In Tuba City and neighbouring Moenkopi, the land on the right side of Highway 87 is Navajo, the land on the left, including the new Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites, is Hopi. From here, it’s 64 kilometres east to Third Messa, the nearest Hopi villages. Hopi guides such as Evelyn Fredericks will take you into historic Hopi villages and down back roads to see some stunning scenery – from the red and bleached white formations streaked with black layers of coal in Coal Mine Canyon, to the remains of a stone school and the intricate mushroom-like hoodoos of Blue Canyon in Moenkopi Wash. As you head north into the high desert – the altitude about 1,830 metres above Phoenix – and into the Colorado Plateau, there are mountains (remnants of volcanoes) and exposed layers of limestone among the red sandstone carved by time into painted peaks.
While you can visit native communities on your own, certified guides have special knowledge of the area. With venomous snakes, dust storms and flash floods, this desert region can be dangerous if you’re not prepared. You might even have to dig your way out of a sand trap. “As nice as it is today, it’s a very harsh country,” Ms. Fredericks says as we bump along a tooth-rattling washboard road. “Always have a full tank of gas – and take a blanket, a gallon of water and a shovel.” experiencehopi.com
SPECTACULAR GLEN CANYON
A float along the Colorado River below the Glen Canyon Dam near Page, Ariz., (nps.gov/glca) is both serene and striking. The national recreational area – about 130 kilometres north of Tuba City – offers a new view around every bend. Once you forget about the massive wall of concrete (about 4.9 million cubic yards of poured concrete) that holds back the waters of Lake Powell, you can’t beat a sunny day down here on the flat water in Glen Canyon.
The red Navajo Sandstone cliffs rise up 457 metres above the calm, clear river, and the smooth red-stone walls, blackened with magnesium oxide “desert varnish,” make a perfect canvas for the petroglyphs, drawings left by ancestral Puebloans more than 800 years ago.
Fishermen can float this 24 kilometre stretch between the dam and Lee’s Ferry boat launch for trophy trout, while condors float in the updrafts and canyon wrens flit among the rocks. But if you want to really get away from it all, for $25, guide Gary Damron will ferry you, your kayak and camping gear up to one of the rustic riverside campsites – free wilderness accommodation that is completely off the tourist track. Or just take his $60 half-day tour – perhaps the most jaw-dropping view you’ll get of Arizona’s red rocks. raftthecanyon.com
Also in the Glen Canyon recreational area is Horseshoe Bend, site of an oft-photographed 270-degree bend in the Colorado River. Stop on Route 89 (just south of Page and highway marker 545) at the parking lot for the Horseshoe Bend hiking trail. Take the 2.4-kilometre walk up to the windy rim of the canyon for this completely different way to see the red rocks. At sunset, the short hike across the desert is as colourful as the perfectly symmetrical view of this famous sandstone escarpment, almost entirely encircled by the shining, blue-green waters of the meandering river. Limestone or calcite has cemented the layers of Navajo sandstone here and the rocks near the sheer edge are covered in Moqui marbles, little spheres of iron – so step carefully.
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