As the sun dips down below the canyon rim, the “People of the Tall Pines” keep watch. A plaintive melody drifts over the russet-colored rocks from six in the evening to six in the morning. It is a bird song, a tradition of the Hualapai people, sung to guide the wandering spirit of loved ones passed on. A tradition rooted deeply in history and just one way the Hualapai tribe connects to its past – a past you can learn about when you take advantage of the conveniently-located Zuni Village & RV Park and venture to Grand Canyon West, a little less than an hour’s travel from Grand Canyon West.
The Hualapai Tribe is recognized by the federal government. They are a sovereign Indian nation. Their reservation spans nearly a million acres along the Grand Canyon and occupies space within three northwestern counties in The Copper State. Striated canyons, dense forests, and wide, sweeping grasslands compose the widely varied topography of the Hualapai lands. Over sixteen hundred people live on reservation lands, with more than three-fourths holding positions on tribal rosters. A nature-lover’s dream, there is no shortage of outdoor activities, including, but not limited to fishing, river-rafting, hiking, and hunting. You’ll won’t find casino gambling on the Hualapai reservation, but you can find bighorn sheep, mountain lions, elk, and antelope along with other common Arizona wildlife.
Peach Springs: Where Tradition and Peach Trees Take Root
The capitol of the reservation is Peach Springs and is where most of the population resides. The name of Peach Springs derives from a historic grove of peach trees which proliferated at springs near the settlement. An interesting bit of trivia – Pixar’s Cars drew inspiration from the town for its colorful “Radiator Springs.”
The Hualapai people didn’t always live in Peach Springs, however. Legend says the Hualapai used to reside at the bottom of the Grand Canyon where the ha ‘yidada, “the spine” of the Colorado River, carved its place. The river carved more than the canyon, shaping the stone into an eagle poised for flight. The Hualapai tell a traditional tale of a great bird who warned the people of a terrible flood. As it took off for the top off the canyon to keep watch over the tribe, it turned to stone, a forever guardian. The great stone eagle can be seen at Eagle Point, near Grand Canyon West, a Hualapai-controlled enterprise which offers a host of canyon-related activities for visitors, such as white-water rafting, helicopter tours, and breathtaking panoramas from the Skywalk. While the glass bridge connects to the rock and allows visitors to venture beyond the rim of the canyon, an historical perspective helps them connect to the Hualapai’s past.
From Soaring Above the Canyon to Delving into the Past
If you manage to survive the glass bridge, where visitors are required to don shoe covers and check personal articles in secure lockers, you can experience more Hualapai culture at the Native American Village and view replicas of traditional Hualapai dwellings as well as Hopi, Plains, Havasupai, and Navajo. Daily performances of tribal dances are conducted by young and elderly Hualapai alike. And if the fresh mountain air helps you work up an appetite, feast on traditional Hualapai fare.
The Hualapai tribe is proud of their heritage. Through their efforts at Grand Canyon West and the panoramic Skywalk, they hope to share that heritage and help visitors bridge the gap to the Hualapai people’s storied past.
Just don’t look down.