How to Kill a Rental Car #6: Day 6, Reservations: The Navajo Negotiation and Hopi Hospitality – Walpi, Arizona

Day 6, Reservations: The Navajo Negotiation and Hopi Hospitality

Dead Horse: “One man’s roadkill is another man’s art.”

On the long, lonely road to Hovenweep, Josh had spotted a large carcass lying by the side of the road. Now, Josh has a very particular artistic aesthetic and a healthy sense of the macabre. He wanted to stop and see if he could shoot a few choice photos. One man’s roadkill is another man’s art. “Bones represent purity,” he had once said to me in one of our conversations on art and philosophy. I still don’t quite get it, but I can appreciate the perspective. So, with Josh behind the wheel and me scanning the horizon we cruised back in the direction of the Navajo nation. We eventually found our carcass, which turned out to be a horse. Josh shouldered the camera and began snapping frames like a fashion photographer at the catwalk. After about 10 minutes he was satisfied with his work and we motored on.

Also on the road into Hovenweep we had passed Hatch’s Trading Post, a couple of adobe buildings in an inviting cottonwood shaded canyon. We needed to stop for a couple of things anyway, and it looked too unique to pass up. It was still quite early when we arrived, so I took a few minutes to investigate some of the outbuildings. I didn’t see a human soul, but noticed that among the flock of chickens were several peacocks looking very out of place.

Eventually we wandered to the door of the trading post. There was no “open” sign, or “closed” sign for that matter. The door was unlocked, so we made ourselves at home. Besides the normal cigarettes, candy bars, beef jerky, and beer there was the oddest assortment of ranch-related products from bridles to bag-balm. And decorating the walls were several rusting old farm tools, watering cans and advertisement from the 1930s and 40s. It had that old-timey General Store atmosphere that many places in the West try to project. This, I think though, was the real deal.

Hatch’s Trading Post: “Would you like some paranoia with that?”

There was still no one around that we could see, but we heard a television coming from the back room. Josh called “hello” a few times and finally there emerged a gray haired woman in a blue floral housedress. She only lacked the curlers and bathrobe to make the stereotype complete. She eyed us suspiciously but didn’t utter a word. We were “strangers in these parts.” We idled through aisles a bit as our shopkeeper fiddled under the counter for something. I almost believed that she was making sure she had a good grip on a sawed-off shotgun, ready to pull it out if we started any trouble. Sensing that she’d rather have us gone we purchased a few provisions and moved on.

“Man, that was creepy,” said Josh, “Like something out of a Stephen King novel.”

It was not even 8:00am and the temperatures outside were already getting uncomfortable. It was then that we realized something that had previously eluded us: we stank. In the town of Bluff on the border of the Navajo reservation we spent a couple of hours at the Cottonwood Wash (& Dry). Clean laundry and hot showers were well worth the time. Once we had cleaned ourselves and we waited for our clothes to finish drying, Josh blew a couple of bucks playing the vintage 80’s video games, things like Ms. Pac Man and Qbert. I settled outside with a bunch of red grapes and my book, hoping to pass the hour reading. I had the sense that I was being watched. Out of the corner of my eye I caught some movement and, turning to see who it was, saw a small form disappear around the corner. Each time I went back to my book the little figure would appear, only to dart away as I turned to catch a look. “Play it cool,” I told myself. My shadow eventually got braver and crept up to the bench I was sitting on. A little hand stealthily reached for my grapes.


The little Navajo girl in the hot pink dress squealed and darted back around the corner. This time she came back giggling.

“Gimme a grape!” she demanded.

“What are you going to give me?”

She bit her lip and looked around. She darted off the porch in to the gravel parking lot and came back with a pebble. I handed her a grape.

“That’s all?” she asked indignantly.

“I think that’s all a pebble is worth, don’t you?”

“Nuh-uh.” She said using her best 4-year-old logic. Nevertheless, she left me once again and came back with a couple of pennies. I handed over a small bunch of grapes, which she dispatched in short order. “Can I have some more?”

I was beginning to like this game. “What are you going to give me?”

She came back with a few bottle caps. By the time our laundry was done, I had scored several rocks, bottle caps, an empty beer can, 53 cents in change, and some dryer lint. My friend’s mom came to collect her shortly before we were ready to move on and thanked me for keeping her daughter out from underfoot for a little while. It was truly my pleasure.

Driving into the Navajo Nation the landscape begins to take on the classic desert southwest look of a Roadrunner cartoon. We had to stop several times just to gawk at the scenery. We had talked about spending the day at Canyon de Chelly, hiking through the best-preserved ancient Puebloan cities in the southwest. In Chinle at the entrance to the National Monument, we passed a lineup of RV’s and mobile homes and decided that running the tourist gauntlet was not what we were interested in doing. I have spent some time exploring the Navajo Nation and had visited the Monument before in the winter when there’s no one around, so I was content to move on. Josh had no particular agenda, so I made the choice to visit the Hopi.

Navajo Nation: “Just add Coyote with Acme Rocket Jet Pack.”

The Hopi believe that they are the aboriginal people in this area and consider the Navajo barbarian invaders from the north. The tribe claims to be the direct descendents of the builders of the Pueboan cities and look with amusement on the notion that the civilization mysteriously disappeared. There is little love lost between the Hopi and their Navajo neighbors, and land disputes are not uncommon. In the 19th century when the US government rounded and force-marched most of the Navajo to Fort Sumner (know as the ‘Long Walk’), the Hopi were largely left alone on their mesa-top villages. Known mostly as a peaceful and agrarian people, the Hopi are deeply spiritual. Perhaps because of this, there culture has remained largely intact throughout years of attempted assimilation by first the Spanish then the Americans. Indeed the Hopi are peaceful, but when Spanish missionaries attempted to put an end to their sacred dances the Hopi united with other tribes in the area to whoop some Spanish ass (The Pueblo Revolt of 1680).

As we entered the Hopi Nation, we passed several signs encouraging us to visit but reminding us to be respectful of their culture. Among other things, no photography was allowed. Our little Mitsubishi labored up First Mesa to the village of Walpi. Walpi has been continuously inhabited by the Hopi since 1200CE. The tribe offers tours to visitors for a modest fee. Our guide, Dinah, was from the Corn Clan and in addition to giving the village tour explained how Hopi society was structured. Each of the Mesas was under a different clan leadership according to an established hierarchy. First Mesa was led by the Flute Clan. Leadership transfers from father to nephew, but ownership of property was matriarchal. The Hopi clans include Flute, Bear, Rain, Tobacco, Corn, and Kachina. The Kachinas are the sacred spirits which are evoked in the tribe’s elaborate religious dances. Hopi artisans also make Kachina dolls to keep in their homes and sell to visitors. I was particularly taken by the local pottery, simple terracotta, baked on sheep dung fires and painted with elaborate storytelling motifs. We passed several kilns firing the latest batches of pots, plates, and water vessels. Dinah joked that the odor of the sheep dung fires was often referred to as “the smell of money.”

Josh and I spent the rest of our day exploring Second and Third Mesa. I was impressed by the friendliness of the people. Everyone we talked to that day seemed to be related to the person we had met before. In the car cruising up and down the Mesas, I had discovered the tribal radio station, KUYI 88.1 Hopi Radio. Surely one of the treasures of the tribe, it was a kick to listen to. There seemed to be no fixed programming, but was DJ’s choice. One gentleman spoke mostly in Hopi and mixed a variety of country-western and Native American Chants. “Hopihopihopihopihopi, Brooks & Dunn, hopihopihopi, ‘Boot-Scoot-Boogie.'” As we left Hopi country our DJ was a teenage girl with a penchant for 80’s heavy metal (Black Sabbath, M�tley Cr�e, and Dio) and mariachi. The Rain and Thunder Kachinas must have been laughing with us, because as we crossed the San Francisco Mountains and descended into Flagstaff, the skies opened up.