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1984 Bike Tour Day 56 – Ritual and conflict in Hopi and Navajo lands

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Saturday, July 7, 1984
Keams Canyon to Tuba City, Ariz.
89 miles
Locater map

I’m reprinting the day-to-day journal entries of a cross-country bike tour my friend and I took in 1984. More about the TransAmerica Tour 1984

Bis’ Journal

We passed through the Hopi Reservation today, in an area where age-old conflicts and rituals still exist.

The Hopi generally live in settlements on three mesas, that look like three fingers jutting from a high plateau in the north. The road passes south of the First, but climbs over the Second (above) and Third. The Hopi have lived on these mesas for centuries and are believed to be descendants of the Anasazi, who left cliff dwellings scattered throughout the region. Amazingly, they have developed a form of agriculture in a land where water in extremely scarce.

Along with the Pueblo tribes in New Mexico, they revolted against the Spanish missionaries which never returned. The Navajo moved into the valleys below, however, and started a conflict that continues. When the US drew up reservation boundaries, it gave the Hopi a rectangular area inside the much larger Navajo reservation.

Climbing to the top of the Second Mesa, we reached the pueblo of Shungopovi. A native arts and crafts center sold the distinctive Hopi pottery and silverworks. I ended up talking with the store clerk for more than an hour. She told me about her grandfather’s clan, the Hopi ceremonies, Hopi medicine, and rituals. Some of the rituals are more modern, like burning a fire in a pit for four days to ward off radioactivity from striking the mesas.

Bruce and the Brits had gone ahead, so I dawdled along, stopping at Old Orabai to see what is said to be the oldest continuously inhabitated city in the nation. The dirt road leads to adobe homes, built right to the edge of the cliff, that have been patched many times.

I finally caught up, and we all cycled along toward Tuba City. We coasted down into a valley, and one the way out we could hear deep voices singing as we entered Moenkopi, a Hopi village at the edge of the reservation. We stopped for awhile to watch the “home dance,” which marks the time when the Kachinas go home. These types of Kachina dances can go on for hours or days. In this case, the dancers had covered their heads with long black hair, sang, and danced in unison as they held pine boughs in each hand.

Tuba City was the pits. Bruce and I slept for free in the city park, while the Brits stayed in a motel. We had a difficult time getting to sleep for all the cruisers who drove past our tent tonight.


Headline: July 7, 1984 — New York City Mayor Ed Koch
approves the city’s first laws to regulate bicycle messengers.


Bruce’s Journal

We were up early this morning and went to the girls’ room for a shower. What a relief to be clean. Nothing, which is to say the grocery or cafe, was open yet, so we cooked oatmeal and coffee before setting out to Tuba City–”big and brassy,” as Geraldine referred to it.

The morning ride was nice through the desert to First Mesa and on to Second and Third mesas. The Indians were doing the ceremonial dances [for luck with planting, harvest, fertility, etc.] at Pollaro (sp?), but we decided to try and see them closer at a town near Tub City.

It was hilly going over the mesas, but the van being there was a help [because we escaped the sun inside during breaks and meals]. We did have a slight water problem–we were running out–but we were given water by a large Indian family we passed going the way who were “running against cancer.” A nice, friendly group, if somewhat feckless-looking.


Geraldine, as seems to be her custom, cycled in men’s boxer shorts, on account of her “sensitive bum.” I have given her some hydrocortisone to use [medicine she apparently wasn't familiar with.] The only difficulty traveling with our new-found friends was that Annabelle would sometimes cycle down the hills and then wait for Jamie to ride her back up in the van. She slowed us down that way, because we felt obliged to wait for her, but really it wasn’t that bad.

In the afternoon, a bad wind picked up [the sand was blowing so fiercely I had to wrap a bandanna over my face, bandit-style, but it was still murder on the eyes] and we inched into the Indian village, where we were fortunate enough to see the dancing for a few minutes.

All of the 20 or 30 men who danced were in kachina outfits [which are doll-like; in fact, the children's colorfully decorated dolls are called kachinas], chanting as they acted out a presumably centuries-old choreographed spirit dance in the dirt. The Indians who danced were in a courtyard of sorts, with buildings on either side of them. Those who watched stood nearby and climbed on the rooftops for a better vantage. We were the only whites there, but no one seemed to care and I, at least, felt very comfortable.

In Tuba City, the girls got a room (Jamie sleeps in the van) and we sought out another horrible campsite right on the main road. Within minutes of our arrival, a drunk came by with his bottle of Thunderbird and tried to go to sleep on our bench. I kicked him out [so much for compassion] but later, another drunk came looking to panhandle. We felt pretty vulnerable there. It was a bad place to camp.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.bikingbis.com/2012/07/07/1984-bike-tour-day-56-ritual-and-conflict-in-hopi-and-navajo-lands/

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  1. Dirt Bike Store | Mountain Bike Parts Online

    […] 1984 Bike Tour Day 56 – Ritual And Conflict In Hopi And Navajo LandsTUBA CITY, ARIZ. – We passed through the Hopi Reservation today, in an area where age-old conflicts and rituals still exist. The Hopi generally live in settlements on three mesas, that look like three fingers jutting from a high plateau in the north. The road passes south of the First, but climbs over the Second (above) and Third. The Hopi have lived on these mesas for centuries and are believed … Read News […]

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