We are so lucky I turned down a hamburger.
I had called ahead to the Hopi Reservation to ask what time guided tours were being offered of First Mesa, one of three mesas overlooking the Colorado Plateau that the Hopi claim as their ancestral home.
"Be there between three and three-thirty," I was told by the voice on the other end. Not knowing how long the drive would take, and not wanting to be late, I declined Mom's offer to stop at the Cameron Trading Post for another good meal, and instead we kept heading east through the seemingly empty scrublands of the Navajo Nation.
There are no signs announcing one's entry to the Hopi Reservation. The Hopi are not a large tribe (about 7,000 members in the last census), and their reservation is surrounded on every side by the 27,000 square miles of land belonging to the much more numerous Navajo.
One reason I wanted to visit here is that this is their home. These lands have always belonged to the Hopi; they were not forced to move here by the United States government. Approaching from the west, you go past Third and Second Mesas before reaching First Mesa.
When we arrived at the foot of First Mesa, I turned off the main road and followed a steep gravel lane to the top, several hundred feet above the plain below. I had been told to look for a stone building called Ponsi Hall, where the tour would begin. My precconceived notions of clearly marked signs and paved parking lots are far away from the reality here. Just park anywhere, walk up to Ponsi Hall--you can't miss it--and open the door to whatever awaits.
It was 2:15. We were 45 minutes early. Or so I thought.
When we walked in, a guide was teaching some Hopi words to a group of about a dozen tourists. I was a bit surprised that, although the language appears to be maintained somehow, it seems to be understood by a small minority...even older women in the room did not know number words beyond ten.
After a few minutes the demonstration was over, and the tour was about to begin. We paid our $8 registration fee and joined the group. It turns out that this was the only tour of the day, and had we arrived at three thirty it would already have been over.
I learned that atop the mesa are three traditional villages: Tewa, Sichomovi, and Walpi. Because this land is sacred to the Hopi, I was not allowed to take photos. A short walk took us from Tewa, the most modern of the three villages, through Sichomovi, and within five minutes we were at Walpi. What awaited us was a highlight of our entire trip.
Next: Part 2 (Walpi)