Part II of our Easter vacation to the Navajo and Hopi reservations found us based out of the town of Winslow, Arizona, at the historic La Posada Hotel. We had planned to spend a day touring Hopi Mesas One, Two and Three, while taking some time for small side trips to Meteor Crater and Grand Falls.
Winslow and La Posada
Before the Eagles made Winslow, Arizona famous with their song “Take It Easy”, before an estimated (annually) 100,000 people came to stand on a corner drawn by a bit of nostalgia, Winslow was a town made popular by the La Posada Hotel (a Harvey House Hotel), the BNSF railroad (Burlington Northern & Santa Fe), Route 66, and the people who flock to this part of the world to experience the Painted Desert and the stark beauty of the Navajo and Hopi Nations.
Let me take you back to the beginning of the American “road trip”. Before the widespread availability/affordability of automobiles, there was the railroad. The railroad opened the “Wild West” to the rest of the US. Originally, dining cars on passenger trains were not common. The passenger’s only option for a meal service in transit was to patronize a roadhouse located along one of the many water stops. A budding entrepreneur by the name of Fred Harvey was convinced of the potential of offering quality food and service at railroad “eating houses”, and opened his first “eating house” (restaurant) along the train tracks in Florence, Kansas. He is credited with creating the first restaurant chain in the US, and of promoting tourism in the Southwest. The popularity of his establishments and the waitresses, known as the Harvey Girls, inspired a 1946 Judy Garland film entitled (what else), The Harvey Girls.
Harvey then developed a series of landmark hotels along the railroad route, many names you will recognize, such as La Fonda in Santa Fe, El Tovar in the Grand Canyon, Casa del Desierto in Barstow, Union Station in LA, the Painted Desert Inn in Holbrook, and La Posada in Winslow. He was a man ahead of his time, offering “Indian Detours” out of some of the hotels such as La Posada. Guests were supplied with a Cadillac, a picnic lunch and a driver to tour the sites, canyons and monuments of the Native American nations. La Posada opened at an unfortunate time, however, in 1930, and was not able to survive the effects of the Great Depression, closing in 1957. Fortunately, in 1994, La Posada was saved from demolition by the current owner, Alan Affeldt, and his wife, artist Tina Mion. The new owners have continued Fred Harvey’s vision of providing high quality food and service. Chef John Sharpe was hired to run the Turquoise Room, a dining establishment touted as the best in the Four Corners area showcasing many Native American influences in its cuisine. La Posada is definitely worth a detour. And when you do, check out the Tina Mion museum within the hotel that has many pieces from Tina’s collection, including the First Ladies series, which has been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in the Smithsonian.
Substituting a Suburban for a Cadillac, my husband for a livery driver and our handy cooler for a picnic lunch, we set out from La Posada to tour the mesas of the Hopi reservation. We actually had to drive north to Tuba City to meet our guide, for access to the mesas is only granted with a Native American guide. First, Second and Third Mesas are united by a system of villages. The village of Old Oraibi was established in 1100, making these the oldest continuously inhabited dwellings in North America. Most are built in the adobe style of the Hopi and are centered around the religious ceremonial room called a kiva. You will see a few solar panels as some homes do not have access to electricity or sewage. For the most part, photography is forbidden in the villages, for as we were told, photography steals the soul of an individual. So you just have to drive up there to see most of it for yourself.
For more information on the Hopi tours, see http://www.experiencehopi.com/ .
Meteor Crater was formed 50,000 years ago when the area was a giant grassland populated by wooly mammoths and giant ground sloths. A meteor slammed into the Earth creating a crater with a diameter of three-quarters of a mile. It remains the world’s best-preserved and first proven example of a large impact crater and a valuable laboratory for research into the origins and evolution of our solar system. And IMHO, super fun for the family to see.
Located a mere 30 miles northeast of Flagstaff near Leupp on the Navajo Reservation, Grand Falls boasts a vertical drop of 180 feet, which would make it higher than that of Niagara Falls at 165 feet. This majestic waterfall with multiple terraces dumps the muddy water of the Little Colorado off of its Grand Canyon-esque cliffs. Monsoon rains or snowmelt will produce a spectacular viewing, but at other times of the year, it can be reduced to a trickle. Grand Falls is located off a dirt road of Hwy 99. DO NOT let your GPS device guide you there, because you will not make it. Just like that woman who used the GPS to guide her from Vegas to the Grand Canyon, you will get lost. Best to buy an old fashioned map, preferably one of the Indian nation at a nearby gas station. There are a series of benches and viewing platforms, but you must have a permit from the Navajo Nation to take the ½ mile trail to the base of the falls. All in all, a great side trip. But don’t forget a 4 wheel drive. Or a reliable map. Happy Exploring! xoM
All photos taken by Marci Symington for texAZtaste.com. We were not compensated for any food or lodging: all opinions are mine.