Native American Hoop Dancers Converge on Phoenix
F E B R U A R Y 2 0 0 7
to do on the
contents february 2007
Native American, Spanish, Mexican and European
influences have made Arizona one of the
most culturally rich states in the country. This
month, discover Arizona’s Native American
traditions at arizonahighways.com and click on
our February “Trip Planner” for an expanded
guide to visit Arizona’s Indian nations.
HUMOR Our writer takes his hat off to Arizona.
WEEKEND GETAWAY Bond with fellow
birders at a southeastern Arizona B&B.
EXPERIENCE ARIZONA Plan a trip
with our calendar of events.
FRUITFUL FUN Kids of all ages
dash for sweet treats during the
“Fruit Scramble” event at the 4th
Annual Natoni Horse Race on
the Navajo Indian Reservation.
See story, page 16. tom bean
FRONT COVER Navajo
hoop dancer Tyrese Jensen, 7,
competes in the 16th Annual
World Championship Hoop
Dance Contest held at the Heard
Museum in downtown Phoenix.
See story, page 32. jeff kida
BACK COVER A hiker amounts
to a Tiny Tim on the window "sill"
of Los Gigantes Buttes Arch near
the Lukachukai Mountains on
the Navajo Indian Reservation.
See story, page 24. tom till
n To order a print of this photograph,
see information on opposite page.
Photographic Prints Available
n Prints of some photographs are available for
purchase, as designated in captions. To order, call toll-free
(866) 962-1191 or visit www.magazineprints.com.
2 DEAR EDITOR
3 ALL WHO WANDER
True love triumphs on
the Canyon’s Rim.
expect the unexpected.
5 TAKING THE OFF-RAMP
Arizona oddities, attractions
42 ALONG THE WAY
Quest for perfect camp coffee.
44 HIKE OF THE MONTH
Agua Fria trek offers a fitful
stream, black boulders,
scattered ruins and rock art.
46 BACK ROAD ADVENTURE
A remembered childhood and
small-town pleasures await a
writer on some laid-back roads
from Heber through Holbrook.
8 Delight or Defense?
A writer examines the mystery of the
Southwest’s intricate fortress cities of stone.
by lawrence w. cheek
16 Tradition Triumphs
Hooves pound, hearts flutter and the ground
shakes at a Navajo horse race.
by leo w. banks / photographs by tom bean
22 Reservation Guide
Fish, raft, shop, explore: 14 great things
to do in Arizona’s Indian nations.
by marilyn hawkes / photograph by jack dykinga
24 Portfolio: Rock Art
The ancients left secrets from their world behind,
but took the key with them.
by scot t thybony / photographs by tom till
32 Hoop It Up
A championship contest draws Native American dancers
to perfect a new art with an old message.
by lori k. baker / photographs by jeff kida
36 Blood Enemies
A tragedy of the Apache Wars pitted two consummate
warriors against fate and each other.
by peter aleshire / illustration by brad holland
40 Protecting Pronghorn Progeny
Sonoran pronghorn lovers shelter a beleaguered desert
survivor. by dexter k. oliver / photograph by john hervert
Arizona’s ancient cultures protect their traditions
while offering insight and adventures to newcomers
For more letters, see arizonahighways.com (Click o online n “Letters to the Editor”).
2 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7
all who wander by Peter Aleshire, editor
Arizona Highways magazine has inspired an
independent weekly television series, hosted by
Phoenix TV news anchor Robin Sewell. For
channels and show times, log on to
arizonahighways.com; click on “DISCOVER
ARIZONA”; then click on the “Arizona Highways
goes to television!” link on the right-hand side.
highways on tv
Produced in the USA
FEBRUARY 2007 VOL. 83, NO. 2
Publisher WIN HOLDEN
Editor PETER ALESHIRE
Managing Editor RANDY SUMMERLIN
Web/Research Editor SALLY BENFORD
Book Division Editor BOB ALBANO
Books Associate Editor EVELYN HOWELL
Special Projects Editor JoBETH JAMISON
Editorial Administrator NIKKI KIMBEL
Editorial Assistant PAULY HELLER
Director of Photography PETER ENSENBERGER
Photography Editor JEFF KIDA
Art Director BARBARA GLYNN DENNEY
Art Assistant DIANA BENZEL-RICE
Map Designer KEVIN KIBSEY
Production Director MICHAEL BIANCHI
Promotions Art Director RONDA JOHNSON
Webmaster VICKY SNOW
Director of Sales & Marketing KELLY MERO
Circulation Director HOLLY CARNAHAN
Finance Director BOB ALLEN
Information Technology CINDY BORMANIS
Inquiries or orders Toll-free: (800) 543-5432
Phoenix area or outside the U.S. (602) 712-2000
Or visit arizonahighways.com
For Corporate or Trade Sales Dolores Field (602) 712-2045
Letters to the Editor email@example.com
2039 W. Lewis Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85009
Director, Department of Transportation
VICTOR M. MENDEZ
ARIZONA TRANSPORTATION BOARD
Chairman James W. Martin
Vice Chairman Joe Lane
Members S.L. Schorr, Delbert Householder,
Robert M. Montoya, Felipe Andres Zubia,
William J. Feldmeier
International Regional Magazine Association
2005, 2004, 2003, 2001, 2000 Magazine of the Year
Western Publications Association
2004, 2002, 2001 Best Travel & In-transit Magazine
Society of American Travel Writers Foundation
2000, 1997 Gold Awards Best Monthly Travel Magazine
Arizona Highways® (ISSN 0004-1521) is published monthly by the
Arizona Department of Transportation. Subscription price: $24 a
year in the U.S., $41 outside the U.S. Single copy: $3.99 U.S. Send
and change of address information
to Arizona Highways,
2039 W. Lewis Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85009. Peri-odical
postage paid at Phoenix, AZ and at additional mailing office.
CANADA POST INTERNATIONAL PUBLICATIONS MAIL PROD-UCT
DISTRIBUTION) SALES AGREEMENT NO.
41220511. SEND RETURNS TO QUEBECOR WORLD, P.O. BOX 875,
WINDSOR, ON N9A 6P2. POSTMASTER:
send address changes to
2039 W. Lewis Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85009. Copyright
© 2007 by the Arizona
Department of Transportation.
in whole or in part without
permission is prohibited. The
magazine does not accept and is not responsible for unsolicited
as i climbed aboard the Grand Canyon Railway train with a
randomly selected scattering of strangers, I didn’t expect much.
I had my mind on the Grand Canyon, not the two-hour trundle
on the train through juniper and grassland. So I settled into the
refurbished railway car, with its well-stocked bar, amiable strang-ers
and big windows.
Immediately, Birdie bustled through the half-full car, exuding
good cheer. A combination tour guide, bartender and enabler,
Birdie happily dispensed drinks, jokes and Canyon tidbits in
Sitting quietly, I covertly studied my fellow passengers, fasci-nated
as always by the pinball dynamics of people bouncing off
A German couple sat off by themselves, looking out the win-dow
and making soft, secret comments. He was a beer stein, she
was light on the water.
A balding man, a harried woman and three jumping-bean
kids took up one set of seats — the kids frenetic, the parents
An elderly couple, impeccably dressed for an outing, alternated
between gazing steadfastly out the window and fondly studying
the three kids, nostalgic for the scurry and the laughter.
But I found myself drawn mostly to a quiet, Anglo woman
with a wickedly ironic smile sitting with a dashing black man
in a white panama hat, a Hawaiian shirt and white pants, from
whom joy spilled like water from the top of a fountain.
His delight in the day was palpable. It ran down his chin like
mango juice from too large a bite. Something about him put
everyone within 10 feet at immediate ease. He had seemingly won
the lottery, inherited a fortune, just won the Pulitzer — something
big and impossible to resist.
And she watched him with a half-smile, delight and mischief
sparkling in her eyes. They were the major and minor notes on
a keyboard, half a note off, blending perfectly. They riffed and
rippled. She seemed always about to laugh, he, always laughing.
They seemed half odd couple, half soul mates.
They drew me naturally and easily into conversation, as
though we’d gone to high school together and had to catch up.
They were nothing alike. Yet Pam and Winford fell in love eas-ily,
like breathing. He was irrepressible, she was unflappable, so
what seemed oil and water proved more tequila and mix. It was
absurd. They had nothing but love and joy. They didn’t fit. Their
families knew it. Anyone could look and see.
Then Winford’s divorced first wife took the kids and moved
to the South, 2,000 miles from where Pam had put down deep
roots in San Diego.
So he made the hard choice. He followed his kids. He left Pam in
They died inside, far from one another.
Seeking solace, she undertook a trip to the Grand Canyon, hop-ing
that so vast a space would shrink her grief to its proper size.
It didn’t. It only made her miss him more. She saw condors
and thought how much he would have loved to see them. She fed
squirrels and thought how he would have laughed at their antics.
She studied diagrams of the rock layers in the Canyon wall and
thought how it would have fascinated him.
She went home, bleeding but resigned to live with the wound.
Then one day, all dappled with light, Winford came back.
They didn’t fit, but nothing else made sense.
So she asked him to return to the Canyon with her, to see it
for the first time.
The train came then to the Canyon, to the edge, to the begin-ning
of things, friends of the moment and the circumstance.
Birdie bustled us off the car, laughing and waving goodbye.
Somehow, Winford and Pam had made us all friends, intimate
and fond and warmed by their glow.
I walked with them to the Rim, to look down through the lay-ers
of time, down to the granites and schists forged in the heart
of the Earth 1.2 billion years ago when life was but an ooze and
a hope. We balanced atop the limestones of the Rim, laid down
before dinosaurs got ambitious and long before anyone had the
capacity for anything so extravagant and unreasonable as love.
Winford and Pam stared into the Canyon — he for the first
time and she as though for the first time. They fed the squirrels,
and he laughed, head thrown back. She pointed to the red and
yellow and white and lavender layers of rock across the way. A
great bird — maybe a condor — wheeled past and he tilted his
head back and pointed.
Standing there in the sun, I’d never seen a grander sight — nor
love so layered.
Happy Valentine’s Day, my beloved readers.
Poetry — Ugh!
I have been a subscriber for more than 10
years. I once read it cover to cover. Now I
don’t. I initially was disappointed when
several sections were relegated to the
Internet Web site, then the format
changed, now it seems to be on writing.
December 2006 was the capper. I have no
interest in reading poetry in Arizona
Highways! Also, I don’t like Peter Aleshire’s
flowery, contrived and affected writing
style. Is the magazine trying to save
money by getting double duty out of the
Larry Weaver, Show Low
I just fell off the edge. But wait, there was no poetry
in the January issue — just lots of aerial photography.
And no February flourishes. Oh, wait. March will be all
about pollinators and poppies. Very flowery. Drat. — Ed.
Preserving the State’s Heritage
I’m a longtime subscriber to your
magazine and a fairly recent newcomer to
Arizona. I believe in Arizona’s American
Dream, so I am devoting much of my time
to the conservation of the natural and
historic heritage of this great place. Your
magazine has been very successful in
promoting Arizona — perhaps too
successful. Arizona Highways has been a
prime cause of the accelerating growth,
which now poses a challenge to its own
natural and historic heritage. I think that
now is the time to devote more of your
editorial resources to preserving the
wondrous beauty that you so capably
— Murray Bolesta, Green Valley
Here’s my rationalization: By showcasing the beauty of
these places, we increase public support for protecting
them. Moreover, we sometimes address those issues
directly — as in the November 2006 story about
pothunters plundering land designated for addition to
the Petrified Forest National Park. At least that’s what
I remind myself. We publish stories about wonderful
and pristine places hoping to inspire visits to those
places to find solace and a sense of preservation and
appreciation. — Ed.
Acts of Kindness on State Route 77
Recently, my husband, who had just
had major surgery, and I were moving
to Tucson for treatment at the Arizona
Cancer Center. We were thoroughly
enjoying a fine autumn drive south on
State Route 77 until, at the bottom of Salt
River Canyon, we had a flat tire.
Almost simultaneously, a young man
stepped out of a pickup next to us saying,
“Would you like a hand changing that?” A
wave of relief and appreciation swept over
us. The young man and his girlfriend not
only changed the tire, but also followed
us to Globe in case we had any additional
trouble. In Globe, the busy staff at the tire
company agreed to fix our tire, although it
would be a 90-minute wait.
Someone suggested we might enjoy
eating lunch at Libby’s Mexican Cafe
about a mile back down the road. There,
in a tiny pink building with a faded sign,
we found great local atmosphere and good
food, a treat we would have missed. I can’t
say we wanted a flat tire any more than
anyone wants cancer, but our experience
opened up for us the opportunity to
appreciate the many acts of loving
kindness ordinary people do for travelers
along Arizona’s highways.
— Nancy Lethcoe, Tucson
I am consistently amazed and moved by the kindness
of strangers, especially in the outback. Now I only
hope your kind heart and wonderful attitude are
reflected in the outcome of the treatments. — Ed.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 3
Pam and Winford celebrate the persistence
of love overlooking the Grand Canyon.
Loved the Poems
Your Arizona Highways December 2006 edition is
outstanding. The pictures and, in particular, the poems
were excellent. Do you think you could republish the
pictures and these poems in a stand-alone booklet
format? These would be outstanding gifts. Last but not
least, could you create for your magazine a set of articles
focusing on the individual Arizona Indian tribes?
— Paul F. Dougher, Gilbert
Whew. So glad you liked the poems. If we get a good response,
we’ll consider doing more — maybe even a book that combines scenic
photography and poetry. I was sweating whether or not readers
would like the poems. Sometimes, being the editor is a walk along the
edge — but then, the view is much better there. — Peter Aleshire, Editor
4 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 5
hoop it up
arizona oddities, attractions and pleasures
A Girl’s Dream
Use woman with Gila monsters
Gila Monsters: From Demonized to Droolin’ for Drugs
in the early years of the 20th century, Arizonans who had recently migrated from the East knew little about the unique desert creatures that
dwelt in the West. Scorpions, rattlesnakes and lizards of all types inhabited the region, causing some settlers to wonder about their new home. A Territorial
Arizona woman (above) displays two Gila monsters, when the lizards’ venom and habits were still much debated. As the largest native lizards in the country,
these desert dwellers inspired tall tales and monster myths. One myth alleges that the Gila monster uses its fetid breath as a weakening weapon. Another
legend asserts that when a Gila monster clamps its strong jaws, it won’t release its grip until sundown or a thunderclap. But recently, Gila monsters have
found a new claim to fame: drooling for drugs. An experimental medication developed from Gila monster saliva reportedly can “tell” pancreatic cells when
to produce insulin and may someday eliminate the need for insulin injections for people with diabetes. — Kimberly Hosey
out there in a dust cloud, a thunder of Navajo kids on
horseback charges right at photographer Tom Bean — a joyful
mingling of ancient tradition and modern adaptation in a horse
race that somehow materialized on a flat, red expanse of dust
and shrub in the rolling heart of the Navajo Indian Reservation.
Tom found himself in that moment the same way he’d
managed to sustain a profession in his long career of
photographing all over Arizona — by remaining open to every
possibility — always.
Oddly enough, that blend of passion and happenstance lay
at the heart of the horse race itself, which all grew out of the
dream of a young Navajo girl.
Of course, any good photographer has to learn how to pick
up the scent of the story — and also how to adapt to change
without abandoning tradition. That’s especially true in this
time of technological upheaval, as digital cameras replace film.
The avalanche of digital images has already dramatically
impacted photographers, mostly by burying the stock
photography business on which so many freelancers depended.
The digital revolution has also required photographers to
spend half their time just keeping up with image-editing
programs, while constantly investing in new cameras with
greater storage capacity.
Through it all, photographers must scramble to find
economical ways to continue doing what they love — making
Then there’s Tom Bean, who shot this month’s story on the
Navajos’ 4th Annual Natoni Horse Race, a fund-raiser inspired
by 13-year-old Shanee Natoni.
It all began in 2004, when Tom, a 20-year contributor to
Arizona Highways, listened to then-Highways Photography
Editor Richard Maack talk about the magazine’s search for
stories that showcased not only the state’s landscapes, but also
its people, cultures and lifestyles.
The next day, Tom pitched a photo essay about Dr. Adrienne
Ruby, a mobile veterinarian on the Navajo Reservation.
Richard gave him the go-ahead.
On one of his many ride-alongs with the reservation vet,
Tom ended up in the middle of nowhere at a Navajo horse race,
with no idea of what to expect. Fortunately, he’d long ago
learned the great lesson for all photographers: Expect the
Suddenly, one story became two.
Because he was with Dr. Ruby, a respected member of the
community, Tom got the acceptance and access he needed to
document the event.
Still shooting film at that time, Tom made a quick edit,
scanned a number of images and e-mailed them to the
magazine. Director of Photography Peter Ensenberger loved
those initial images, so Tom rattled back out to the distant and
dusty spaces on the reservation to find more races so he could
learn the rhythms of the events that would allow him to place
himself in just the right spot to capture the images. From race
to race, he reviewed his photographs, constantly refining his
He also purchased his first digital SLR camera.
Now armed with both formats, working in the heat of
summer, at a time of day when most savvy landscape
photographers are either sleeping or scouting, Tom captured
the spirit and essence of the event.
Like so many great photographers, he found a way to use
harsh and difficult light to his advantage. When covering the
action, he looked for dramatic backlighting, utilizing the haze of
the rising dust. For the more intimate portraits, Tom wisely set
up under awnings and used the cowl-like shade of horse trailers
on site. This is where he captured the quiet moment with Shanee
(above), with bits and bridles framing her exuberance.
At that moment, everything clicked — Navajo tradition, a
girl’s dream, a photographer’s improvisation and the latest
technology. He recorded his images on both film and digital
formats. Both work very well in this application — grain meets
pixel. This narrative speaks of culture and tradition, potential
What a great pleasure to work with people who love what
they do and, in spite of so many environmental and
technological odds, determine to make the personal sacrifices
to realize their vision.
Whether it’s a photographer peering into the dust.
Or a grinning girl with a great dream.
ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY HAYDEN LIBRARY, MCLAUGHLIN COLLECTION
Find expert photography advice and information at arizonahighways.com
(Click on “Photography”).
by Jeff Kida, photography editor photograph by Tom Bean
6 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 7
Horse Whisperers Give Second Chance at Life
tucked away on 25 acres near Elgin, Whisper’s Sanctuary at the Double R Heart Ranch shelters horses
and other animals that have been abused, neglected or abandoned. Owners Ross Romeo and Toni Leo started
the sanctuary in March 2006 to provide animals with a safe and loving environment, giving them an
unexpected “second chance” at life.
New animals get jobs according to their interests, abilities and personalities. Whether serving as a
companion, security guard or visitor greeter, each animal plays a meaningful role in the sanctuary’s
operation. According to Toni, this allows them to give back to the community for the care they receive.
Since its inception, Whisper’s Sanctuary has fielded requests for 15 horse placements. The owners pay the
$2,000 per year per horse cost of basic care out of their own pockets, including the “unadoptables” that might
otherwise be destroyed. “It’s love on our part,” says Ross. “We give the horses an opportunity to get the care
they’ve never had before.”
Information: (520) 455-5424; www.rrheartranch.com. — Marilyn Hawkes
forget atlantis — Arizona has
its own share of lost, submerged
towns. Well, they’re not really lost,
since their locations are known to
Some lakes retain the names
of the drowned towns like Alamo
Crossing, which is under Alamo
Lake. But sometimes there’s
no relation at all. The town of
Frog Tanks or Pratt is under
Lake Pleasant, and the former
Colorado River port Castle
Dome Landing is under the
waters of Martinez Lake.
Just as Arizona lost Pah-Ute
County to Nevada in 1866, we
also lost the river port and the
Pah-Ute County seat Callville to
Lake Mead. It’s still there, but
now it’s known as Callville Bay.
— Vince Murray
THESE TWO PAGES, CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: NAU,CLINE LIBRARY; DAVE BLY; DAVID ELMS JR. (MOSAIC); ISTOCK (HAT); DAVE BLY
DeGrazia’s Medicine Man Mosaic
among the hundreds of paintings on permanent display at Ted
DeGrazia’s famed Gallery in the Sun in Tucson is “Desert Medicine
Man,” a Tohono O’odham healer under a mesquite ramada with his
feathers and fetishes healing a sick Indian as others look on. Arizona’s
best-known painter (he died in 1982), DeGrazia occasionally chose
Indian healers and medicine men as subjects for his art, but none
matched the popularity of this image. Reproduced in thousands of
prints, the painting also served as a model for one of DeGrazia’s
first major mural commissions — a large Italian glass tile mosaic (left)
created for the Sherwood Medical Center in Tucson. In serious disrepair
after years of neglect and weathering, the mosaic was reclaimed by
the DeGrazia Foundation and moved to the gallery grounds, where it
was repaired and restored and is now permanently displayed outdoors,
not far from the gallery’s main entrance and DeGrazia’s original home.
— Ron Butler
The Bear Facts
with his grizzled beard,
6-foot-4-inch frame, and paws
“hard as Malpais boulders,” Jesse
Jefferson “Bear” Howard (below)
resembled the animals he
trapped well into his 80th year.
This larger-than-life character
became part of Arizona folklore
long before his death at age 93.
Born in Illinois in 1817, Howard
fought in the Mexican-American
War, and sold supplies to forty-niners.
He fled California after
shooting a Mexican sheepherder
during a dispute over pastureland.
A wanted man, Howard ended
up settling near Oak Creek
Canyon’s West Fork. There, he
pursued mountain lions, bears,
elk, antelope and deer, selling his
game to lumbermen and railroad
crews in Flagstaff. Together with
the official bounty, a bear’s meat,
hide and tallow could fetch 10
times the daily wage of a laborer.
Howard also bred horses and
mules and, at 69, he still rode the
meanest broncs. Like the
extinction of Arizona’s grizzly
population, the bear man’s death
in 1910 marked the end of an era.
— Michael Engelhard
Q: aside from being part of
Western vernacular, what do a
lasso, a wrangler and a rodeo
have in common?
A: They all derive from Spanish
words, reminding us of the Anglo
cowboy’s debt to his Mexican
Few people realize that
ranching in Latin America
predated similar activities in the
United States. Hispanic influence
reached the West by way of Texas,
California, Arizona and New
Mexico. Many names for cowboy
equipment such as chaps, cinch
and corral have roots in Spanish
equestrian culture. Horse
colorings like pinto, meaning
“paint,” sprang from the same
lexicon. “Buckaroo” itself is a
corruption of vaquero — “cow
man.” Topographic features,
foods, clothing, materials and
practices all bear the stamp of
Hispanic horsemen. Without
them, Arizona’s multiethnic
palette would be less colorful.
— Michael Engelhard
An Old-timer Keeps Watch Over the San Pedro
it would be hard to find a more peaceful picnic spot than under the huge Fremont cottonwood
tree that towers near the San Pedro House. The tree is somewhere between 90 and 130 years old, and its
trunk is nearly 30 feet in diameter. Relatives of willows, cottonwoods grow in riparian areas and provide the
smooth, easily carved roots from which Hopi Indians make kachinas.
Once home to the Apaches, then to cattle ranchers and potato farmers, the wide river valley is now part of
the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. Recently, The Nature Conservancy named the area as one
of the “Last Great Places” of the northern hemisphere. The San Pedro River forms a migratory superhighway for
bats, hummingbirds, tropical songbirds and insects. Visitors, wandering along hiking, riding and biking trails
with binoculars “glued” to their faces, spend hours watching the 350 species of birds that either migrate
through or winter there.
Run by volunteers, the San Pedro House, a restored historic ranch house, serves as the unofficial Bureau of
Land Management’s visitors center. Books, maps and cards are available, and it’s open daily from 9:30 a.m. to
4:30 p.m., except Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The San Pedro House is on the west side of the San Pedro River, 7 miles east of where State routes 90 and
92 intersect in Sierra Vista.
Information: (520) 439-6400. — Wynne Brown
B Y L A W R E N C E W. C H E E K
PUEBLO DEL ARROYO Draped in a layer of
snow, the pueblo’s massive stone walls stand
deserted in Chaco Culture National Historical
Park, New Mexico. Early Southwestern dwellers
left behind many clues that help historians
understand ancient cultures. george h.h. huey
DESIGN OF SOUTHWESTERN
PUEBLOS STILL SPURS
Delight OR DEFENSE?
10 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7
SEDITIOUS THOUGHTS FOR
someone committed to the science of archaeology, as I
am, but in this setting — a whisper-quiet spring morn-ing,
facing the great sandstone proscenium that frames
the ruin of Betatakin — they will not clear away. The
ruin, a 135-room pueblo begun in 1267 and abandoned a
generation later, is simply beautiful. In our time, squarish
architecture meets curvish earth with a jarring thud, but
this miniature village, like so many of its contemporaries,
seems to bud from the floor and walls of its alcove as
gracefully as a living organism. Architects today would
say that its “siting” and “massing” are masterful.
But did its builders have beauty on their minds?
The pueblo form literally emerged from the earth in
what we now call the Southwest — Arizona, New Mexico,
Utah and Colorado — over several centuries, beginning
in the a.d. 700s. Before this, early Southwesterners took
shelter in pit houses scooped out of the ground and built
up with walls and roofs of logs, sticks and patted mud.
They were dark, dingy and inclined to catch fire, but also
thermally efficient; archaeologists say they would have
been more comfortable in winter than the aboveground
compounds that followed.
But the compounds, which Spanish explorers later
termed pueblos (“towns”), were more durable, and they
reflected increasingly sophisticated social organiza-tion.
Between 700 and 1100, the Southwest’s population
exploded by 1,000 to 2,000 percent, which meant more
dependence on agriculture and community cooperation.
Food could be better preserved from spoilage and scav-engers
in stone masonry buildings, and extended family
ties could be expressed in the joined rooms of a pueblo.
These ancient condos took dramatically different forms,
depending on who built them and where. Tuzigoot, built
in Arizona’s Verde Valley beginning in 1076, crowns a
ridge by stairstepping up the land’s natural contours; it
fulfills Frank Lloyd Wright’s dictum more than eight cen-turies
later, which stated, “No house should ever be on any
hill . . . it should be of the hill, belonging to it, so hill and
house could live together each the happier for the other.”
New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon was a ceremonial center
with “Great Houses” of enigmatic geometry with up to
800 rooms on five stories. Taos, the most famous living
pueblo, is a syncopated stack of adobe cubes that seems to
echo the form of the mountain looming behind it.
And finally came the cliff dwellings, an architectural form
that materialized and spread throughout the Southwest,
wherever there were alcoves in cliffs and canyon walls, in
a curiously short bracket of time. Tree rings recorded a
furious construction boom between 1200 and 1280. Then
even more quickly, by 1300, they were abandoned.
Despite how tour guides and even some museums
play it, the abandonment isn’t much of a mystery. Too
many people, too few resources. Toward the end, the
cliff dwellers could have found themselves combing a
radius of several miles just for firewood. A tenacious
drought from 1276 to 1299, also recorded in tree rings,
probably caused repeated crop failures. James Charles,
superintendent of Navajo National Monument, reduces
it to common-sense archaeology. “I tend to look for the
simple reasons,” he says as we walk into Betatakin. “They
used up their welcome and moved on.”
For me, the compelling question is why they were built
in the first place — shelter, defense or sheer beauty? The
romantic in me asks for beauty. I want to believe that even
people living on the rocky edge of survival found joy in
architecture, the most enriching of all the arts. But I’m
nagged by a line I remember from Marc-Antoine Laugier,
the 18th-century Jesuit philosopher whose Essai sur
l’architecture offered profound observations on civilization
and building. “A building is neither more nor less magnifi-cent,”
Laugier wrote, “than is appropriate to its purpose.”
WE AMERICANS ARE, at heart, a romantic people.
Give us a choice and we’ll take the mysterious over the
mundane, the poetic over the pragmatic. And why not?
Life is more interesting in the realm of the right brain.
ANCIENT IMAGES The ancestral Puebloans fashioned pictographs (above) using mineral pigments and natural plant dyes. tom till
BETATAKIN A cliff dwelling formed of sandstone bricks (right) clings to rocky Tsegi Canyon in Navajo National Monument. The Puebloans
who lived here farmed and hunted game in the steep canyons at an elevation of 7,000 feet. george h.h. huey
12 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 13
ONE OF THE FIRST EUROPEANS
to see a pueblo immediately inferred that it was designed
for defense. In 1540, one of Coronado’s lieutenants,
Hernando de Alvarado, reported finding “an ancient
building like a fortress” in western New Mexico (the
exact location is unknown) and then scrambling to
another pueblo “on a very high rock, with such a rough
ascent that we repented having gone up to the place.”
Later explorers made the same instinctive assump-tions.
Charles Lummis, the newspaperman who
hiked from Ohio to California in 1884, reported from
Canyon de Chelly that the pueblos “are usually high
up from the bottom of the cliff, and between them
and the foot is a precipitous ascent which no enemy
could scale if any resistance whatever was made.”
In 1891, Gustaf Nordenskiold, the self-taught but
meticulous archaeologist who investigated Mesa Verde,
declared that “Nothing short of the ever imminent
attacks of a hostile people can have driven the cliff-dwellers
to these impregnable mountain fastnesses.”
This tide of theory turned in the 20th century. A per-sistent
problem was that archaeologists had failed to
dig up any evidence of those “hostile people.” Ancient
warfare also became politically unfashionable. The
Hopis, Zunis and New Mexican Puebloans, apparent
descendants of the cliff-dwelling Anasazi, had culti-vated
the modern image of peace-loving people, and
this tinted the research into their past. Romanticization
was spinning white America’s view of Native America,
as it always has.
What were the other possible reasons for the rush
into the cliffs? Superior shelter was one, an idea that
occurred to the novelist and naturalist Mary Austin. Cliff
dwellings were “an easy adaptation to local advantages,”
she wrote in 1924. “Why dig a hole when there is a
hole in a wall already dug for you?” The alcoves would
have kept the rain and snow off and the wind out,
and at least the exposed rows of dwellings would have
enjoyed solar heating in winter — most large cliff dwellings
Another reason leaps out at anyone who’s ever suffered
a flooded house: to raise the pueblos off low-lying flood-plains.
And the more people there were to feed, the more
valuable this farmland would become — too valuable,
perhaps, to spend on housing.
And what about beauty? We know from their surviv-ing
basketry, pottery and even clothing that the ancient
Puebloans had an appreciation of fine design and propor-tion,
and it became more sophisticated over time. The
tense, parallel figures painted on Puebloan jars and
bowls — triangles, ziggurats, rectilinear scrolls — are
first cousins to the architectural composition of pueblos
such as Keet Seel and Betatakin. It doesn’t seem far-fetched
to imagine that the architects of these container-ized
cities took some care to plan and organize their lines.
The trouble with all these theories is encapsulated
in one word of that last sentence: imagine. We ama-teur
archaeologists — and sometimes professionals,
too — can easily color our thinking by what we want
to see, or expect to see because we peer through the
prism of our own time and culture. Where we perceive
beauty, people in utterly foreign circumstances might
have seen only terrible necessity. We tend to romanti-cize
art and architecture in their ruined forms.
“It’s like the Greek statues, which actually were
painted and had clothes on them,” says Peabody
Museum Curator Steven LeBlanc, a prominent
Southwest archaeologist. “What the cliff dwellings
might have looked like when they were occupied, with
all the laundry hanging out, is not what we see today.”
PUEBLO BONITO Morning fog cloaks the ruins at Chaco Canyon. At its zenith, the pueblo rose four
or five stories high with more than 800 rooms surrounding a central plaza. A thin layer of protective
plaster once covered the tightly packed stone walls. george h.h. huey
SPRUCE TREE HOUSE
A protective cliff overhang
shelters the ancient structure
in Mesa Verde National Park,
Colorado. The remote cliff
dwelling, built in the 13th
century, once housed about
80 Puebloan residents.
george h.h. huey
KEET SEEL To reach the jagged ruins in
Navajo National Monument (far left),
visitors must navigate a strenuous 17-
mile round-trip trail. Early inhabitants
hauled building materials up the steep
cliffs using hand- and toe-holes carved in
the stone. george h.h. huey
TUZIGOOT The rocky remains at
Tuzigoot National Monument (left)
overlook the lush Verde Valley and the
city of Cottonwood. The Sinagua
occupied the ancient village from about
a.d. 1000 to 1400 and grew corn, beans,
squash, native plants and cotton on the
surrounding land. george h.h. huey
14 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7
CLAY VESSELS Ancestral Puebloans fashioned natural paintbrushes from the yucca plant to
decorate their pottery. Unglazed pots, called ollas, were used for carrying water, cooking and
storing grains. The more intricate Kayenta Black-on-white olla (above left) dates from a.d. 1260
to 1300. The Sosi Black-on-white vessel (above right) was made between a.d. 1070 to 1150.
george h.h. huey
WHITE HOUSE RUINS Nestled in a sandstone cave beneath a 600-foot sheer cliff, the secluded
ruins overlook Canyon de Chelly (right). Ancient Puebloan people occupied the precarious cliff
dwelling from the 9th through the 11th centuries. george h.h. huey
THE CLIFF DWELLINGS INDEED
offered terrific protection from storms and floods, but
at quite a price. In my research for the book A.D. 1250,
I climbed to many cliff dwellings that (a) required seri-ous
effort, (b) scared me witless, or (c) both. I pon-dered
the additional burden of hauling up an antelope
carcass or an armload of firewood, and envisioned
toddlers scampering on a narrow plaza with a 300-foot
drop to the canyon floor.
Some of the professionals believe in what might be
called “common-sense archaeology,” and this seems
like a good place for it. Northern Arizona University
archaeologist Chris Downum is one of them. “There
are some sites in the Grand Canyon located in unbe-lievably
dangerous, difficult-to-access sites,” he says.
“There was no reason on earth people would have built
there unless they were afraid for their lives every night
when they went to sleep.”
In the late 1990s, the warfare theory suddenly revived,
although it’s still furiously controversial. Among other
advocates, LeBlanc published an enormous book
forthrightly titled Prehistoric Warfare in the American
Southwest and laid out the archaeological evidence:
burned villages, mutilated and unburied human remains,
patterns of population clustering and defensive sites.
LeBlanc believes that beginning around a.d. 1250
the entire Southwest was engulfed in warfare, not with
“foreign” invaders but among neighbors fighting for
survival over dwindling natural resources.
It wasn’t anything like the contemporary warfare
of medieval Europe; the Americans didn’t have the com-munications,
the technology or the sophisticated com-mand
structure to hurl massed armies at each other. If
the horse — the catalyst for so many advancements in
Europe — had been native to the Americas, the story
might have been different. Here, warfare was opportu-nistic:
hit-and-run pillage, captive-taking, ambushes
and massacres. Apparently nobody conceived of the
siege strategy, which would have been effective against
cliff-dwellers. When Coronado’s troops besieged a New
Mexico pueblo, the defenders seemed unprepared — they
quickly ran out of water.
But the fighting was serious and deadly. Between
1250 and 1400, the people of the Southwest abandoned
thousands of villages, moved around in flurries and
imploded in population. Provocatively, LeBlanc says
that modern warfare disturbs us because it usually
isn’t about survival, and therefore it seems senseless.
But the ancient Southwest had no Red Cross to provide
relief and no United Nations to mediate disputes, and
fighting was about living or dying. “Just because we
live in an era of senseless wars,” LeBlanc says, “does
not mean war was always senseless.”
On the morning of my prowl through Betatakin,
the ruin seems reluctant to whisper of violence.
The canyon air is crisp and silent, and the relic aspens
are putting out the first tentative shoots of spring.
A snow field, preserved in a shady corner, is punctuated
by a fox’s delicate pawprints. These rhythms of life
seem intact and perpetual. Romanticism, as usual,
rears its pretty head.
I contemplate why, and how, a primitive people in
desperate circumstances would build such an elaborate
and beautiful fortress, if that’s what it was. Did the
beauty occur as a coincidence, are we imagining some-thing
that isn’t there or were these canyon pueblos
designed to look impressive as a territorial statement
to potential enemies?
Amazingly, Laugier’s principle explains it all. The
cliff dwellings are magnificent because they needed to
be for all the reasons we can imagine, environmental
and social. They were a last, great effort of people
squeezed by circumstances beyond their control. If
their builders considered them beautiful, it was an act
of faith in their civilization — something we romantics
can’t prove, but must believe.
Lawrence W. Cheek wrote A.D. 1250: Ancient Peoples of the
Southwest, published by Arizona Highways, and currently is working
on a book about Mesa Verde. He lives in Issaquah, Washington.
HOOVES POUND, HEARTS FLUTTER, GROUND SHAKES AT NAVAJO HORSE RACE
By LEO W. BANKS Photographs by TOM BEAN
HIGH-SPEED FACES Competition inspires a range of
emotions as young boys drive their own brand of souped-up
mustangs to the finish line at the Rocky Ridge 4th
Annual Natoni Horse Race on the Navajo Indian Reservation.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 19
DDUST BILLOWS TO THE ENDLESS SKY as 14 horses
gallop past. Heads arching high and lunging low. Mouths hang-ing
open. Hooves drumming the dirt track. Pa-dump, pa-dump,
pa-dump they go, making the ground shake and hearts flutter
on a summer day in Indian country.
A thousand people have come to the 4th Annual Natoni Horse
Race at a waterless, mercilessly hot outpost called Rocky Ridge.
This is Navajo country, all the amenities at your command.
Dust for lunch, sage for dinner and a heaping bowl of blue sky
for dessert. By dark, participants and onlookers alike will be so
filthy they could flick the dirt from their ears and plant corn.
But nobody complains. Everyone defines happiness in his or
her own way. Here it means bringing a community together for
a day of reunion and food and retelling old stories and creating
new ones and feeling the pure joy of racing horses in the sun.
“Navajos have done this ever since we came home from Fort
Sumner,” says Eugene Natoni, referring to the tribe’s four-year
New Mexico exile imposed by the U.S. Army in the 1860s. “It’s
part of how we live.”
Tradition holds great sway on the reservation. So does show-ing
respect for elders.
In 2003, Eugene’s daughter Shanee was stepping down as
Western Junior Rodeo Association queen. But she needed money
to buy a new saddle and a crown for the incoming queen, as
The matter became a family affair that included Shanee’s
mom, Missy, Uncle Ryan and Aunt Leta Natoni and another
uncle and aunt, Darrell and Leona Natoni.
They decided on a fund-raising horse race in honor of their late
grandfather, John Natoni. His life revolved around racing horses.
The first race had an entry fee of $50 and drew 100 people.
The following year, the race attracted much bigger numbers.
The Natonis posted flyers as far away as Farmington, New
Mexico, but most came by word-of-mouth. The Navajo Indian
Reservation is the biggest small town in the world.
This year, Eugene’s sister, Alvina Hernandez, drove 1,000
miles from Killeen, Texas, with her husband, three kids and a
seriously nervous Chihuahua dog named Mama.
“I come to honor my grandfather,” says Alvina. “He was a
gentle, loving man who taught us how to live and survive, and
how to handle livestock. We cherish those lessons. And it’s just
great to come home.”
Gathering to celebrate runs deep in the Navajo character.
“The elders especially love to see everyone again,” says Missy
Natoni. She adds that other reservation towns — from Steamboat
to Inscription House to Red Lake — have followed the Natonis’
lead and started races of their own.
Little Shanee, now 13, stands trackside beneath her family’s
tent, a look of surprise overspreading her features. She never
intended on starting a prairie fire.
“I didn’t think it was possible to go from 100 people to 1,000
people in four years,” says the bright-eyed teen. She throws her
arms wide at the happy commotion around her. “But I guess it is.”
Race fans begin showing up early this day, filling usually
lonesome Rocky Ridge with big belt buckles and cool hats.
Tents and umbrellas go up for precious shade. The air holds
the scent of kerosene from open-fire kitchens set up beside
campers and trailers.
Name your pleasure. A Navajo taco? A brisket sandwich with
Spanish rice and beans? The corn stew is out of this world.
Long before the first race, pickup trucks line the track for prime,
front-row seating. Forget about a guardrail or restraining rope.
Sometimes a horse will out-stubborn his jockey and bolt off
the track, back toward its trailer.
“Look out! . . . Runaway!” someone shouts, and the crowd scat-ters
like quail. But no one suffers anything worse than a spit bath.
Between horse races, the Natonis put on fruit grabs, in which a
dozen or so contestants dash through the dirt on foot to collect
bananas, apples and other fruit
scattered around the track.
The competition gets wild.
Adrienne Ruby, who is 63,
takes part in one of the fruit
grabs, and winds up getting
bumped onto her fanny in
the happy melee.
No problem. Ruby, known
as the Rez Vet, for the mobile
veterinary service she runs,
departs the track, gripping
that fruit like gold, and beam-ing
under her straw hat.
Dan Gray, an old boy from
west Texas, can’t resist nee-dling
her. He unloads a
mouthful of tobacco juice that
looks like Valvoline, and says,
“Doc, you was moving like a
slow elk out there.”
But Ruby has reason to be
tuckered out. She arrived at
Rocky Ridge early, and barely
had time to shake the wrin-kles
out of her socks before
going to work.
HORSEPOWER Though it began less than five years
ago, the Natoni Horse Race instills a sense of passion,
pride and longstanding tradition in young tribal
members like Valentino Shootinglady (left) and Troy
Begay. Other races like it have been held throughout
the Navajo Nation for more than a hundred years.
HOT SPOTS A welcome wind sweeps over
spectators and the mane of an Appaloosa at
Yazzie’s Benefit Horse Race in Jeddito. With
temperatures in excess of 90 degrees and no
shade in sight, Navajo Nation horse races can
be grueling for both man and beast.
18 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7
“I get recognized everywhere I go on the reservation, so it isn’t
long before people come over wanting to buy medicine, or have
me check their animals,” she says. “Why, just this morning I was
castrating a horse up on that hill over there.”
The races begin about 9 a.m., and run throughout the day, a
total of 12 in all, with entry fees up to $50. They range in length
from 330 yards to 5 miles, although the shorter races have been
scratched for 2007. Without a starting gate, a horse that jumps
off early can steal a victory, causing too many disputes.
It seems the Natonis’ seat-of-the-pants family endeavor has
begun to attract competitive riders hungry for cash and prizes.
Winners here can walk away with a new saddle, valued at
$650, or a fine embroidered horse blanket. A rider having a good
day can take home a cash wad of $1,000.
Two years ago, Kirt Atakai stirred local pride when he beat two
fellows who’d brought their fancy thoroughbreds down from Utah,
figuring they were a cinch to win the 5-mile race.
Atakai burned up the track and smoked the out-of-town big
shots, drawing wild cheers from local patriots. “I was all proud
watching that,” says Louise Sheppard, Atakai’s mom.
At the moment, she’s standing beneath the family’s open-side
tent with her sister, Nancy, and their kids. They all have death
grips on its metal frame to keep the gusting wind from relocating
the whole contraption to a different area code.
WINNERS HERE CAN WALK AWAY WITH A NEW SADDLE, VALUED AT $650,
O R A FINE EMBROIDERED HORSE BLANKET.
A RIDER HAVING A GOOD DAY CAN TAKE HOME A CASH WAD OF $1,000.
Louise is a policewoman, a Hopi Ranger from Rocky Ridge
who grew up on horseback. When she was an infant, her mom
would wrap her in a blanket and cradle her as her horse trotted
along. Louise began riding by herself at age 2.
With her horses laid up, she’s not competing this year. But
Louise is usually a Natoni race
regular, and a regular winner.
She won a total of $800 in the
second and third seasons.
The pleasure of the day as
a whole shows on the faces of
those who have gathered at
the Sheppard tent. Louise and
Nancy draw a happy throng,
with folks coming to share a
plate of food, or share local
The good spirits are impor-tant
to Louise right now. Her
son Kirt, a 23-year-old Army
medic, has just completed a
tour of duty in Afghanistan,
and he is scheduled for deploy-ment
Louise adorns her tent
with an American flag in his
honor. It helps remind friends
and family that Kirt is away,
and prompts visitors to ask
“Their support helps keep
me going,” says Louise. “I’m
not racing today, but I had to be here because Kirt will call
tonight from Hawaii, and I know he’ll ask about the races. He
always wants to know how his horses and other animals are
doing back home. It makes him feel good.”
It’s 4 p.m. and all eyes in the Sheppard tent turn to the start
of the 3-mile race.
The horses are mustangs, most of the riders bareback.
A stout fellow in a big hat waves his arms and calls for bids,
“Ten dollars!” he shouts. “Do I hear $20? How about $20!”
The highest bidder has that horse to win, and if it does, the
animal’s owner pockets the total amount wagered on the 14
horses. In this case, the Calcutta purse comes to $245.
Off they go, the jockeys hunching down, the sound of their
snapping whips meeting the pa-dump, pa-dump of the mustangs’
“Look at them go!” calls announcer Ed Begay over the loud
speaker. “I’d run, too, if I had a bunch of wild Indians chasing me!”
A strange silence settles over the track as the riders vanish behind
the distant hills, flying dust the only evidence of their exertion.
A calm before the final storm.
Now here they come ’round again, back to the finish line in
an explosion of dirt and full-throated shouts and arms raised
The winner is 14-year-old Troy Begay of Dinnebito.
Still clinging to his mustang’s bare hide, Troy circles back
toward the Sheppard tent and brings his frothing mount to heel
beside his mother, Trudy Johnson, who is clapping wildly, and a
reporter, standing ready with the standard winner’s questions.
Location: About 120 miles from Flagstaff.
Getting There: From Flagstaff take Interstate 40 east
for 55 miles to State Route 87 at Exit 257. Drive north
for 55 miles on State 87 to the Hopi Cultural Center on
Second Mesa. From there, take Indian Route 4 north
for about 15 miles. Turn left at the sign for Hardrock.
Continue on the paved road, ignoring the left turn that
leads uphill to the Hardrock Chapter House. Drive 3
miles and look left about a mile in the distance for rising dust, horses and
trailers. At the end of 3 miles, stop at a T intersection, where Rocky Ridge
School sits on the right. Turn left onto the dirt road and drive for about
a mile to the Rocky Ridge Store. The races take place on a large patch of
dirt near the store. Look for dust billows and follow the horse trailers.
Hours: The race is scheduled for June 2. Events begin about 9 a.m.
and run until the races and awards ceremony ends, around 5 p.m.
Additional Information: The area has no stadium seating or parking lots.
Some food vendors sell their wares near the race, but visitors should bring
their own supplies.
PLACES, EVERYONE Leta Natoni presents a prize to Chris Begay at
Rocky Ridge (opposite page), but not every winner sports a horse. Jean
A. Nez (below, third from left) takes top honors in the Natoni Horse Race
“Best Dressed Elder” competition. At Yazzie’s Benefit Horse Race in
Jeddito, even the race workers and event committee get a chance at a
photo finish (bottom).
But Troy has no time for that. He turns his horse sideways,
lets the animal preen and dance for its audience, then kicks his
mount past the reviewing stand, chased by a thousand cheers.
And who can blame him? The young man has won the
moment at the Natoni Horse Race, and on this hot summer day
in Navajo country, he is taking it for his own.
Tucson-based Leo W. Banks plans to return to the Natoni races to enjoy the
horsemanship, and of course the Navajo tacos.
Tom Bean lives in Flagstaff and finds that when he’s going to one of the
Navajo horse races, the adventure begins with just trying to find the
racetrack. He advises: If you think you’re lost and see a pickup pulling a horse
trailer, follow it.
20 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 21
22 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 23
SAN CARLOS APACHE
115 miles east of Phoenix on U.S. Route 60
To the visitor, the Apaches say Hon
Dah, which means, “Welcome, come
in.” So, slip on those hiking boots for
some Black River backcountry hiking,
or raise your binoculars to spot some
of the 218 species of birds roosting on
the reservation. Year-round community
events include the July Mount Graham
Sacred Run, the November All-Indian
Rodeo and Fair and the February
Apache Gold Casino Pow-Wow. (928)
San Carlos Apache
Located in Peridot on U.S. Route 70,
the San Carlos Apache Cultural Center
features exhibits on the history and
culture of the San Carlos Reservation.
See the works of Apache artists and
craftspeople, including woven burden
baskets, ornamental Apache cradle
boards and peridot jewelry, mined on
the reservation from the largest gem
peridot deposit in the world. Visitors
have a chance to meet community
members and ask questions about
Apache culture. (928) 475-2894;
Salt River Canyon
Arizona’s “mini-Grand Canyon” in the
2,000-foot-deep Salt River Canyon
offers Class III and IV rapids, remote
wilderness, hiking, kayaking, canoeing,
fishing for everything from catfish
to endangered trout, glimpses of
wildlife and dramatic scenery. Be sure
to obtain the necessary recreation
permits, which cost $3 to $20 per
day depending on the activity. (928)
225 miles northeast of Phoenix on State Route 260
From high atop Mount Baldy to the
bottom of the Salt River Canyon, the
2,600-square-mile White Mountain
Reservation affords spectacular views of
Arizona, not to mention some 400
streams and a rich wildlife habitat. Visit
the reservation to spot the Apache trout,
which swims exclusively in the waters of
White Mountain streams and lakes.
(877) 338-9628; www.wmat.nsn.us/.
Apache Cultural Center
Located at Fort Apache Historic
Park, the museum showcases the
history and culture of the White
Mountain Apache people. Step into a
gowa, a traditional Apache home, to
experience a multimedia presentation
of the Apache Creation Story. The
Museum Shop features beadwork,
Crown Dancer figures, basketry and
other Apache arts. (928) 338-4625;
Fort Apache Historic Park
Take a guided or self-guided walking
tour of the 27 remaining buildings of
Fort Apache dating from the 1870s
through the 1940s. It was a major
outpost during the Apache Wars, but
was turned into a boarding school in
1923 by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
But when the tribe took over in the
early 1990s, this seeming symbol
of conflict became a showcase for
Apache culture and history. Visit the
re-created Apache village, ancient
ruins and the military cemetery. (928)
Kinishba Ruins National
The nearby Kinishba Ruins, partially
restored in the 1930s, once housed
an estimated 1,000 Zuni and Hopi
ancestors. During its heyday, between
a.d. 1250 and 1350, the pueblo
contained 600 rooms situated on three
different levels. Experts still question
why residents abandoned the masonry
village in the late 14th century. (520)
250 miles northeast of Phoenix
on State Route 264
Perched on three rocky mesas rising
up to 7,200 feet, the Hopi Reservation
sits completely inside the Navajo
Reservation. Each mesa has its own
villages, where visitors can view
cultural and historical sites, best seen
with a Hopi tour guide. Known for their
dry-farming method using only natural
precipitation, Hopi farmers produce 17
types of corn including red, white, blue,
yellow and speckled varieties. (928)
The Hopi Museum
and Cultural Center
The Hopi Museum and Cultural Center
on Second Mesa offers an overview of
activities on the reservation. Tour the
museum and visit the gift shop, which
features Hopi arts and crafts including
coiled baskets and kachina dolls. The
most expert Hopi carvers fashion
their kachinas from one piece of
cottonwood root. For traditional Hopi
fare such as paatupsuki, pinto bean
and hominy soup, or blue pancakes
made of Hopi corn, visit the Cultural
Center restaurant. (928) 734-2401;
First Mesa Consolidated
Villages — First Mesa Tour
Explore First Mesa on a one-hour
guided walking tour and learn about
the history and traditions of the Hopi
people with stops for sightseers to
purchase Hopi arts and crafts. Call in
advance for reservations. (928) 737-
Old Oraibi Village
Considered to be the oldest
continuously inhabited settlement in
North America, Old Oraibi dates to the
12th century, and its residents still live
without running water or electricity.
Located on Third Mesa. (928) 734-
250 miles northwest of Phoenix
on Historic Route 66
The million-acre Hualapai Reservation
straddles 108 miles of the Colorado
River and the Grand Canyon and ranges
from deep rocky canyons and thick
pine forests to rugged mesas and
rolling hills. The name Hualapai means
“People of the Pines.” (888) 255-9550;
at Grand Canyon West
Take the guided walking tour to explore
authentic dwellings of the Hualapai,
Navajo, Hopi, Plains and Havasupai
Indians built by members of each tribe.
Stroll through the Hualapai Market for
handmade jewelry and crafts and
attend one of the cultural performances
in the centrally located amphitheater.
(877) 716-9378; www.destination
West Bus Tour
To see a remote and not-often-visited
part of the Grand Canyon, take the
4.5-mile bus tour along the dramatic
western Rim. The 1.5-hour tour
takes visitors to Guano Point for a
barbecue lunch. (928) 769-2230; www.
Hualapai River Runners
From March through October, ride
the Class III white-water rapids of the
Colorado River to quench your thirst
for adventure. See the Grand Canyon
from a motorized raft piloted by an
experienced river guide. If you don’t
have a week to spend floating down
the gorge, Hualapai River Runners offers
one- and two-day trips. (928) 769-2219;
With land in Arizona, Utah and New
Mexico, the Navajo Nation is larger
than 10 of the 50 states. Containing
more than a dozen national monuments,
tribal parks and historical sites, the
reservation spreads out over 27,000
square miles. (623) 412-0297; www.
Monument Valley Navajo
The 17-mile loop off Indian Route
42 and U.S. Route 163 encompasses
spectacular scenery dominated by the
1,000-foot-tall buttes first made famous
in a series of John Ford Westerns. Much
of Monument Valley remains off-limits
to tourists, but Navajo tour operators
offer excursions into some of the more
remote locations. (435) 727-5874;
Hubbell Trading Post
National Historic Site
Founded in 1878 by John Lorenzo
Hubbell, the Hubbell Trading Post is the
oldest continuously operating trading
post on the Navajo Reservation. The
Hubbell family owned and operated
the trading post until the National Park
Service purchased it in 1967. Today,
the site houses the original Hubbell
homestead, trading post, family home
and visitors center. Shop for Navajo rugs,
jewelry, baskets and pottery. Navajo
artisans still trade there, just as they did
more than a century ago. (928) 755-
Canyon de Chelly
For striking views of Canyon de Chelly’s
steep walls, drive along the canyon
rim and stop at one of the many
scenic turnouts. Navajo-guided jeep
and horseback tours lead deep into
the canyon. Visitors can also hike the
only self-guided trail, a steep quarter-mile
descent to White House Ruins.
Legendary Indian fighter Kit Carson
marched through Canyon de Chelly
in 1864 and destroyed the Navajo
stronghold, forcing 8,000 Navajos to
surrender and begin the “Long Walk”
to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. Today,
close to 80 families still dwell in this
historic canyon. (928) 674-5500;
Reservation Guide by Marilyn Hawkes
Navajo Tribal Park
Canyon de Chelly
Kinishba Ruins National
Hubbell Trading Post
National Historic Site
Oraibi First Mesa
onli n e Find our expanded guide of Arizona’s Indian nations at arizonahighways.com (Click on the February “Trip Planner”).
FISH STORY At an elevation of 8,200 feet, Christmas Tree Lake on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation is stocked with Apache
trout from nearby Williams Creek National Fish Hatchery. The tribe issues 20 permits per day during the fishing season. jack dykinga
With 21 Indian reservations covering more than a quarter of Arizona’s lands, visitors face some tough sightseeing
options. Fortunately, whether gazing at a purple-hued Grand Canyon sunset, fishing for trout in the crystal-clear
streams of the White Mountains or observing a traditional Hopi dance, it’s hard to make a bad choice. Start with
these five reservations and explore the traditions, culture and history that distinguish each tribe.
24 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 25
taking their stories with them
BY SCOTT THYBONY PHOTOGRAPHS BY TOM TILL
ON THE MARCH Drawn by ancestral Puebloans, often with plant dyes and
animal blood, pictographs adorn a cliff wall in an undisclosed location.
n To order a print of this photograph, see inside front cover.
26 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7
TRACES OF A HORSE TRAIL ANGLE DOWN the side of an obscure canyon in the Navajo country of
northeastern Arizona. I follow it to the bottom, looking for rock art along the way. By midmorning, heat
already radiates off the south-facing wall, and shadows have drawn back into the sharpest angles of the cliff.
Tat, quiscidunt venit ut adiam zzrit lut in et,
conulluptat dolor accummod mod dolum ilit
luptatu ercilit lore ex ea feugait velit lore commy
nonse facilisl ero dolorper suscing ercillum
doluptat at praestrud magnit accum erat adit, vel
Earlier, Jon Hirsh had told me about an intriguing panel of horse-men
painted on one of these walls. The river guide has a knack
for turning up this sort of thing, and I’m on my way to check
out his report.
In a land of cliffs, it’s no surprise to find an immense number
of rock-art sites, some dating back thousands of years and often
in remote locations. To reach a single panel, I’ve driven 60 miles
of dirt road and then backpacked for several days. Other sites
have required drifting down a river or dangling from a rope.
Rock-art panels may be harder to reach than a gallery exhibit,
but at least you don’t have to wait in line to view them.
At the next bend, I spot an overhang hollowed into a vertical face
below the rim. I detect a smudge of color inside it, and with the
binoculars pull into view several red handprints. These picto-graphs,
or painted images, are likely much older than the ones I’m
looking for, and it’s hard to pass them by. I begin searching for a
route up the cliff used by prehistoric Indians. There has to be one.
A ledge, screened by junipers, leads to a set of moki steps, foot-holds
carved in the rock centuries ago. Being alone, I move cau-tiously,
knowing a simple misstep can have dire consequences.
I climb to a higher ledge and work my way to the dark recess.
Within lie two sets of small handprints, where centuries ago chil-dren
pressed hands painted with red hematite against the rock
face. Dozens of additional handprints cover the interior walls.
They could be an individual’s mark, a signature, but more likely
they are ritual artifacts of a ceremony long forgotten.
Similar handprints can be found throughout the Navajo lands
and cover a long span of time. On one panel, handprints crowd
the sandstone in bursts of turquoise, green, yellow and red.
Unfaded in a thousand years, they are the most vibrant picto-graphs
I’ve seen. At that ancient Puebloan site, Navajo medicine
men still incorporate the rock art into their prayers, treating it
as an active shrine.
Resuming my search, I follow the wash and notice a flaring
cliff, a likely place for more pictographs. Scrambling up the bank,
I suddenly come upon a tumultuous scene filling the canyon wall.
Painted horsemen gallop across the rock face, quirts outstretched
behind them. The sweeping lines of sandstone enhance the action,
setting in motion a throng of 36 horses. Many of the riders are
seated on high-cantled Spanish saddles, and some wear eagle
feathers stuck in their broadbrimmed hats. A mounted warrior
leads the cavalcade carrying a feathered lance, and feathers also
hang from many of the horses, a Ute custom I’ve been told.
While studying the pictographs, I notice an anomaly. A single
horse carries two women, each wearing her hair tied at the base
of the neck in typical Navajo fashion. So it appears the men are
Ute raiders driving off a couple of longhorn steers and taking the
women along as captives. Historians have overlooked the event,
but I suppose someone living in a hogan nearby might know it.
Men on horses, the old restless story.
A few months later I decide to find a site on the Navajo Reser-vation
said to depict a Spanish priest. After making inquiries for
half a day, rock-art researcher Ekkehart Malotki and I end up at
the notched-log hogan of Johnson John, a Navajo in his late 60s.
As we talk, he offers to take us to the panel located on his land
in the adjacent canyon. The two of us follow as Johnson picks
his way down the trail, surprisingly surefooted.
Soon we reach the canyon floor and cross a sand dune to an
undercut cliff. Centuries of campfires have darkened most of the
alcove with soot. In an unblackened section rises the poster-sized
pictograph we’ve come to see. Sunk in the shadows only a few steps
from the sun-filled canyon, the dark figure stands draped in a
manga, the long blue cloak, richly trimmed in red, worn by Spanish
gentlemen in the 1800s. A straightbrimmed hat shields a face
without features. John says a member of his clan, the Bitterwater
people, painted it a long time ago. Oral tradition tags the man as
a priest or bishop, an identity difficult to confirm from the image
alone. What remains is a lingering sense of mystery.
The Navajo guides us farther up the canyon, thick with pre-historic
ruins, where each cliff shelters a tumble of old walls and a
scatter of pictographs. At one site, two warriors engage each other
in a duel using atlatls, a kind of spear-thrower, the weapon of choice
before the bow and arrow spread to these parts. Soon we stop at
an impressive pair of human figures, pecked into the sandstone
face in typical Basketmaker style. A crescent-shaped head tops
an upright form matched with another turned upside down.
Whatever message the composition once held is now lost.
Attempts to interpret rock art lead to lively speculation or a
dead end. “The meaning,” Malotki says, “is buried deep in these
The three of us take a water break below a grouping of picto-graphs,
and I ask John if the older Navajos knew the meaning of
these symbols. “My father told me, ‘You don’t need to know all
these things. I know them; that’s good enough right now.’ ” John
pauses a moment before adding, “Some of these old people hold
on to their stories. It’s their strength. And some of them take their
stories with them.”
Turning back, he leads us past a cluster of petroglyphs, likely
recording a military expedition against the Navajos. Each figure,
probably a soldier, wears a high-crowned hat, the type worn by the
U.S. Army in 1858. Two infantrymen carry rifles on their shoul-ders,
and another takes aim with his weapon.
The most prominent figure holds a bayonet-tipped rifle in loading
position as he reaches into his cartridge box. But an anatomically
correct detail surprises me, since depictions of genitalia are rare in
Navajo rock art. This soldier is definitely out of uniform. Perhaps
the glyph was meant to convey the idea that he was caught, if not
with his pants down at least with them unbuttoned.
Whatever the original intention of the rock art, a sense
of humor is alive and well among the descendants of those who
made it. As we climb out of the canyon, John tells us about the
origin of the name for the nearby town of Chinle. He gives it a
Navajo pronunciation, drawing out the sounds, and says it means
“where the wash ends.” Then the old guide pronounces it in
English. “Chin-lee,” he says with a smile, “sounds like a Chinese
laundry to me.”
EYE OF THE STORM Still pools of rainwater sit close to mud
patterns at Dancing Rocks, two 500-foot sandstone pillars
on the Navajo Indian Reservation.
n To order a print of this photograph, see inside front cover.
28 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7
HIDDEN TALES A Tsegi Canyon waterfall (left) caresses a hillside in the Kayenta
area. Keeping pictograph figures and handprints hidden (below) protects them
from the oil in modern visitors’ hands and possible destruction.
n To order a print of these photographs, see inside front cover.
AT TEMPTS TO INTERPRET ROCK ART LEAD TO LIVELY SPECULATION OR A DEAD END.
30 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 31
THE WAYS OF OLD Most pictographs shy away from nudity, but the “Blue
Marvels” (bottom left) may show the ancestral Puebloans’ sense of humor.
Pointed pictographs (above left) are thought to symbolize clouds. A Kayenta
ancestral Puebloan ruin (below) is concealed in a cave along the Arizona-Utah
border. Early hand-print pictographs (bottom) known as the “Neon Hands,” which
some medicine men still consider holy, hide in a secret location.
n To order a print of these photographs, see inside front cover.
WHAT REMAINS I S A L INGERING SENSE OF MYSTERY.
32 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7
American dancers to
practice new forms
of an old connection
BY LORI K. BAKER
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JEFF KIDA
Jones Benally, an aging Navajo medicine man, sat on a wool
handwoven blanket on the fragrant rye grass of the Heard
Museum’s outdoor amphitheater. His wispy gray hair dan-gled
past his shoulders, and his long, lean legs — with calves covered
by leggings made from the hair of an Angora goat — stretched out from
his fringed, buckskin skirt. His cheekbones rose high, deep-etched with
weather-carved lines. His deep brown eyes reflected the stillness of a
pool of rainwater. He was one of 66 hoop dancers from tribes all over
POWER AND GRACE
Scoring an almost-perfect 291 out of
a possible 300 points, 27-year-old
Canadian Dallas Arcand of the Cree
tribe demonstrates the concentration
and agility that won him the 2006
World Champion Hoop Dancer title
at the 16th annual competition at
the Heard Museum in Phoenix.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 33
the United States and Canada — Cree, Ho-Chunk, Cherokee,
Chippewa, Navajo, Odawa, Hopi and Kiowa — who had con-vened
at the 2006 16th Annual World Championship Hoop
Dance Contest in downtown Phoenix. The dancers ranged in
age from 2 to about 70 and competed in divisions spanning
from tiny tots to seniors. All wore regalia that dazzled the
eye with blazing reds, turquoises, canary yellows, royal blues
and lime greens, embellished with feathers, beadwork and
sequins twinkling in the sun. (Held at the Heard Museum,
known for its large collection of Indian art and artifacts, this
year’s event celebrates its 17th anniversary on February 3
The glitz and glamour drew a crowd of about 9,000 fans
who anxiously waited over two days of performances to find
out who’d become the next champion.
“I just wanted to tell you,” an admiring fan gushed to
Benally, “that I saw your picture in a back issue of Arizona
Highways, and you’re far more striking in person.” Benally
looked at her kindly but silently, not knowing quite how to
respond to such celebrity worship.
With brilliantly colored hoops looped over their shoul-ders
and bells jingling on their moccasins, one by one the
dancers wove past the spectators to enter the dance circle.
Dancers enveloped their bodies with up to 50 hoops that
they shifted into an ever-changing kaleidoscope of forms:
butterflies, eagles, the ladder of life and a globe representing
Mother Earth. All the while, the dancers’ bodies whirled and
their feet stomped to the pulsating rhythm of a large cowhide
drum, accompanied by the chants of the Oklahoma Outlaws
and Mandaree Singers.
Even though the dance demands breathtaking speed and
agility, Benally, who never tells his age, remains a master. “I
am as old as the wind — ageless,” he once told curious fans,
who’d be shocked to learn that tucked away in the Heard
Museum archives his biography reveals he was a “star per-former
with ‘Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show’ for 30 years.’’
Benally’s agelessness just added to the mystique of the
hoop dance, whose mysteries have been passed on only as
an oral tradition among the tribes. According to one oral
tradition, each time a dancer passes through a hoop, he
adds one year to his life. Watching Benally perform could
turn a skeptic into a believer. “Traditional dancing has its
own healing way, and he is a testament to
that,” the emcee told the crowd.
In Navajoland, where Benally grew up, the
hoop dance is part of a nine-night ceremony
called “Fire Dance.” Never betraying the
dance’s sacred secrecy, his performance at the
Heard provided a sense of its flavor. Like a
heartbeat, the deep primal rhythm of the
cowhide drum animated his dance as he
slipped his lithe body through hoops made of
traditional willow branches, which he maneu-vered
into constantly shifting forms. His
movements were as fluid and meditative as a
t’ai chi master’s. The crowd watched silently, mesmerized.
The dances tell stories — of battles and the hunt, of the
spirit world and, in the case of the hoop dance, of the sacred
circle of life and the kinship of humans to all living things.
According to one version of the hoop dance’s history, it
began as a ceremonial dance in Taos Pueblo, after the Spanish
arrived. When the tourists started arriving on the scene in
the late 19th century, the Indians entertained them with a
spectacular, exhibition-style version of the dance.
From the early 1920s onward, hoop dancing spread in an
ever-widening circle across the Plains. At first, dancers used
only two hoops, but now they use 10, 12 or even 50 hoops.
Elements of American pop culture
are creeping into the hoop dance. At the
2006 competition, one young dancer was
named Britney, while boys competing in
the youth division adorned their regalia
with Batman and Superman emblems.
Nakotah LaRance, a 16-year-old Hopi
from Flagstaff, drew some of the biggest
ahs from the crowd after he performed
a handstand, a breakdance move, and
Michael Jackson’s famous “moon walk.”
LaRance nonchalantly hopped on his
skateboard after his performance. His
mastery of the hoop dance has provided
him an unusual entrée into Hollywood.
It all began when an audition landed him
FANCY DANCER Festooned with beadwork, fringes, feathers and
bells, hoop-dancing competitors must demonstrate precision, timing,
rhythm, showmanship, creativeness and speed while manipulating
up to 50 hoops at once.
a spot on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in July 2004,
when he performed a nationally televised hoop dance. Next,
he nabbed the spotlight on “America’s Most Talented Kids.”
But perhaps his biggest break came when he nailed a role
in the Steven Spielberg-produced TNT miniseries, “Into the
West.” He’s since been involved in four other movie projects.
Hoop dancing’s celebrity quotient has also landed 27-year-old
Dallas Arcand in the limelight. The Cree Indian from
Alberta, Canada, soon plans to release his debut hip-hop
album under his pseudonym, Kray-Z-Kree. “When the tribal
elders hear it, they are proud of it. But the youth can jam to it
as well,” said the break dancer who’s performed throughout
Alberta in groups such as Rising Nation, Magoo Crew and
Red Power Squad.
And in the hoop-dancing competition last year — scored
by a panel of judges on the basis of showmanship, creativ-ity,
speed, timing and precision — a little star power paid
off. Arcand won the World Champion Hoop Dancer title
in the adult division, and LaRance claimed his third teen
champion title after being a two-time youth champion. In
the senior division, Terry Goedel from Rancho Cucamonga,
California, reclaimed his 2005 title, with third-place honors
going to Benally.
For Benally, his performance wasn’t so much about the
competition as about his life’s work: to preserve his Navajo
heritage as a living tradition. “I teach the traditional way,” he
said. “It’s hard to find that now.”
Derrick Suwaima Davis, a four-time world champion
hoop dancer who grew up in Old Oraibi on the Hopi Reserva-tion
in northeastern Arizona, feels a similar motivation. Both
Hopi and Choctaw, he now shares his interpretation of the
hoop dance with audiences around the world — in Germany,
Spain, Australia, Denmark, Malaysia, Africa and Singapore.
He’s performed at the Heard Museum’s hoop dance competi-tion
since its inception.
“We believe there is medicine in our song, drum, the cloth-ing
and the dance,” he said. “We as hoop dancers are only
vehicles to share the dance’s message.” That message is about
stewardship of Mother Earth and the sacred connection of
all life. “When people watch, they are very uplifted.”
As I listened to Davis, I did feel uplifted, but I wondered
if the crush of modern times might overwhelm this simple,
sacred message. I lifted my eyes to the high-rise condomini-ums
that loomed over the Heard Museum’s grassy amphithe-ater
in the heart of downtown Phoenix on Central Avenue. I
noted a large digital clock flashing each passing second of the
dancers’ performances, scored like the Olympics by a panel
of judges. Amplifiers on poles broadcast the war chants sung
by the Oklahoma Outlaws and Mandaree Singers.
My heart longed for the traditional simpler ways of the
Navajo medicine men, like Jones Benally, whose dance taught
me the importance of living life in balance and honoring the
sacredness of all living things.
WHAT’S ALL THE HOOPLA? With a downtown Phoenix high-rise in the
background, contest participants in five age categories — Senior, Adult,
Teen, Youth and Tiny Tot (the youngest entrant, 4 months old) — parade
into the Heard Museum’s arena.
The dances tell
stories — of battles
and the hunt, of the
spirit world and, in
the case of the hoop
dance, of the sacred
circle of life and the
kinship of humans to
all living things.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 35
AGELESS MASTER Using willow-branch hoops, rather than plastic,
Navajo dancer Jones Benally performs choreography more traditional
and sacred than that of many of his younger counterparts.
After attending the hoop dance contest for two days, Lori K. Baker of
Mesa felt tempted to buy an armload of hula hoops and give them a
spin at home.
Jeff Kida of Phoenix says that photography has always been his entrée
into cultural events. After covering the Hoop Dance Championship, he
came away with a better understanding of the hoop-dance tradition,
not to mention a little more bounce in his step.
To see a slide show of the 2006 Hoop Dance
Championship go to arizonahighways.com Click
on the February “Trip Planner”).
34 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7
Location: Heard Museum, 2301 N. Central Ave., in downtown Phoenix.
Dates: February 3 and 4.
Fees: $10, adults; $3, children ages 4 to 12; $7, museum
members and Native Americans; free, children under 4.
Additional Information: (602) 252-8848; www.heard.org.
36 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7
I sat on the sun-warmed rock where Juh
had waited for his revenge, patient as death.
Shading my eyes against the lowering sun,
I studied the canyon bottom where Lt.
Howard Bass Cushing had stopped to sniff
Juh’s baited trap, his blood lust pitted against prudence. I
could sense them now, as though their intricate game of
death and vengeance had marked this all-but-forgotten
canyon in the Whetstone Mountains of southern Arizona.
Juh and Cushing’s lethal rivalry captures the futile tragedy
of that long-ago struggle between irreconcilable cultures.
They each inspired terrible love and devotion, battled to
the death and fought fearlessly.
Juh remains the more mysterious figure, one of the
Apaches’ greatest strategists and leaders. Six feet tall and
weighing a heavily muscled 225 pounds, Juh suffered all
his life from a stutter that should have handicapped him
in the war councils of the Apaches. But he won devoted
followers as a result of courage, strategy and a reputation
for the power to see the future and handle men.
His Nednhi Apache band haunted the heart of the wild
Sierra Madre in Mexico and raided into Arizona and New
Mexico. Jason Betzinez, a Warm Springs Apache relative
of Geronimo, called the Nednhi the “true wild men, whose
mode of life was devoted entirely to warfare. . . . They were
outlaws recruited from other bands.”
“Juh was a prominent and important Apache of singular
A LONG-FORGOTTEN TRAGEDY
OF THE APACHE WARS PITTED
TWO CONSUMMATE WARRIORS
AGAINST FATE AND
by Peter Aleshire
illustration by Brad Holland
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 37
capacity and ruthlessness, deserving to rank with Cochise,
Mangas Coloradas, Victorio and well above Geronimo in accom-plishment,”
concluded the late historian Dan Thrapp.
Juh was a “powerful figure,” reported James Kaywaykla, a
young Apache warrior. “Juh was very large, not fat, but stockily
built. His heavy hair was braided, and the ends fell almost to his
knees. His features . . . were what people now call Mongoloid.”
Juh repeatedly won major battles against Mexican troops, led
warriors in the famous battle of Apache Pass, staged frequent
major raids and kept fighting even after Cochise surrendered.
One of his most astonishing feats was the abduction of several
hundred Apaches from the San Carlos Indian Reservation and
the flight across a thousand miles of rugged terrain pursued
by thousands of soldiers. He stalked his enemies with deadly
patience, laid ambushes with exquisite care and defied many
of the conventions of Apache warfare, like frontal assaults and
That made Cushing his perfect adversary.
Cushing also seemed born for war. He was one of four war-hero
brothers — one of whom died at the Battle of Gettysburg.
After that battle, Cushing insisted on a transfer to his dead
brother’s artillery unit. After the war, he ran afoul of Army law
when he and another officer tried to break their captain out of
jail, where he was lodged on charges of having shot a civilian.
Cushing was suspended from the Army for a year but then
was reinstated as a lieutenant and sent west to fight Indians. He
led F Troop of the Third Cavalry, a small detachment of well-armed,
superbly conditioned men who chased renegade bands
with terrible tenacity.
“An officer of wonderful experience in Indian warfare . . . who
had killed more savages of the Apache tribe than any other offi-cer
or troop of the United States Army has done before or since,”
wrote Lt. John G. Bourke. “He was about five feet seven in height,
spare, sinewy, active as a cat; slightly stoop-shouldered, sandy
complexioned, keen gray or bluish-gray eyes, which looked you
through when he spoke, and gave a slight hint of the determina-tion,
coolness and energy which had made his name famous all
over the Southwestern border.”
Cushing made killing Cochise a personal crusade in 1869
and 1870, crisscrossing the Southwest and fighting numerous
battles. He even narrowly avoided drowning when caught in a
flash flood in a desert wash.
Bourke recalled one winter incident when Cushing surprised
an Apache camp, killed many adults and captured children and
ponies. The fight also claimed the life of Cushing’s close friend,
Lt. Frank Yeaton. Cushing brooded as the troop struggled
through the snow away from the battle.
“The more Cushing brooded over the matter, the hotter flamed
his anger until he could stand it no longer,” wrote Bourke. So
he turned the troop around, leaving the dying Yeaton with a
small guard, hoping to catch the Indians in their ruined camp
at daybreak, mourning their dead. “Not knowing what to make
of such an utterly unexpected onslaught, [the Apaches] fled in
abject terror, leaving many dead on the ground behind them,”
That could be the attack that focused Juh’s attention on the
daring young officer.
Juh’s son, Ace Daklugie, later told historian Eve Ball that
Juh decided to hunt down and trap Cushing after learning of
one such attack on an Apache village. “From the time that Juh
heard of what Cushing did to those people in the Guadalupes
he was determined to kill that man.” Thus began a deadly game
of cat and mouse. “Three times Juh’s warriors had skirmishes
with Cushing,” recalled Daklugie.
Finally, they came together at Bear Springs Canyon.
Cushing’s scouts found the tracks of an Indian woman lead-ing
into the canyon. Veteran Sgt. John Mott led the advance
detachment into the canyon, but grew suspicious because the
woman made no effort to conceal her tracks. Worried, he sig-naled
a halt, but it was too late.
About 15 warriors emerged from an arroyo behind the small
group, and a larger band appeared among the rocks ahead. The
Indians’ initial volley wounded one private and killed the horse
of a second. Mott stood his ground, realizing his situation was
hopeless. The Indians kept their distance, pinning him down.
One daring warrior rode up and snatched the hat from a private’s
head. Mott noted a heavyset Indian directing the battle, exercis-ing
absolute control with hand signals. Clearly, the besieged
soldiers were bait in Juh’s trap.
Sure enough, Cushing charged to the rescue with the rest of
his 22-man force.
The Apaches faded into the rocks. Cushing ordered a charge,
over Mott’s objection.
“Cushing was so sure of himself and had killed so many
Apaches, that he must have thought he knew more than Ussen
(God) Himself,” Daklugie said later.
Before the troop had covered 20 yards, the Apaches emerged
again from the rocks. “It seemed as if every rock and bush
became an Indian,” wrote Mott later.
Suddenly Cushing cried, “Sergeant, Sergeant, I am killed.
Take me out! Take me out!” Mott turned in time to see Cushing
pitch to the ground. Mott and another man seized the wounded
officer’s body, but within 10 paces another bullet struck Cushing
in the face.
The soldiers turned to make their stand, but now the Apache
attack lessened. Abandoning the bodies of Cushing and three
others, the troop fought its way a mile back down the canyon.
“Juh wasn’t much interested in the troops — just Cushing,”
Daklugie said. “Other White Eyes were killed too, I don’t know
how many. We weren’t all the time counting the dead as the
Bourke bitterly mourned Cushing’s passing. “There is an alley
named after him in Tucson,” he wrote, “and there is, or was,
when I last saw it, a tumble-down, worm-eaten board to mark
his grave, and that was all to show where the great American
nation had deposited the remains of one of its bravest.”
Juh lived on to play a key role in other major events, but
had already seen his doom in a vision. He had assembled his
warriors on a cliff as he prayed. Peering through the campfire
smoke, his followers saw a black spot growing in the face of the
cliff opposite their position.
“It looked like an opening in the immense wall opposite us,”
said Daklugie. “As we watched, a thin white cloud descended
and stopped just below the opening in the cliff. Every person
knew this was a message from Ussen. We watched as thousands
of soldiers in blue uniforms began marching eight abreast into
the great opening. This lasted for a long time. The cave must
have extended far into the cliff, for none returned.”
The tribe called upon the medicine men to interpret the
dream. “Ussen sent the vision to warn us that we will be
defeated, and perhaps all killed by the government. Their
strength in number, with their more powerful weapons, will
make us indeed Indeh, the Dead. Eventually, they will extermi-nate
us,” said a medicine man.
But Juh would not surrender — even to Ussen. “We must
gather together all Apaches,” said Juh. “We must not give up.
We must fight to the last man. We must remain free men or die
fighting. There is no choice.”
Juh died as he lived — unbroken. After most of the Chiricahua
Apaches surrendered to General Crook in the Sierra Madre, Juh
fled with the tattered survivors of his band. Riding along a river-bank
with his sons, he suddenly fell from his horse into the
water. Some accounts suggest he was drunk, but Daklugie said
he suffered a stroke. Daklugie held his father’s head above the
water, but Juh died in his arms.
As I picked my way down from the lichen-encrusted rocks
above Bear Spring Canyon, I thought of those two graves —
Cushing’s and Juh’s — lost in the drift of time. Today, the canyon
stands empty, remaining much as it did the day that Howard
Cushing’s eyes raked the sky as he clutched his death wound.
Haunted by that thought, I sat on a rock in the canyon bot-tom,
watching the day dying in a wash of light as golden and
burnished as a medal — or a shell casing.
Chiricahua National Monument
Twenty-seven million years ago, an
enormous volcano erupted in what is now
the Chiricahua National Monument in
southeastern Arizona. Over the millennia,
thousands of feet of fused volcanic ash
slowly eroded to create some of the most
stunning rock formations found anywhere
in the world. Here, a 12,000-acre maze features a network
of trails through giant rock columns, delicately balanced
rocks and hoodoos. Before their capture, Geronimo, Massai
and the Chiricahua Apaches traveled through these
weathered spires, keeping their camps secret from U.S.
soldiers. Today, visitors can walk along the same trails to
the Heart of Rocks area or take the 8-mile scenic drive that
ends at Massai Point and enjoy the view.
Information: (520) 824-3560; www.nps.gov/chir.
Fort Bowie National Historic Site
In July 1862, several hundred Apaches ambushed 88 U.S.
Army soldiers in Apache Pass, and the battle marked one of
the first times that the soldiers used howitzers against the
Apaches, assuring the soldiers’ victory. The area was famous
as the site of the Bascom Affair and numerous skirmishes
between the Apache warrior Cochise and the U.S. Army.
Because of the conflict, Union Army Brig. Gen. James
Carleton arranged for the construction of Fort Bowie in
Apache Pass for the protection of settlers and travelers.
Although all that remains of the fort are a few walls and its
foundation, history buffs can learn about Arizona’s Apache
Wars that took place on this storied ground.
Information: (520) 847-2500; www.nps.gov/fobo/.
Deep within the Coronado National Forest, the rugged
canyons that cross the Dragoon Mountains once served as a
refuge for one of the West’s most famous Apache warriors.
Cochise took shelter within the labyrinth of canyons that
eventually became known as Cochise Stronghold. To
understand why the Apache warrior considered the area a
great escape, hike the Cochise Trail from Cochise
Stronghold Campground to West Stronghold Canyon.
Information: (520) 364-3468; www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado/
C ushing made killing Cochise a personal crusade in 1869 and 1870,
crisscrossing the Southwest and fighting numerous battles.
He even narrowly avoided drowning when caught in a flash flood in a desert wash.
In The Apaches’ Footsteps
Heart of Rocks, Chiricahua National Monument. tom danielsen
38 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 39
Peter Aleshire is editor of Arizona Highways.
Brad Holland is a New Yorker who has created award-winning illustrations
for Arizona Highways.
American pronghorn antelopes numbered over 30 million in the 1800s but plummeted
to near extinction in the early 20th century. The Sonoran pronghorn, native to
Arizona and Mexico, has been protected by the Endangered Species Act since 1967.
40 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 41
They depend on great spaces, using their
binocular vision and 50-mph sprints to
evade coyotes, bobcats or mountain lions.
The fleetest mammals in America, even
fawns, usually born as twins, can sprint
at 25 mph within their first week.
Still, they can’t outrun the threat that
stalks them, a combination of fragmented
habitat and a decade of drought. U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service and Arizona Game
and Fish Department surveys have docu-mented
a plunge from 200 to just 20 in
the past decade.
The Sonoran pronghorn is one of
five subspecies of American pronghorn,
and is a subspecies that is considered
critically endangered. Although adapted
for speed with an oversized heart and
lungs that make it second only to the
cheetah in speed, the Sonoran pronghorn
is a poor jumper. So the division of habi-tat
by roads, fences and canals threatens
the roaming Sonoran subspecies.
Illegal immigrants and law enforce-ment
activities along Arizona’s border
with Mexico are other intrusions that the
Sonoran pronghorns’ cousins don’t have
to battle. Add to this the threat of live-stock
grazing and the potential for con-flict
with the adjacent Barry M. Goldwater
Air Force Range, and the Sonoran prong-horns
are facing an uphill battle.
Removal of barriers where possible,
and minimizing human disturbances
during fawning season are keys to saving
the Sonoran, according to Defenders of
Biologists built a giant pen in the Cabeza
refuge, which sprawls for 50 miles along
the Mexican border in the heart of prong-horn
country. Established in 1939 to save
dwindling herds of desert bighorn sheep,
the refuge now offers the Sonoran prong-horns
their last, best chance. Last spring,
10 fawns were born in the enclosure. Then
last November, biologists released two
yearlings born inside the fence.
A joint, international effort involving
public and private groups in two countries
led to the construction of a holding and
breeding facility similar to one in Baja
California. Biologists stocked it with a
buck and six pregnant females captured in
Arizona and Mexico to provide a breeding
population that could repopulate the refuge.
Irrigated areas and a well ensure food even
during drought, both in the enclosure
and in areas of the reserve and the Air
I keep looking through the binoculars
until suddenly six pronghorn does
emerge from an arroyo to eat. This spring,
the does produced six fawns in the pen,
but I see no fawns and no buck. Winter
rains have at least temporarily inter-rupted
the drought, so the desert is green
and the pronghorns have made their first
tentative steps back from the brink. In the
early morning sun, the does glow ghostly
white before disappearing back into the
thick scrub. They are living up to their
nickname, “phantoms of the desert.”
recovery in giant
FROM THE TOP OF PACK RAT HILL in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, I study the gleam of the
electrified 5-foot-high wire mesh fence that contains the future of one of the Western Hemisphere’s most remarkable
and most endangered creatures within a frail square mile of creosote bushes, ocotillos, paloverde trees and saguaro
cacti. ❦ The exquisitely adapted Sonoran pronghorn antelope survives only in a patch of southwest Arizona and
northwest Mexico. Not true antelopes at all, the pale tan Sonoran pronghorns weigh 100 pounds and stand 3 feet high
at the shoulder, with distinctive black stripes and white rumps. They shed their strange, black forked horns annually
and rely on hollow hairs to insulate them against cold or rise up to allow air to circulate in the killing heat.
by Dexter K . Ol iver photograph by John Herver t
Dexter K. Oliver of Duncan is a wildlife field
technician who once worked on the Cabeza Prieta
National Wildlife Refuge and was a member of
the Sonoran pronghorn recovery team.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Nature lovers with a permit
can sometimes glimpse a Sonoran pronghorn
on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife
Refuge, headquartered just north of Ajo.
The refuge is closed during the pronghorns’
breeding season, approximately March 15 to
July 15. Information about rules, regulations
and wildlife may be obtained by contacting
the refuge manager in Ajo, (520) 387-6483.
42 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7
by Scott Thybony photograph by David Elms Jr.
for a perfect
cup of camp coffee
over the years, my search for a simple cup of
camp coffee has come full circle. And when you find
yourself walking in circles, you know you’re in
I started out using those packets of powdered
coffee you find in a surplus store. Designed for the
foxhole, they dyed water the right color but did little
else. Since then I’ve tried, with varying degrees of
success, coffee bags and a drip cone, a reusable coffee
sack and even a French press. Wanting a more
civilized instant coffee, I once made a syrupy
concentrate to mix with hot water. Any of these methods will
work, as long as you’re tired, sore, dazed or hypothermic.
But the desire for good coffee in the wild goes unchecked.
Walk into a backpacking store and the range of coffee-making
gizmos crowding the shelves is mind-boggling. You can choose
a palm-sized coffee grinder or a collapsible filter basket, a mini-espresso
maker with a knock-down handle or the ultimate: a
titanium café latte set with a coffee press and milk foamer.
Extravagance, or merely a sign of refined taste? I’ll let you be
Times were simpler when the inveterate traveler Burton
Holmes crossed the Painted Desert in 1898. “The amount of
coffee,” he wrote, “that one can consume in Arizona is
incredible; it is poured out in bowls, served piping hot, black
and without milk.”
An old-timer I knew also drank his coffee from an enamel
bowl, one he never washed. He insisted the buildup of residue
gave it an extra punch, and I didn’t argue with him. One look
at the dark sludge coating the rim convinced me he was right.
Arizonans have worked hard to maintain their caffeine
traditions. I’ve drunk cowboy coffee heated on a twig fire while
the horses grazed nearby. It’s ready to drink, the wranglers tell
you, only when it’s strong enough to stand a spoon straight up.
An old Navajo couple I lived with drank an even stronger brew.
They kept an enamel pot simmering all day and let the grounds
build up until the pot was two-thirds full. And for true grit,
you can’t beat river coffee, best made when the Colorado is
running muddy red.
People will doctor their coffee with lumps of butter, twists of
lemon peel or splashes of more
potent additives. Others have
tried hard to come up with
alternatives. I’ve hiked with a
guy who drank nothing but
plain hot water, and a couple
who swore by hot Jell-O. Camped on a mountainside at 15,000
feet, it tasted surprisingly good, but I’ve never been able to gag
it down since. Tea drinkers only appear to have an easier job of
brewing up. While traversing an icefield in the Rockies, a
Canadian woman showed me how to make a proper cup for
high tea, an undertaking almost as formal as a Japanese tea
After returning from the Sahara, I started carrying a brass
coffeemaker given to me by a Bedouin. The Turkish coffee,
capable of raising the hairs on the back of your neck, was
harder to make on the burner of a high-tech stove than on the
coals of a fire. And to do it justice meant carrying the thick
glass cups that went with it. Soon the whole process turned
into a cumbersome ritual, and I found myself back at the
instant coffee aisle.
Coffee on the trail should be quick and simple, something
you can make with numb fingers while the wind is howling.
But instant, I’ve found, isn’t always quickest. On one trek, I was
bent over the stove with my back to the wind as gusts kept
blowing the coffee crystals out of my cup.
Despite the drawbacks, freeze-dried coffee has become my
default method. It’s a lot like cough syrup; you take it for the
effect, not the taste. And the secret, I’ve found, is to make it strong
enough to prickle the scalp — then the taste no longer matters. along the way
CUP O’ JOE
Coffee comes in many forms, from
six-dollar-a-cup latte to simple
cowboy coffee simmering next
to an open fire. But they all boil
down to different caffeine delivery
systems. Most coffee drinkers
prefer substance over style.
Join a small group this year to:
• Photograph artisans and landscapes
of the Hopi reservation
(April 12-15; Oct. 18-21)
• Develop and refine photographic
technique in Monument Valley and
Canyon de Chelly (April 26-30; Oct. 13-17)
• Enjoy the varying light and twisting
interiors of some of Arizona’s amazing
slot canyons (May 1-5; Sept. 11-15)
• Experience an exciting rafting
adventure through the Grand Canyon
(May 2-13; Sept. 13-24)
• Helicopter into Havasu Canyon to
photograph its breathtaking waterfalls
• Select from several exciting workshops
led by Navajo photographer LeRoy DeJolie
(Navajo Lands & People, June 6-10
or June 13-17; Hunt’s Mesa & Monument
Valley, Sept. 25-29)
• Photograph the Grand Canyon’s
spectacular North Rim at the height
of fall color (Oct. 1-5)
• Sample northern Arizona’s premier
landscapes, including Sedona, the Grand
Canyon, slot canyons, Monument Valley
and Canyon de Chelly
(Best of the West, Oct. 6-10)
• Delight in the multitude of “Preposterous
Landscapes” found on Lake Powell and in
Glen Canyon (Oct. 21-26)
• Combine photography and digital
workflow in Sedona with a professional
Photoshop instructor (Oct. 26-29)
Professional instruction by
photographers will give
both film and digital
photographers the opportunity
to improve their creative
and technical skills.
Learn from the Best
These are just a few of the
throughout Arizona and
To obtain a free color brochure containing all 2007 workshops and prices, call
toll-free (888) 790-7042, or visit us online at www.friendsofazhighways.com
For More Information
Robyn Noll, volunteer
Mark Orlowski, participant Tom Keller, participant
Roger Galburt, participant
Dean Hueber, volunteer 2007 Photo Workshops
44 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 45
by Dave Eskes photographs by Chuck Lawsen hike of the month
Before you go on this hike, visit arizonahighways.com for other things
to do and places to see in this area. You’ll also find more hikes in our archive.
i had not been in the
outback for months. Neither
had my hiking pal, Carl. So it
was with anticipation that we
strolled down Badger Spring
Wash one cool February
morning to the Agua Fria
River, following a tributary
no wider than curb water as it
meandered a half-mile
through parched desert scrub.
This stretch of the river, 40
miles north of Phoenix and a
mile or so east of Interstate 17,
gouges a deep canyon
through Agua Fria National
Monument — 71,000 acres of
grassy mesas and big-shouldered
by black volcanic rocks,
petroglyphs and more than
450 prehistoric ruins.
archaeological sites lie on the
mesas, petroglyphs also
appear along the river. We
found some just a few yards
upstream from the tributary.
Scratched into cactus-sprouting
boulders, they stood
out white in the sun, closer to
immortality than a thousand
Images of deer and elk
leaped across 10 centuries
to join descendants still
roaming the mesas (along
with mountain lions, javelinas
and bears). Enigmatic loops
and circles overlaid with
invited speculation. Were
they Hohokam doodles or
As we headed downstream
into the deepening canyon,
all pretense of trail vanished.
We spent most of our time
scrambling over and around
the jumble of smooth granite
boulders choking the
riverbed, taking care not to
slip and fall. Once,
checkmated by rock and
water, we detoured high up
the steep bank and picked
our way over timber and
brush deposited by a flood.
It was a reminder that,
despite its proximity to the
freeway, this country is
primitive. Flash floods,
broken legs and snakebites
have code-red potential. After
a rainfall, the normally solid
mesas turn into a sea of slick
clay that immobilizes even
All of which, of course,
contributes to the allure. The
solitude, the unpredictability,
the lack of amenities — what
more could you ask? Although
wildlife is abundant, we saw
only the tracks of a small
animal, possibly a raccoon.
Tiny fish — the Agua Fria
hosts four native species —
moved languidly in quiet
pools, while butterflies with
yellow-tinged black wings
flitted about desert shrubs.
After hiking roughly three-quarters
of a mile, we
lunched on trail mix and
started back. Had we gone
another mile, we could have
scaled the 700-foot canyon
wall and viewed the ruins of
Richinbar Mine, which
overlooks the river. From
1896 to 1912, the Richinbar
produced both gold and silver
while anchoring a thriving
We did not feel deprived.
The petroglyphs, the sound of
water gurgling over rocks and
the satisfaction that comes
from a good workout were
reward enough. The hike
made up in exertion for what
it lacked in distance (about
2.5 miles). “Rock-hopping” is
a great physical conditioner.
The Agua Fria River is like
a good book. It whets your
appetite for more. And every
time you read it, you learn
GO WITH THE FLOW
Horses tote passengers down the
dusty Badger Springs Trail (right),
while the gentle water of the Agua
Fria River (below) charts its own
course through the rugged
wilderness, just east of Interstate 17.
LAND OF THE FRIA
Massive cottonwood trees create a
shady spot amid the desert landscape
at the confluence of Badger Springs
and the Agua Fria River (above),
where ancient Puebloan petroglyphs
have survived for centuries (below).
A fitful stream, black boulders, scattered ruins and rock art await on Agua Fria hike
Length: Approximately 2.5 miles.
Elevation: 3,045 feet.
Difficulty: Easy to strenuous.
Payoff: Fine views and petroglyphs.
Getting There: Drive 40 miles north of Phoenix on Interstate 17 just past
Sunset Point. Exit at Badger Spring, Exit 256, and head east a quarter-mile to
the parking lot and kiosk. You can either walk to the river from here (about a
mile) or continue driving to the trailhead over a primitive road best suited to
Travel Advisory: Avoid this hike during summer months. Carry plenty of water,
snacks and a good map with a GPS device if possible. Do not hike alone.
Additional Information: (623) 580-5500; www.blm.gov/az/aguafria/pmesa.htm.
Agua Fria River
Badger Spring Wash
Bloody Basin Road
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 47
back road adventure
46 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7
let me admit to a fondness
for the kind of roads most
people want to sleep through,
not waking up until they’re
in the forest or among the red
rocks or at the view of the
I like bleak. I like empty. I
like being able to see where
the world curves, and I like to
see the dirt underneath
For most people, State
Route 377, from Heber to
Holbrook, is a sleeping road.
But it always held me, because
when the land strips itself this
bare, there’s no telling what
secrets it might reveal.
Once, when I was younger
and driving this road rather
far over the speed limit, a
policeman zoomed past even
faster. And so we both missed
the bald and golden eagles
that hunt from the telephone
wires. We missed the
tortoises sunning on the
roadside, the elk
everywhere — and if you
missed the elk, you had to
contend with the jackrabbits
running across the road.
It’s been a long time since I
drove there. A quick check of
the map shows a nearly
perfect triangle of roads:
Heber to Snowflake, past
Woodruff to Holbrook, and
back to Heber. This triangle
takes in a colorful swath of
high deserts, piñon and
juniper forests and ponderosa
pines at higher elevations, all
in a part of the state that not
many people ever see.
They don’t know what
My wife, Lynn, and I start in
Heber at the junction of State
Route 260 and State Route 277
near Overgaard, a town that
was badly affected by the 2002
Rodeo-Chediski fires. None of
the burn is visible from the
road, though. Neither is the
cabin my parents owned for
years, which they sold only
when Mom couldn’t take the
Here at more than 6,600
feet, the ponderosa pines
quickly give way to juniper
and piñon, the roadside lined
with thistles and yucca,
before the landscape changes
yet again, to young pines
resembling a Christmas tree
farm for very short elves.
The turnoff to Aripine —
all my life, I thought that was
a typo — recedes behind us,
and the land changes again,
opening to huge tawny grass
meadows, and then, at about
6,000 feet of elevation, into
rocks the reddish color of the
caps we used to put in our
six-shooters when we played
Wild West. About 26 miles
from Heber, a train chases us
into Snowflake, where my
first college girlfriend was
from. This means my very
understanding wife insists on
driving now, because I keep
scanning the sidewalk for a
particular short, cute blonde.
Erastus Snow and William
Jordan Flake founded
Snowflake in 1878. The first
settlers knew how to build
and knew what their
priorities were. Snowflake’s
45 structures on the National
Register of Historic Places
include the home of James
Madison Flake — son of the
town’s founder — which was
built to accommodate the
man’s 24 children. At the
1893 John A. Freeman home,
the bedrooms have no closets,
because that would have
meant paying more tax.
We’re here on the wrong
day for a tour of the massive
hydroponic tomato farm on
the edge of town, and I do not
see anyone who looks like my
old girlfriend, so we drive past
a small clock tower where all
three clocks show a different
time (none correct), go back
to the town’s traffic light, turn
right, and head a mile east to
the Old Woodruff Road.
I have no idea where the
new Woodruff road is, nor
why there would be one when
the old road is so nice: 23
well-graveled miles to town,
curvy enough to be
interesting, the potholes
In moments, we’re past the
ranches and the pavement,
and then, quite suddenly, into
a landscape where the deer
and the pronghorn antelopes
play. Pronghorns, anyway. A
couple herds of them — I’ve
seen as many as 30 or 40
animals at once — work this
territory, their flanks flashing
white against the red rocks.
This open land is what
Arizona looked like a
thousand years ago, and it
reminds us that the Painted
Desert isn’t the only place
where our state went wild
We stop at the edge of a
one-lane bridge, look down
50 feet to where the Little
Colorado River is still frozen,
temperatures. Cacti cling to
the cliffs, and I stop to look at
plants, not even as big as the
palms of my hands, thriving
on the plateau. The veins in
the leaves, a velvety green,
ripple in the sunlight.
The town of Woodruff
looks like it was painted by
Common sunflowers add a splash
of color along State Route 377
between Holbrook and Heber.
HABITAT FOR HISTORY
The James M. Flake Pioneer Home
offers a history lesson about life on
the Arizona frontier. Part of the
public Historic Homes Tour in
Snowflake, the house presents the
original furniture, accessories and
heirlooms of the James Madison
Flake family, descendants of town co-founder
Warning: Back-road travel can
be hazardous. Be aware of
weather and road conditions.
Carry plenty of water. Don’t
travel alone, and let someone
know where you’re going and
when you plan to return.
Holbrook Tourism Council,
toll-free (800) 524-2459
or (928) 524-2459.
A remembered childhood
and small-town pleasures
await a writer on some
laid-back roads from
Heber through Holbrook
by Edward Readicker-Henderson photographs by Robert G. McDonald
48 f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 7
Norman Rockwell: a perfect
small town, stretching out
over a mile or so where the
pavement suddenly begins,
under the shadow of turning
windmills and a field of
sunflowers that didn’t last
My parents once went
house-shopping in Woodruff.
They loved the town, its stone
walls and cubist hedges. They
loved the house. And my
father even loved the fact that
“when we went into the back
yard, it was just covered with
frogs. They were everywhere.”
From the pavement, we
take a left at the T-intersection
onto U.S. Route 180, and drive
about 7 miles toward Holbrook,
with its shops selling chunks
of petrified wood.
Lynn and I lived in
Holbrook when we were
newly married, and we know
where to find our own wood.
Holbrook is a bit shinier now
than in our memories, but all
the familiar landmarks
remain: the giant dinosaurs in
front of the rock shops, the
teepees at the Wigwam Motel.
Today’s last stretch is the
33 miles of State 377, headed
south. As sunset’s coming on,
it’s a revelation, beginning in
the red rocks at the edge of
through scrub and sage and a
large alkali flat — at least I
think that’s what it is; that’s
what my father told me the
hundred times I asked him
when I was a kid.
The trees begin to appear.
For a while, it seems like a
huge game of Risk, not
knowing which color is going
to take over: grass brown or
the deep, tree green. Then, in
the course of a mile or two in
the last 15 minutes of road,
we move from sage to
ponderosa and I put my
hands on the wheel just a bit
tighter, because I have been
surprised by elk too many
times along here.
As we close the triangle, I
tell my wife about the time we
brought my Aunt Jessie up
this way. She was maybe 95
years old, the greatest woman
I’ve ever known.
“Oh,” Jessie said, “oh, I’ve
never seen so much sky.” And
then she pointed out the way
the trees had twisted from
wind, the way the grass
caught the shadows of hiding
bobcats, the boulder fields
that looked like dinosaur
We didn’t have to explain to
her the attraction of “empty.”
Aunt Jessie didn’t miss a
thing. She saw every detail of
this land that most people
Note: Mileages are approximate.
> Begin in Heber on State Route 260; turn left (northeast) at northern edge of
town onto State Route 277. Drive about 30 miles to Snowflake.
> At Snowflake’s stoplight (Snowflake Boulevard and Main Street), continue east
through the stoplight for approximately 1 mile to junction with Old Woodruff Road.
> Turn left (north) onto Old Woodruff Road; drive approximately 23 miles
> Leaving Woodruff, continue north around the mountain, approximately 6 miles
to the junction with U.S. Route 180.
> Turn left (west) onto U.S. 180 and drive about 5 miles to the southern
outskirts of Holbrook.
> From Holbrook, drive south on Navajo Boulevard, which turns into State Route
77. Continue about 2 miles on State 77 to the junction with State Route 377.
> Turn right (south) onto State 377. Follow 377 approximately 33 miles back to
State 277. At the junction, turn right (southwest); it’s about 5 miles back to the
starting point of the triangle in Heber.
MORNING HAS BROKEN
A lone windmill, silhouetted
against a cloud-shrouded
sunrise, sits in the open
prairie, south of Woodruff.
To Phoenix Heber
Little Colorado River
A 1950s-era Studebaker offers a retro
perspective for Holbrook’s Wigwam
Motel, situated on Historic Route 66.
Originally opened in 1950, the hotel
still attracts highway travelers with a
sign that reads, “Sleep in a wigwam.”
South of Heber, the Mogollon Rim is
home to the largest ponderosa pine
forest in the country.
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.