Winslow to Second Mesa

Second Mesa is home to members of the Hopi Tribe. | Jerry Jacka
Second Mesa is home to members of the Hopi Tribe. | Jerry Jacka

Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe
By Annette McGivney

Monument Valley is one of the Southwest’s iconic landscapes. But sometimes, a drive through it can leave you longing for more solitude and fewer tourists standing in the road with selfie sticks. Fortunately, there’s another “Monument Valley” on the Navajo Nation, and this one is well off the beaten tourist path. Take the scenic route from Winslow to Second Mesa, and you’ll be treated to a dazzling array of otherworldly buttes in a land where the only creatures in the road are cows. 

This 66-mile tour also is steeped in Hopi and Navajo history. The trip back in time starts early in the drive, at Homolovi State Park on State Route 87. The park protects the ruins of four large pueblos that were occupied by Hopi ancestors at various points from about A.D. 620 to 1400. Some of the Homolovi residents migrated north to the mesas where members of the Hopi Tribe live today.

Continue your own journey north on SR 87 through a green and gray sea of sagebrush that gradually melts into the pastel-hued cliffs and clay hills of the Painted Desert. Towering, solitary buttes rise against the horizon like lighthouses on a distant shore. The oceanic space beneath an infinite blue sky is mesmerizing, but pay attention, because you don’t want to miss the turnoff to Indian Road 60. 

At Mile 20, you’ll come upon Dilkon Junction — also the junction with IR 60, even though there’s no sign. Turn right and home in on those buttes, which you’ll pass over the next 10 miles. First up, on the left, is Chimney Butte — which, true to its name, looks like a giant smokestack. A few miles farther down IR 60, also on the left, is Castle Butte, with three pillars that shoot up 100 to 200 feet from a grass-covered hill. They’re like stone towers on a medieval fortress. 

According to Margie Barton, manager of the Navajo Nation’s Dilkon Chapter, Castle Butte was a lifesaving hideout in 1864, when the Navajos were rounded up for the Long Walk. As U.S. Army soldiers, led by Kit Carson, scoured the Navajo homeland for tribal members to send on the 300-mile forced march to New Mexico, the top of Castle Butte provided a safe haven from the soldiers. “Some Navajos climbed up there and were able to stay for a long time because there are water catchments,” Barton says. “They threw rocks at Carson’s men. And after the soldiers finally left, the people climbed down.” 

Continuing northeast on IR 60, orange and red sandstone walls with crumbling, jagged tops look like the ruins of a burned skyscraper. And at the base of many buttes are small houses and traditional hogans where families have operated ranches for generations. Around Mile 31.5, an imposing black cinder hill on the right marks the small town of Dilkon. From here, it’s another 13 miles through a rolling, ancient volcanic landscape to the junction with SR 87. Hang a right at the stop sign and drive north on SR 87 toward the hulking island of Second Mesa. It was this behemoth landmark that beckoned the Hopis from Homolovi hundreds of years ago.

When you reach the junction with State Route 264, you’ll be in the heart of the Hopi Tribe’s land. To the left, just off the highway, are the pre-Columbian Second Mesa villages of Shungopavi, Mishongnovi and Sipaulovi. Five miles farther northwest is the Hopi Cultural Center, a tribe-run complex that includes a museum, a campground, a hotel, a café and a gift shop. It’s an excellent place to stretch your legs, grab some lunch and visit with fellow travelers. Just don’t tell them about the other “Monument Valley.”

Tour Guide

Note: Mileages are approximate.

Length: 66 miles one way (from Interstate 40)
Directions: From Winslow, go east on Interstate 40 for 3 miles to State Route 87 (Exit 257). Turn left (north) onto SR 87 and continue 20 miles to Indian Road 60. Turn right onto IR 60 and continue 24.5 miles to where the road rejoins SR 87 farther north. Turn right onto SR 87 and continue 21.5 miles to State Route 264 on Second Mesa.
Vehicle requirements: None
Information: Homolovi State Park, 928-289-4106 or www.azstateparks.com/homolovi; Navajo Tourism Department, 928-810-8501 or www.discovernavajo.com; Hopi Cultural Center, 928-734-2401 or www.hopiculturalcenter.com