, it is important to remember that these are sacred ancient ancestral lands that the modern native people have always called home. For this reason, a visitor must respect the customs that are in place when touring the sovereign nations. Visitors should realize that there are sacred places in this region where outsiders are frowned upon and there are other areas where visitors are a welcome sight. More importantly, photographing the native people and their villages is prohibited by law in some of the tribal nations. The Hopi Nation only allows the use of camera with the expressed consent of tribal leaders. Casual picture taking is not allowed in the Hopi villages, but taking pictures of the majestic landscape is okay.
From near Winslow, State Road 87 runs through the Painted Desert and this colorful landscape certainly is a photographer’s paradise! There is very little traffic on this road, so it is easy to pull off on the apron to take in the pleasant views of the wide open spaces. Travelers will see colorful layered sedimentary rock outcrops and eroded mesas along the way. The tall eroded volcano plugs and cinder cones create interesting dark silhouettes against the cobalt blue skies. When driving on this scenic road, the passengers do become all eyes and dreams fill the silence, because an unspoiled natural landscape that stretches out as far as the eyes can see in any direction truly is a rarity in this modern age.
As one enters the Hopi Nation near State Road 264, the landscape dramatically changes. The flat landscape of the Painted Desert changes from eroded mesas to rugged deep canyons. The town of Keams Canyon is close by on SR 264. The Hopi Indian Agency, dining options, historic sites and world famous trading posts can be found in this village. Keams Canyon is definitely worth checking out, especially if one is hungry for some traditional Mutton Stew & Fry Bread!
Taking the time to visit the trading posts and meet the local artisans is a means for learning a little something from cultural exchange. Some of the most famous native artists in the west reside in the Hopi villages along SR 264, so there are opportunities to find a one of a kind work of Hopi art along the way.
The Hopi People are respected by neighboring tribes as being the ancient ones, because they have called this region home for eons of time. This tribe is famous for hand crafted traditional Kachina Dolls, which are collectors items worldwide. The method of shopping for a Kachina Doll is far different than ordinary shopping. Kachina Dolls represent many different spirits that casual tourists may not understand and the correct choice of Kachina Doll can benefit the beholder. Likewise, the wrong choice of Kachina can have detrimental spiritual effects. Therefore, it is customary to let the artisan or vendor select the best choice of Kachina for the customer. With one look, a local native can summarize one’s own nature and explain why a certain Kachina is the best choice, which may even lead to a bit of personal insight gained.
Near the Hopi villages on the way to Tuba City is one of the most beautiful scenic places that could possibly be imagined and this site is pretty much hidden from view along the main road. Coalmine Canyon lies between the Hopi villages and Tuba City on the eastern side of the road. There is a scenic overlook along the way and the roadside sign says, “Visitors are welcome!” A dirt road that runs less than a mile mile off of SR 264 goes to the scenic overlook and the views of the blue gray color of Coalmine Canyon are simply amazing! It is said that dawn is the best time to view Coalmine Canyon, because the early morning light causes a sparkling effect from the reflection of the quartz and mica in the barren bluish color rock landscape.
As the scenic drive continues, valley farms with cottonwood trees can be seen toward the end of the line near Tuba City. There is a modern Hopi Hotel Resort at the intersection of Highway 160 and plenty of Navajo and Hopi tourism information can be found at the visitors center. There are a few good local restaurant dining options in town and the Tuba City Dinosaur Tracks are nearby. From Tuba City it is a flip of the coin as to whether to travel west to Glen Canyon or east to the Navajo National Monument and the Monument Valley Tribal Park. Either way one chooses to go, the beautiful scenic drive never seems to end in this part of Arizona!
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