native american, american indian

Education Vacation: Native American History in the American Southwest

April 10, 2010
by Sarah Amandolare
The American Southwest bursts with potential for exploration, and offers opportunities to learn about Native American groups, particularly the Hopi and Anasazi. Discover what it’s like to drive the Trail of the Ancients scenic byway, plan a day trip to New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historical Park or create an itinerary for the Four Corners, a hotbed of Native American history and culture.

The Anasazi and Hopi

The Anasazi are the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians who live in the Southwest today, and were originally a nomadic group of hunter-gatherers, according to Scholastic. They later evolved to a largely sedentary lifestyle, sustaining themselves by growing crops, such as corn, and weaving baskets. The Anasazi began building villages called pueblos by the year 700 AD, and started making “extraordinary pottery marked by elaborate black-on-white designs.” Scholastic recommends research topics and national monuments related to the Anasazi, provides further background on the group’s baskets and pottery, and describes their architectural and construction methods.

The Hopi reside in the northern Arizona highlands, a place they’ve called home “for a millennium, far longer than any other people in North America,” according to Restoration, a Web site devoted to the Hopi Indians. Known for being a wise people, the Hopi “are intensely spiritual and fiercely independent,” which is perhaps why they are so drawn to the stark environment and high plateaus of Arizona. Restoration provides directions to the Hopi reservation, and has photographs revealing Hopi life.

The Four Corners

The Four Corners region is where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah converge. This is where the Anasazi “reached the height of their civilization,” creating unique artworks in the sandstone found there naturally, most notably at Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, and in Monument Valley. The Anasazi also created cliff dwellings inside Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park. The American West Travelogue has a helpful map that allows you to click on a national park, Indian ruin, or regional Native American point of interest for more information.

Plymouth State University conducted a travel study course that visited the Four Corners region. The university professors involved in the trip blogged about the experience of seeing ancient cliff dwellings, petroglyphs and sandstone artworks, including those at Arches National Park. Explore the various categories of blog posts to gain a better understanding of the region.

Trail of the Ancients

The Trail of the Ancients scenic byway traverses the Four Corners region, extending 480 miles around the American Southwest. The National Scenic Byways organization says the route takes nine hours to drive, but suggests allowing yourself six full days to fully experience the archaeological sites and recreational opportunities along the way, including horseback riding at the Grand Gulch Primitive Area or taking photographs of the sandstone bridges at Natural Bridges National Monument.

Chaco Canyon

Situated in northwest New Mexico, Chaco Canyon was a crucial Anasazi location from 900 through 1130 AD, featuring ancient buildings with “hundreds of rooms each,” some of which were likely used for astronomical observation, according to The area served as an important cultural center for the Anasazi. Learn more about Chaco’s history and archaeology, and view photographs of the canyon on the Web site.

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