2019 Navajo Nation FAM Tour
The Navajo Nation TV & Film (NNTVF) embarked on a five-day, 800-mile journey with 14 individuals from various Southwest parts, including Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Mexico. This journey, titled the Navajo Nation Familiarization (FAM) Tour, took place in November 2019 across the Navajo Nation. The purpose of a FAM Tour is to invite potential tourism and production industries to introduce spaces of interest for business, recreation, and entertainment. Participants get a glimpse, a touch, a sense of something spectacular while experiencing local identity, culture, food, and landscapes. As a Navajo Nation entity, our goal was to continuously market Navajo by showcasing the beautiful landscape, local vendors, Navajo cuisine, recreational resources, and Navajo-owned businesses.
The FAM Tour began at the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino & Resort east of Flagstaff, AZ, on Sunday, November 3, 2019. The morning brought a combined sense of excitement and nervousness to realize that this was the first FAM Tour for NNTVF and the Navajo Nation. The success of this tour could mean countless partnership opportunities in film and tourism. Events for the day started in the evening, as participants were shuttled from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport for most of the day. The evening included a catered dinner, an overview of the FAM Tour itinerary, and presentations from NNTVF Staff and sponsoring partners Antelope Point Marina and Navajo Parks & Recreation Department.
Day one of the FAM tour began at dawn, with a buffet-style breakfast, safety briefing, and a preview of the day's itinerary. After an hour's drive north, our first stop at Cameron Trading Post included time to shop and a presentation from Edbert Little, Program Supervisor of the Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park. Participants walked along and under US Highway 89 to view the Historic Tanner's Crossing Bridge, a 200-meter suspended bridge that was once the main course of travel through the town of Cameron, AZ. Mr. Little discussed the issues currently affecting Navajo land occupying the Little Colorado River and the crossing bridge's history.
Twenty miles northeast of the Post near Tuba City, AZ, lies a prehistoric landmark where approximately 200 million years ago, dinosaur tracks were imprinted in the Earth. Participants walked amongst the tracks and were immersed in Navajo culture and stories of the land by John Willie, a local Navajo jewelry and crafts vendor. The open site includes dinosaur tracks, egg-like formations, and nesting grounds, solely preserved by nature and the land. As the participants enjoyed the wonder of this landscape, their attention was directed to the local vendors, ensuring time to browse and purchase unique souvenirs. With the glorious history fresh in their minds, the participants moved to the next destination.
The town of Page, AZ, our next tour site, borders on State and Navajo Nation land. The city hosts two major vacation destinations; Lake Powell, the second-largest human-made reservoir in the United States, and Antelope Canyon, a natural slot canyon formed by erosion that brings roughly 3 million people a year. Our participants arrived at the Page Municipal Airport, where they were greeted by Antelope Point Marina General Manager Mike Anderson. Mr. Anderson provided a catered box lunch, courtesy of his wife while preparing for the afternoon's activities. In 3 groups of 6, participants experienced a helicopter tour with views above Lake Powell and landed on Tower Butte, a natural structure 5000 feet above sea level. The panoramic view on top of the Butte presented a breathtaking opportunity for photography and film while revealing the canyons of Lake Powell, Navajo Mountain, LeChee Rock, and more.
Returning from Tower Butte, the team continued along to Antelope Point Marina, guided on a charter boat tour by Manager DeRon (DJ) Lister. Floating slowly down Antelope Canyon, a majestic shimmer of the water behind the boat, the sun slowly made its way down. DJ provided information on the watermarks along the canyon, which shows the height of water after heavy winters, the history of the Glen Canyon Dam and Little Colorado River, and the tourist attraction of Lake Powell in recent years. After a brief trip, we made our way to a beached boathouse on Antelope Beach, our dinner destination for the evening. With the late afternoon sun hitting the canyon walls, a view of Tower Butte in the distance, we walked down the little beach to a seating area. Our generous hosts had arranged for a special presentation by local **hoop dancers. (The hoop dance is a solo dance that includes several thin, identical hoops picked up from the ground while dancing to create various shapes. Dancers typically wear colorful outfits similar to powwow dancers.) The pair were friends that had been dancing since they were teens, honing their craft with elaborate hoop designs and strong singing voices. One dancer played a Native American flute while the other shared the hoop dance and dance regalia's history. Once the presentation had ended, we were directed to the beached houseboat for dinner; the sun setting as the smell of fresh frybread lingered in the air. The two-story boathouse hosted dinner upstairs on the deck, a view of Antelope Beach around us while we served ourselves buffet-style *Navajo tacos. (Navajo tacos consist of frybread, beans (with or without meat), lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cheese, and red or green chili (optional).) Our guests well received the local delicacy. A roaring bonfire beckoned us back to the beach, where our guests relaxed by the fire to wind down from the events of the day, enjoying complimentary Navajo tea and local stories of the land.
As the night ended, we made our way back to the Marina, where our participants were sorted into assigned houseboats for the night. Our team came together to debrief on the day and created a game plan for the following morning.
Day two of the FAM Tour began early, with breakfast provided by the Marina. The sun had not yet risen over the canyon, but the slightest sunlight had covered the ridges. Our team gathered the luggage and loaded them into our transports while DJ prepped the participants for the morning's hike. The tour was taken through two slot canyons with a presentation of the park by Helenita Nalwood, an Antelope Canyon Navajo Parks & Recreation employee. While the Antelope Point team took care of the tour, our staff drove to our next destination, Monument Valley, UT. A final part of the Antelope Point experience included a fixed-wing tour of Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend to the Monument Valley Goulding's Airport.
After the plane had landed at the airport, our team gathered the participants and pilots for a group photo while holding our Navajo Nation TV & Film banner. The group thanked the Antelope Point Marina for their hospitality and traveled to The View for lunch, which lies at the Monument Valley opening. The view offers Navajo cuisine and a spectacular view of the structures and trails leading through the valley. While our participants enjoyed their food, a representative from the Navajo Parks & Recreation Department gave a presentation on the park's operation and how to obtain photography and film permits for the structures.
Down a winding dirt road, deep in the valley, and along a canyon wall, Ms. Elvina Yazzie operates a small shop inside of an old family Hogan. Inside the Hogan are numerous rugs, woven by Ms. Yazzie, and handmade crafts and jewelry. As the members assembled and sat on the dirt floor of the Hogan* (a traditional Navajo home structure), Ms. Yazzie explained the significance of rug weaving, a tradition passed down from generation to generation, typically practiced by the women in the family. She explained the different ways a rug can be woven, how color dyes are created from natural plants, the yarn spun by hand from the wool of a sheep, and the intricate designs you can make for rugs. Upon the presentation's conclusion, Ms. Yazzie told our visitors that her shop was open and all items were available for sale. The team spent time admiring the handmade crafts before a group photo was taken to remember the moment. Shuffling back into the transports, the tour was brought to their next destination.
Traveling approximately two hours south into the heart of the Navajo Nation lies a majestic wonder, similar to the Grand Canyon, with cultural and sacred ties to the Navajo people – the Canyon de Chelly. We arrived in the late evening at Thunderbird Lodge, a hotel operated by the Navajo Nation Hospitality Enterprise, which lies directly west of the beautiful canyon. As our visitors settled into their rooms, our team assembled into the dining hall to prepare for the night's dinner presentation. The smell of hot roast beef, mashed potatoes, and mixed veggies flooded the dining hall. As a special treat and preview to the following day's activities, our team presented an NNTVF Production, "The People's College." The documentary gives an insight into the history and significant highlights of Diné College, the first tribally controlled and accredited community college located in Tsaile, AZ. After dinner, our Program Manager reminisced on creating the documentary, such as the equipment used, storyboarding and finding the story's core, and how much the program had grown since that documentary. A local vendor had been walking around the hotel, trying to sell his handcrafted creations of Kokopelli drawings on flat red stone rocks. Our Manager gave him time to discuss his designs and an opportunity to sell a few items. A common sight on the Navajo Nation, some local vendors are often seen selling their crafts on foot. A participant in the tour expressed his gratitude to our team for allowing the gentleman to sell, stating that seeing someone on foot and given time to show his craft isn't a typical accommodation.
After a long day's trip full of activities and sights, our team presented one last activity for the evening, an optional exploration of "The Night Life on the Navajo Nation." Without giving too many details, we instructed participants to bring their equipment, a warm jacket, and an open mind. Our team drove into the night into the community of Nazlini, AZ. Often compared to a portrayal of Mars, Nazlini provides multicolored hills, ranging in size and height, as well as wide-open spaces for exploration. Away from city lights, electricity, and the town's general noise, our team stopped in the middle of nowhere, where the stars shine bright and the air was crispy cold. For an hour and a half, participants walked in the moonlight, exploring the still and quiet nature, gigantic sky, and experienced what life is like for a percentage of Navajo people. It is the year 2019, and for some people on the reservation, access to water and electricity is still a challenging resource to obtain. Many of our people live in distant communities, far from towns, lights, and marketplaces, and have to travel to get their resources by daylight. This experience of the nightlife was to show the beauty of the Navajo Nation, that being away from the everyday things we take for granted have incredible sights to offer. After stargazing and exploring a small land area, our team rounded up the participants to conclude for the night.
Following a successful day of events, the morning started early and cold with cloudy skies and a possibility of rain. Breakfast was served in the Thunderbird Lodge cafeteria. The team grouped for the morning to prepare for a hike and travels for the day. Excitement filled the cafeteria hall as the participants wondered what they would see at Canyon de Chelly. After breakfast, the team gathered all belongings and ushered the Cottonwood Campground tour to briefly present the campground's operations and the Tseyi' Dine Heritage area. With anticipation rising in the caravans, the teams were then shuttled to Canyon de Chelly. While walking the Spider Rock path overlook, the group discussed the 700+ foot monument's cultural significance, dedicated and home to our beloved Spider-Woman. Spider-Woman is a significant matriarchal figure who is believed to have created and taught the first rug weavers in the Navajo culture. With overwhelming views of the canyon, several participants overcame emotionally at the area's beauty and spiritual influence.
Following the Spider Rock overlook, the tour continued to the White House Ruins, a hiking trail that leads to an archaeological site, home of our ancestors from hundreds of years ago. Participants were encouraged to hike the path down the canyon, taking photos and videos of the views. A few participants reached the White House ruin, a 550+ ft elevation drop, and a nearly 3-mile hike roundtrip. Driving along the canyon with some views of the canyon walls, we continued to our next destination, a Navajo-accredited college in the small town of Tsaile, AZ.
Arriving in time for lunch, the tour was taken to the Dine College Cafeteria. The Dine College tour started with a short presentation by Miss Dine College, Mercede Johnson, and the cafeteria's Head Chef. After lunch, the group continued to the Dine College Library, presented by the Dine College Marketing Team. The participants were also shown the Dine College cornstalk, a small monument dedicated to Navajo identity in the middle of the campus. The Marketing Director's presentation took place in the Ned Hatathlie Center, a multi-story building in the shape of a traditional Hogan that houses the college's administrative offices. The tour's conclusion ended on a small field in the heart of the campus. Three students were partaking in the Native American Church tradition of singing peyote songs** and smoking traditional mountain tobacco. (The peyote song consists of four pieces, sung four times while partaking in mountain tobacco or peyote to heal and cleanse the body, mind, and soul. Songs are sung while rattling a peyote gourd and playing a traditional peyote drum in tempo.) The soothing rhythmic beat echoed through the field, and the smell of mountain tobacco filled the air. A calm feeling came over the group as we wrapped up at Dine College and continued onward.
On a back-country road, in the small mountains of Tsaile, lies a large pinnacle above the town. The Tsaile pinnacle is surrounded by forest and fields and reaches an elevation of 7805 feet. With the afternoon sun shining down, participants explored some of the landscape before taking a group photo with our Navajo Nation TV & Film banner. Traveling 20 minutes down, we came upon Wheatfields Lake, a popular destination for camping and fishing in the heart of the Navajo Nation. With a cold chill whipping the air, our participants gathered in the vehicles to a location near the New Mexico border. At an elevation of 8,720 feet lies a natural break in the Chuska Mountains called Narbona Pass. The Pass connects Crystal, New Mexico, beginning at the near top of the mountain to Sheep Springs, New Mexico, at the bottom. Near an open field leading into the forestry terrain, our participants wandered for a short time as the wind grew colder until we continued to the Navajo Nation Capital.
Slight rain and light snow brought us into the small town of Window Rock, AZ, the capital of the Navajo Nation. Window Rock, named after the significant 200-ft rock monument with a window like-structure, is the Tribe's government operations center. The team assembled into the Quality Inn Łichíí (Red) Room for dinner and a presentation. Dinner was the participants' choice from the menu, and the presentation was given with all Navajo Nation TV & Film Staff present. We began by discussing the process of putting the FAM Tour together and the importance of creating partnerships to ensure the tour was a success. Additional NNTVF staff who were not part of the tour introduced themselves and the evening's documentary titled "Seven Spectacles of Navajo," a 15-minute narrative of seven fantastic Navajo Nation locations, including areas on the FAM Tour that had just been experienced. Concluding the presentation, participants were asked their thoughts of the documentary and the FAM Tour. Many gratitude reviews were given to our team and reflections on the life-changing experiences and appreciation for new friendships. Winding down from a long day, our team disassembled with all staff returning to their homes for the night.
On the tour's final day, all participants gathered in the Quality Inn Dining Hall for breakfast. After loading the luggage, our team shuttled the tour to the Window Rock Veteran's Park. The park is located directly north of the Navajo Nation Office of the President & Vice President. It pays homage to the historic Navajo Code Talkers with a statue and placard of our fallen heroes. Miss Navajo Nation gave a presentation discussing the Miss Navajo pageant, the significance of her crown, the Code Talker statue, and the Code Talkers' importance in World War II. After some time to explore the park, the shuttles left Window Rock to return to the starting point of the tour at the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino & Resort.
Coming full circle and concluding the tour, participants filed into the Twin Arrows Conference Room for a final luncheon and recap of their journey. The feedback we received from the tour was very positive, emotional, and expressions of deep gratitude were given for their unforgettable experiences. This experience was a remarkable event for both participants and the NNTVF Staff. We thank everyone involved for making this tour a success and look forward to our next journey. To experience significant moments of the FAM Tour, please see the video below: