By David Armstrong
The people of the Hopi reservation in northeastern Arizona are keen to share their culture, history and mythic past with visitors, but until recently the reservation didn’t have the type of modern hotel that many travelers are accustomed to when they come calling.
That changed when Hopi elders in the Upper Village of Moenkopi gave the go-ahead for construction of the Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites, a good-looking, up-to-date facility that opened in February 2010.
I stayed at the hotel, located on Hopi-owned land near Tuba City, Arizona, for two nights in April 2011. The 100-room, 16-suite property, built for a reported $13 million, exceeded my expectations, which, I have to say, were relatively modest. I didn’t expect or require the locals, many of them traditional people who live in a no-frills manner, to go all-out.
But they have. The hotel is handsome to behold, the staff is unfailingly helpful, and the location is a prime jumping off-point for exploring the Hopi reservation (and, for that matter, the neighboring Navajo reservation).
As a story for the Arizona Republic newspaper, posted on www.azcentral.com, points out, “Because the Hopis felt exploited by tourists, journalists and photographers who first came to the area more than a century ago, they have, until recently, resisted tourism.”
The arrival of this comfortable hotel is evidence that that attitude is beginning to change, though it is important to point out that visitors to Hopi – as the reservation, with its centuries-old hilltop villages, is called – are met with significant restrictions designed to preserve the integrity of Hopi culture.
There are restrictions on photography, for example. Sites regarded as sacred in traditional religion are off-limits. There is no alcohol allowed. Moreover, there is no free-style hiking allowed around the res without a Hopi guide, though some villages allow self-guided walks.
As I learned on my visit, my first, it’s best to ask first. Conveniently, the TUUVI Travel Center is located just across the street from the hotel. This is a one-stop place to engage a guide, learn about do’s and don’ts and get the lay of the land.
Some of this may sound challenging, even off-putting, but I didn’t find it off-putting when I was there and had absorbed the ground rules. As mentioned, the Hopis, believed to be one of the most long-established U.S. Indian nations (or tribes), enjoy introducing their culture to travelers who take the time to learn about it. And this, in turn, facilitates travel around the arid, ruggedly beautiful reservation, with its classic Southwestern landscapes, centuries-old pictographs and archeological sites.
That introduction, in fact, begins in the lobby of the hotel.
Traditional elders had a guiding hand in the hotel’s design, which, combined with the high ceilings of the spacious main lobby and recreational touches such as the outdoor swimming pool and Jacuzzi, account for the hotel’s inviting appearance.
The lobby features a three-story-high fireplace, tribal symbols woven into the carpet, a stained glass circle and display cases that show works by Hopi artists, including jewelry, pottery and kachina dolls. The outside of the hotel also pleases the eye, with brown, red and ochre hues intended to reflect and blend with the sandstone forms of the land.
My ground-floor King room was large, neat as a pin and well-stocked. Not a luxurious room, it was a very comfortable one, coming with a flat-screen TV, cushy bed, coffeemaker, iron and ironing board and free Wi-Fi. The bathroom had a reliable shower, a hairdryer and plenty of room.
I try to disconnect on the road from time to time, so I can be in the moment and not live on the digital devices I see many travel writers using as their bus or train winds its way through amazing places at the destinations the journalists are there to cover.
Thus, I use hotel business centers when the necessity arises. My first night at the Moenkopi, one of the two PCs in the business center didn’t work. On my second night, both computers were humming along nicely but the printer, which I’d hoped to use to print my airline boarding pass, was on the blink.
I suspect that most guests are leisure travelers, but the Moenkopi also has 3,096 square feet of meeting space and three break-out rooms.
Food choices are limited but certainly adequate. The hotel serves a continental breakfast in the lobby and is bordered on one side by a Denny’s restaurant – not posh, but a good place to fuel up for the day’s exploration of Hopi. The travel center also includes a cafe.
All told, the Hopi reservation encompasses 12 self-governing villages that especially welcome visitors during designated festivals and feast days. Details are available at www.experiencehopi.com.
Visiting Hopi requires planning and learning on the part of the visitor, but the pay-off is worth it. Here, you can experience something unique in our increasingly homogeneous world of mass tourism.
The Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites is located at the junction of Arizona state highways 160 and 265 near Tuba City, AZ 86045. Call 928.283.4500, fax 928.283.4499 or e-mail info(at)experiencehopi.com.
David Armstrong is a San Francisco Bay Area journalist specializing in features, news and reviews about travel destinations, airports, airlines, hotels and resorts. He is the former tourism, aviation and international trade reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered tourism, movies, media and theater for the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner. He is the author of five books and numerous travel articles for TheStreet.com, Travel + Leisure, Global Traveler, Napa Sonoma Magazine, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Toronto Star, Chicago Sun-Times, Aviation.com and many others. He blogs at http://davidarmstrongontravel.blogspot.com.