By Dan Dickson
Courtesy Arizona Office of Tourism
The tour company WolfHorse Outfitters offers adventurers a rugged horseback tour of vast and spectacular southwest New Mexico. Few, outside of the natives who occupied the land centuries ago, have experienced it quite this way.
WolfHorse Outfitters is just one of many Native American tours of all descriptions across the United States. People take them to soak up information about native peoples and cultures.
The tours are expertly led by wilderness guide Joe Saenz, who is of Chihe’ne, or Warm Springs Apache, ancestry.
“I use the Gila Wilderness as the riding area,” said Saenz. “People see traditional Apache homelands, the open country and trail system. I try to show and impress upon guests our traditional life. We are on horses quite a bit here.”
Saenz has a variety of clients from around the world. Tours can include trail rides, pack trips, drop camps and backpacking. Saenz offers consultation and interpretive services, and environmental, plant, animal identification and seasonal foraging techniques.
“They’ve accomplished something crossing a territory once inhabited by native people while learning what it takes to live on that land in safety and harmony,” said Saenz about his clients. “I follow Apache ethics regarding the land.”
Cherokee History Tour
The well-organized Cherokee Nation offers the impressive Cherokee History Tour. “It’s in Tahlequah, Okla., our nation’s tribal headquarters,” said Molly Jarvis, vice president of cultural tourism, Cherokee Nation Entertainment.
The tour stops at Cherokee Heritage Center, a crown jewel of cultural preservation, which features the remarkable Trail of Tears exhibit depicting the forced removal of Cherokees from their indigenous territory in the southeast to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma.
The tour also features the Murrell Home, a rare antebellum house in the Cherokee Nation. The mansion was built by George Murrell, who married Minerva Ross, niece of Cherokee leader John Ross.
Next on the itinerary are the Cherokee Nation capitol, the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Museum and the Cherokee National Prison. All represent law and order within the Cherokee Nation.
Northeastern State University’s Seminary Hall is on the tour. Its historic link to the Cherokee Nation and Indian Territory make NSU Oklahoma’s oldest institution of higher learning.
“There can be cultural activities incorporated into the tour,” said Jarvis. “Traditional Cherokee meals, basketweaving, genealogy and storytelling workshops are offered. There’s a Cherokee vineyard with wine tastings.”
The tour continues at the Will Rogers Museum and Dog Iron Ranch. “Rogers was a Cherokee citizen. You can see his family homestead,” said Jarvis. “It celebrates his life and tells his story.”
This multifaceted one-day Cherokee tour has available a 25-seat vehicle and step-on guide dressed in interpretive clothing.
The Four Corners, where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet, is a popular native tour, especially Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley. Western Leisure puts you right in the middle of this historic territory.
“The Navajos operate tours showing ancient ruins. It’s all four-wheel-drive vehicles through canyons,” said Shawn Horman, vice president of Western Leisure. A receptive tour operator based in Salt Lake City, Western Leisure teams with other tour operators to design custom trips.
Gateway cities include Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Phoenix.
“We incorporate Native American culture within the tours, which feature national parks and natural wonders,” said Horman.
“Monument Valley, in Navajo Nation, was the site of thousands of TV shows, movies and commercials. They tour the valley with a Navajo guide. They experience Navajo culture, history, way of life. Many Navajo families still live in the valley. It’s primitive; no electricity or running water.”
Horman says visitors might enter a hogan, or sacred structure, where Navajos worship. Groups stay in the valley for an evening under the stars, have dinner, watch dancers and listen to music and storytelling.