Earth Notes: Hopi Trails in the Southwest

My final Earth Notes of the year aired recently. Click on the photo below to hear the story. You can also read more about Hopi Trails by continuing below.

“Earth Notes” is produced by KNAU and the Sustainable Communities Program of Northern Arizona University.

In 2007 I worked with the Village of Sipaulovi (2nd Mesa) to help develop a cultural tourism program. The village was able to secure funding and partner with the Arizona Office of Tourism and Homol’ovi State Park to facilitate additional research on the Hopi connections to the Homol’ovi region. This work included field trips out on the landscape with Sipaulovi elders and other community members to record oral histories and placenames. I also conducted research into various archives and other historical documents. The following is part of the report that I produced. It is not exhaustive and there could be additional research completed. I was fortunate to be included in this work and at the time, it was my first ethnographic research project that I had undertaken by myself. I had alot of support from the village leadership, community and elders, and I learned a great deal about Hopi history.

Founding Director of the Museum of Northern Arizona, Harold S. Colton, writes:

On May 12, 1858, Lt. Joseph C. Ives, U. S. Army, Corps of Topographical Engineers, stood on the highest rooftop of the Hopi pueblo of Mishongnovi. Beside him the Hopi village chief pointed out several trails which radiated across the level country from the foot of the mesa. During the past few days Ives had traversed one of those trails which he picked up by chance by the Little Colorado, near where Winslow now stands, and had followed it through the Hopi butte country to Mishongnovi. This trail is now closely followed by the present road from Winslow to the Hopi mesas. The trail from Hopi towns to Verde Valley passed south through the Moqui Buttes crossing the Little Colorado near Winslow, passing through Sunset Pass, Chaves Pass, Pine Springs, Stonemans Lake to Beaver Head in the Verde Valley (Colton 1964:91-92).

A map of northern Arizona showing principal Hopi trails” (Harold S. Colton 1964:93).

For thousands of years, foot trails in the southwest served as important travel corridors. These trail systems, some of which cover hundreds of miles, connected people from distant regions, facilitating economic trade and the sharing of spiritual, political and religious ideas between groups. Some trails served as routes to areas where raw, natural resources could be obtained such as salt and turquoise. Other routes led to sacred places where prayers and offerings were deposited. Whatever the purpose, trails enabled the ancient people of the southwest to travel extensively across the landscape.

For Hopi people, trails have a deep and respected history, both ancient and modern. When the ancestors of the present-day Hopi people, the Hisat’sinom (People of Long Ago) were engaged in their epic migrations across the landscape, they pioneered numerous trail systems that would later become major travel routes throughout the southwest. Once the migrations of ancestral Hopi clans were complete, these trail systems would continue to be used as trade and pilgrimage routes. Extending from the mesas like the spokes of wheel, trails connected the Hopi to lands and peoples throughout Arizona and neighboring states (Colton 1964).

Trails led west to the sacred Salt Mines in Öng’tupqa (Grand Canyon), as well as leading to the lands of the Kooninam (Havasupai) and Yavaq’kooninam (Hualapai). To the east, a trail led to the pueblos of Si’ooki (Zuni), Aakookavi (Acoma), and Kawayka’a (Laguna), as well as other pueblo groups living along the Rio Grande River in north-central New Mexico. To the south, a route passed through the volcanic remnants of Tuu’tukwi (Hopi Buttes), through Kuwan’siskya (Painted Desert), leading to the ancient settlements of Homol’ovi located along Paayu (Little Colorado River). From Homol’ovi, this trail continues southwest to the ancient Hopi pueblo of Nuva’kwew’taqa (Chavez Pass) through the forested areas of Stoneman Lake finally down the steep cliffs of the Mogollon Rim to the Verde Valley and southern deserts.

These routes were also traveled by early Spanish explorers, during expeditions in search of new lands, treasure and religious converts. In the year 1540, Don Pedro de Tobar and Fray Juan de Padilla, members of the Spanish expedition led by Francisco Vasquez Coronado, followed the trail from Zuni to the Hopi village of Awat’ovi (Place of the Bow) on Antelope Mesa. Later that year, another member of Coronado’s expedition, Garcia Lopez de Cardenas and his small party were led by Hopi guides along the western trail to the south rim of the Grand Canyon (Whiteley 1988a).

In 1583, Antonio de Espejo, a wealthy rancher and trader from southern Chihuahua, Mexico followed the same trail that Coronado’s men used from Zuni Pueblo to Awat’ovi. From Awat’ovi, Espejo’s party followed Hopi guides south, spending a night at what is now Comar Springs, which they named “El Ojo Triste” (Sorrowful Spring). Its Hopi name is Sii’pa or Flower Spring. This spring is located near the present-day Navajo community of Seba Delkai. Espejo continued on down the southern trail into the Verde Valley in search of silver and gold mines reputed to be located near the modern town of Jerome (Byrkit 1988).

Louis Akin Map (circa 1907) showing major historic routes to the Hopi mesas, including the route from Winslow to Hopi-land. Akin was a southwestern painter and lived among the Hopi people for a time at the village of Oraibi.

Following these Spanish explorations, these trails would be used by early American forays into Hopi-land, bringing trappers, armies, missionaries, tourists and traders to the mesas. By the early 1900s, many of the trails were converted into two-track dirt roads, over which horse-drawn wagons now traveled. With the invention of the automobile, these dusty, bumpy tracks became more established routes allowing Ford Model Ts and other “horseless” buggies to travel across the landscape.

Homol’ovi Migration Trail

The trail system connecting the Hopi mesas to the ancient villages of the Homol’ovi area near the modern town of Winslow, Arizona is labeled the Homol’ovi Migration Trail. This name is not standard literary reference, as this trail system is not formally identified as such in any published literature. Also, it needs to be stated that the term “migration” does not imply movement in simply one direction, but more accurately can be understood as movement in multiple directions, sometimes including a return migration to certain areas.

There is documented evidence that some Hopi clans migrated from the Hopi mesas back to the Homol’ovi area, perhaps re-establishing previously settled areas (Adams 1998b:55). As one Hopi cultural advisor explains in Ferguson and Colwell-Chanthaphonh (2006), “…migration routes can be confusing because sometimes the ancestors started somewhere and then went in a circle and came back to where they started”.

The Homol’ovi Migration Trail is part of a much larger trail system that links the Hopi mesas with areas farther south. Previous research has identified this extensive trail system as the Palat’kwapi Trail (Fewkes 1895, Byrkit 1988, Ferguson and Loma’omvaya 1999). Palat’kwapi is a Hopi name and roughly translates to “Red Walled Place”, referring to both a place and a time period. Hopi oral traditions relate how ancestral Hopi clans migrated from this region over centuries and thousands of miles, to the Hopi mesas. Some Hopi people believe the site and epoch of Palat’kwapi is located in Mexico, Central America or South America.

The Palat’kwapi trail system extends from far southern regions north through areas of southern, central and northern Arizona. The trail between the Homol’ovi villages and the Hopi mesas can be considered the northern extension of the Palat’kwapi Trail. The trail was not only used as a part of the migrations of ancestral Hopi clans, but also continued to be used as travel routes well into the present day. The trails significance as a useful route can be seen even today, as it served as a guide for the eventual placement and construction of the Winslow-Toreva Highway, which eventually became Arizona State Highway 87. This modern highway mirrors portions of the Homol’ovi Migration Trail first established hundreds of years ago by Hopi ancestors.

Historic “Winslow-Toreva Highway Marker” located along Highway 87, near the Little Painted Desert. Toreva is a spring located near the present village of Sipaulovi.

The final map I produced for this project (however, a few of the names need to be corrected). This map shows only the general landscapes traversed and much of this land is now included within the Navajo reservation. The background graphic is a collage of aerial photographs and illustrations that I edited in Photoshop. A wall-sized version is on display at the Homol’ovi State Park Visitors Center.

6 thoughts on “Earth Notes: Hopi Trails in the Southwest

  1. Laurie/Steve Prentice-Dunn

    Hi, Lyle. I enjoyed reading about the many trails throughout the Southwest and beyond. I find the Palat’kwapi Trailsystem especially fascinating in all its implications. That is a beautiful map you created at the end of the post.

    I hope your winter season is full of rest, replenishment, and gratitude. I am grateful to know and learn from you.

    Take care,

    Steve Prentice-Dunn


  2. Michelle Stephens

    Hello Lyle,

    Thank you for sharing the Hopi Trails story. I hope you and your family have a wonderful winter and I look forward to seeing you with Crow Canyon in the spring or fall.

    Michelle Stephens


  3. Pingback: Earth Notes: Hopi Trails in the Southwest — PAA'TUUWI - Coyote Gulch

  4. Tom&Caroline Ferrell

    Hi Lyle

    My name is Caroline Brown (regardless of what the email address is). I’ve seen some of your Crow Canyon webinars in the past and I subscribe to PAA’TUUWI.

    I am on the Board of Directors for Southwest Colorado Canyons Alliance located in the Cortez/Dolores/Mancos area. We are the “friends” group for Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. I know, it sounds a little confusing. But, we want to sponsor two speakers for the 2023 Four Corners Lecture Series. You may have heard about that lecture series. If not, I’ll be glad to give you more information if you’re interested. Since that pesky COVID pandemic, most of the lectures have been via webinar. Southwest Colorado Canyons Alliance has their own zoom account for a webinar. We would love to host you as one of our speakers. We pay a $100 stipend. If you’re interested, would you be able to give a webinar from your home or office?

    The topic needs to be about something in the Four Corners area. Most of the webinars are about archaeology, but we’re not necessarily bound to that. We were hoping that if you’re interested, you could give a program that ties in with Canyons of the Ancients National Monument; whether it be about the plants or animals there; the connection of the Hopi people either past, present or both or whatever you think would be interesting to a Four Corners audience.

    We need to have the details worked out by the end of February so the posters can be printed. Please let me know if you’re interested or if you have additional questions or need more information.

    Thank you Lyle,

    Caroline Brown Board Member Southwest Colorado Canyons Alliance


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