Standing high up on the edge of First Mesa, located on the Hopi Indian Reservation, I was in awe of the miles upon miles of amazing Arizona scenery. The landscape was accented by spring rain that showered areas of the unspoiled horizon, adding to its splendor. It was unlike any other part of the state I’ve ever experienced. What I saw from the top of the mesa was a new kind of Arizona beauty. However it wasn’t just the scenery that captivated me. I was quickly becoming enthralled by the Hopi culture.
Being named Kiva, people often ask me if I’m named after the Hopi word kiva, meaning a ceremonial house. The word itself is actually very multicultural with roots embedded not only within the Hopi language, but also within Hebrew and Swahili. My parents chose the Hebrew meaning, which they were told meant “protected.” I always found it very cool to be connected to all three of these cultures, even if it’s in name only. This trip to Hopi Land was a chance for me to learn more about the word and its meaning to the Tribe.
I was with a group of visitors touring the Village of Walpi, one of the oldest known American Indian communities. Our tour guide spoke to us about the traditions and culture of the Hopi Indians as we walked among the pueblos of the village. The guide explained how the Hopi villages are considered to be living villages, with many of the original homes still intact. These homes have been occupied for centuries, being passed down through family members. We saw the entrance to the kiva, which was a personal thrill. Although it’s not a place for the public to enter, we learned about the ceremonies that take place in it.
As our walking tour continued, we met various artisans proudly displaying their artwork for sale. We learned directly from the artists on how they crafted their artwork, along with the meaning behind the detailed carvings or pottery work.
From our mesa-top view, our guide pointed out the Hopi farmlands below and described how integral agricultural was to the Hopi culture. Since farming so strongly defines the Hopis, it was interesting to learn that some villages are looking for ways to incorporate more agri-tourism type experiences to offer visitors.
We then found ourselves at Second Mesa where the Hopi Cultural Center is located, which offers more information about the heritage and customs of the people. The Center wasn’t open at the time we were there, however, just by peering through the windows, I know I’ll soon be going back to see it. There is also a hotel along with a restaurant where you can sample traditional Hopi dishes. The blue-corn fry bread was just delicious!
Next, we were off to the Upper Village of Moenkopi, adjacent to Tuba City, Arizona where we stayed at the Moenkopi Legacy Inn for the night. The newly-constructed hotel has all the latest amenities, which made for a very comfortable stay.
Hopi Land is surrounded by the Navajo Nation. You can literally cross the street and be in a different reservation. So, on our way out of town, we stopped at the Explore Navajo Interactive Museum, located in Tuba City. Through the hands-on activities of the museum, we were introduced to the language, history and ceremonial life of the Navajo. Tuba City and Moenkopi often serve as gateways to other northeastern Arizona destinations, such as Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly. But that’s a story for another blog…
This experience has been a travel highlight for me. There is so much to see and do on the Hopi Indian reservation. My family and I have already made plans to go back later this summer!
On a side note, picture taking is discouraged on the reservation. Out of respect for the culture, I didn’t take any. The pictures placed within this blog are the agency’s own stock pictures taken with permission from the artist. I advise anyone traveling through any of Arizona’s American Indian reservations to communicate with the respective Tribal Tourism offices and ask when and where it’s appropriate to take pictures.
Back to my name for a moment: Due to the nature of my job, communities often see my name on industry emails. As I was touring Hopi Land, one Tribal member recognized my name and said it always made him smile. You see my last name in Couchon, pronounced COO SHAWN. Before this gentleman knew how to pronounce it, he would say COOSHUN…cushion…what the Hopi women would bring into the kiva to sit on during the ceremonies…Kiva Cushion…I’m a house cushion. I love it!
If you decide to visit Hopi Land, find an experienced Hopi guide to take you to the various travel destinations. Traveling through the reservation is easy enough, but it’s such a better experience when you have someone telling you about the history and culture of the Hopi.
You can find information about Hopi Land tours at www.experiencehopi.com. For information on the Explore Navajo Interactive Museum, visit www.explorenavajo.com.
Kiva Couchon is the Director of Communications and Public Information Officer for the Arizona Office of Tourism. In addition to handling the internal communications for the office, Kiva promotes the agency’s program of work to media representatives, industry partners and consumers. Born and raised in the Grand Canyon State, Kiva is a dedicated Arizona traveler.