Tour Guide: Into Hopi Country

Rachel Dickinson visits a Hopi village with a local guide.

Evelyn Fredericks is a small, energetic woman who walks like a New Yorker on her way to a meeting, only she was nowhere near New York. Fredericks was our tour leader through her Hopi village in northern Arizona, situated in the middle of the huge, sprawling Navajo reservation that covers much the northern portion of the state.

About 10,000 Hopi live in 12 villages associated with three mesas, and anyone who drives along highway 264 will pass through the reservation’s high desert landscape and notice the small agricultural fields carved out of the sand where the Hopi grow corn, squash, melons, and beans using dry-framing techniques. But if you want to visit the villages, the best way to do so is to hire a Hopi guide.

We followed Fredericks to a remote canyon with fantastically shaped rock formations. As we gawked at the rocks (which reminded most of us of various foods ranging from mushrooms to buttercream frosting), Evelyn told us about the history of the region and gave us a little insight into Hopi culture with its matrilineal landholdings and tight clan structure.

Then she took us to her grandmother’s house in Bacalvi, a Second Mesa village, for lunch. Beverly, Frederick’s cousin, lives in the grandmother’s house, a low-slung flat-roofed adobe home facing a plaza used for ceremonial dances. Beverly invited us to the table and served us a delicious succotash made from hominy and a couple kinds of beans; bowls of neon-yellow cold squash; somiviki (fine blue-corn flour mixed with water and sugar then wrapped in cornhusk); fry bread, yellow watermelon; and Hopi tea (brewed from greenthread or thelesperma filifolium). Beverly said we might want to sweeten things up and put a big basket of Splenda and jars of sugar-free  and regular honey on the table. “We mostly use Splenda these days,” she said. “Because everybody has diabetes.”

Then Beverly’s sister Linda came over and brought some Hopi plaques she had been working on. Linda makes these flat, woven baskets from rabbitbrush stalks she gathers in the fields and then splits and dyes vibrant colors. She showed us a notebook of about a hundred different plaque designs she weaves. We went to her house across the plaza and she brought out a remnant of an old plaque she thinks her great-great grandmother wove–she just found it along with some big grinding stones while digging out behind her house.

After lunch, Evelyn took us to First Mesa and the village of Walpi, which is now used mainly for ceremonies. First established about 1,100 years ago, Walpi is very much off the grid. As you walk along the narrow street with houses and kivas on each side, you catch glimpses of the 300-foot drop that lies just behind the structures. Narrow paths crisscross the sides of the mesa and I thought they were for sheep until I saw a young boy running along one. “Oh yes,” said Evelyn. “The Hopi are known for long-distance running.”

And I watched as he came up on the mesa, ran past us, then disappeared over the side of the cliff.

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Getting There: See www.experiencehopi.com for information about the Hopi reservation and for a list of approved Hopi guides.

The Hopi seem particularly private and do not, as a rule, want to be photographed or even have pictures taken of their villages. You can, however, ask permission to photograph individuals.

Photos: Rachel Dickinson

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