and Leo Spring with
Cheyenne Trail Riders, Northern Cheyenne Reservation
Photo by Donnie Sexton
National Geographic travel expert Candyce H. Stapen
visits reservations in Arizona, Utah, Montana and highlights the
season's best Native Celebrations.
Native American reservations are special places. On the unfenced
lands with little development, there's a sense of freedom. The sweeping
panoramas are the sort that people crowd to see at nearby national
parks, but the Native American lands have relatively few tourists.
You may sleep overnight in tipis or hogans (traditional Navajo dwellings
of earth and logs), ride horses across the prairie, and take jeep
tours to towering monoliths, the site of sacred ceremonies. The
spectacular scenery is part of why a stay on a reservation is a
little-known gem of a vacation. The other part is the chance to
learn first-hand about Native American history and traditions. Kids
- even teens - like the combination of camping, culture and wide
The Navajo Nation, Arizona and Utah
On Navajo Nation land in Arizona and Utah, the sun turns the slot
canyon walls the color of flames and red rock buttes and mesas rise
up from the desert floor. A long ridge of sandstone marked with
cream, pink and yellow striations dominates the landscape near Will
Tsosie's hogan, the traditional Navajo dwelling of earth and logs.
On our hike Tsosie spots a row of glistening blue crystals on a
petrified log, one of many that line the dry riverbed, and he points
out the ancient petroglyphs of animals on nearby boulders. A lone
stallion canters across the high plateau, framed by the wind-sculpted
Later that day we visit Dine College, a tribally controlled community
college set in the foothills of the Chuska Mountains. At a weaving
workshop, we listen to the story of how Spider Woman brought that
art to the Navajo. With John Largo, of Largo Navajo Land Tours,
we go on a jeep tour through Canyon de Chelly, whose thousand-foot-high
sandstone walls once sheltered the Navajo who sought refuge from
the Spanish in the mid-16th century. He points out ancient cliff
dwellings and petroglyphs of dogs, turkeys and ducks and tells us
about the slaughter and the whine of bullets ricocheting across
the canyon when Colonel Kit Carson and his troops attacked the Navajo
living here in 1864, killing many. Largo also offers customized
tours of Monument Valley, a striking landscape of red rock spires
and towers. Both Tsosie and Largo arrange custom programs geared
to a family's interests. Options besides hiking and horseback riding
include learning how to make a traditional meal of dumpling stew
and blue-corn tortillas as well as trying Navajo pottery techniques.
Larger than tents, hogans are big enough to stand up in, but like
tents, hogans do not come with running water or bathrooms. For those
who crave hot water and indoor plumbing, both companies can arrange
day trips. Prices vary with experience.
Details: Will Tsosie ,Coyote Pass Bed and Breakfast P.O. Box 91-B,
Tsaile. 520/724-3383 or John Largo, Navajo Land tours, P.O. Box
5373, Window Rock;
Phone: 888-726-9084 / 505-863-0050
|Cheyenne Trail Riders
on North Cheyenne Indian Reservation
Photo by Donnie Sexton
Cheyenne Trailriders, Ashland, Montana
The brown hills edged with pine trees seem to stretch for miles
as we horseback ride across the Cheyenne Indian Reservation, Montana.
When we pause to rest in the shade of a tree, Leo Spang, a Native
ethnobotanist, finds mint-scented man sage and explains how it's
used for smudging (purifying) in sweat lodges. He picks western
yarrow for us, telling us to rub the yellow flowers between our
fingers. The plant releases a camphor-like smell. Mixed with leaves,
yarrow is used to stop blood oozing from a wound.
Back at Zane and Sandra Spangs' house, Leo's relatives, Jay Old
Mouse, a flutemaker for the Cheyenne people, comes to play. His
tunes are rich and haunting in the night air. Old Mouse is typical
of the artists, elders and craftspeople who share their traditions
with guests at Cheyenne Trailriders. "I want people to know that
we are real and that we live in two worlds," says Old Mouse. "We
have to provide and work - I'm a carpenter by trade - but we hang
onto our traditions."
The music makes us feel connected to the surrounding hills. We
carry the tunes with us as we fall asleep on the earthen floor of
our tipi. Cheyenne Trailriders designs custom trips. For an overnight
ride including horse fee, lodging in a tent or tipi, guide, and
six meals, the cost is $250 per adult. The ethnobotany course on
the trail is an additional $75 per person. Ask about family prices.
The minimum age for horseback rides is 8-years-old.
Details: P.O. Box 206, Ashland, MT 406/784-6150.
Lakota Pony Rides, Manderson, South Dakota.
Alex White Plume, owner of Lakota Pony rides, explains to us that
although the majority of outsiders use the term "Sioux", the people
call themselves "Lakota," a term that translates as "allies" or
"friends." He also tells us how the first horse Wa mni tu came to
the Lakota and how, as a punishment for evil ways, the Great Spirit
took the horse away from the tribe for 400-years. This tale explains
why the Lakota didn't have horses when the Europeans arrived in
the New World.
On a horseback ride across the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota,
we pass ravines and creek beds laced with cottonwoods and oaks.
Soon we ascend a high, windblown butte from which White Plume points
to Bad Bear Hill, the place where native leader Kicking Bear received
his vision of the ghost dance.
Then White Plume, a descendent of warrior Crazy Horse's band, leads
us up the steep slope of an even higher butte. From one direction
we see the purple ridges of the Badlands in the distance and from
another direction loom the peaks of the Black Hills.
On White Plume's cultural overnights, guests sleep in tipis. Longer
programs include an option to spend a night on the prairie, as well
as take beading and quill working lessons
Alex White Plume, Lakota Pony Rides, P. O. B. 76, Manderson, South
Dakota, about two hours southeast of Rapid City.
Rates: $275 per person, per night. 6-day stays are suggested.
Children ten and older can ride with their parents. Younger children
ride horses in a corral. Open mid-March to mid-October.
|On the Crow Reservation
Photo by Donnie Sexton
Sidebar: Native American Celebrations:
Powwows and festivals are among the best times to visit Native America.
During the dance competitions, participants, wearing feathers, shawls,
bells, ribbons and rainbow colored beads, swirl to the rhythms of
drums. Food booths serve up such authentic Indian fare as fried
quail, roasted ears of corn, and Indian tacos, fry bread wrapped
around meat, beans, grated cheese and jalapeno peppers and picante
** Red Earth, Oklahoma City, OK, June
Red Earth is one of the largest Native American dance performances
in the U.S. with more than 1500 dancers from 100 tribes. There are
also storytellers and more than 250 juried artists presenting paintings,
silver jewelry, beadwork, photography and other crafts.
**Plains Indian Museum Powwow, Cody, WY,
June 17-18, 2000
The Buffalo Bill Historical Center hosts the 19th annual Plains
Indian Museum Powwow. This celebration coincides with the opening
of the facility's renovated Plains Indian Museum. Here you can find
out about the stories behind the buffalo hunts, walk into a Hidatsa
earth dwelling to hear tales of the North Dakota tribe's origins,
and sit in a tipi and listen to Crow lullabies.
**Crow Fair, Crow Agency, MT, August 17-21,
This is one of the largest powwows in the U.S. Highlights include
the grand entrance into the arena, the dance competitions, the parade
Phone: 406-638-2601, ext. 104 or ext. 220.
Candyce H. Stapen is the author eight travel books, including National
Geographic Guide to Family Adventure Vacations: Wildlife Encounters,
Cultural Explorations and Learning Escapes in the U.S. and Canada.
(National Geographic, April 2000).