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Eight Sites Rich In Native American History To Visit This Summer

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When people come back from Europe, it’s pretty standard to hear them gush, “Oh, it’s so old over there!” True enough, “the continent” is loaded to the gills with aged dwellings, ancient ruins, and historical sites. You can hardly swing a gyro in Greece or a wheel of cheese in Italy without hitting something that pre dates Columbus.

But the intrepid traveler doesn’t have to jet to Europe to get in touch with history. North America is equally rich in relics. By putting some of these places on your summer travel list, you’re sure to deepen your understanding of what America was and how it’s since evolved. You’ll view cave dwellings and stand in awe of sacred monoliths, without the cost of a trans-Atlantic flight.


YOSEMITE

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Yosemite is considered one of the most beautiful corners of the entire planet. Its gentle and lush forests are split like kindling by gushing glacial streams. Grey and black rocks jut ever upward scratching and clawing at the sky in what looks like an attempt to pierce the heavens. Bears roam freely. Deer prance across meadows. The stars fill the skies with their illuminated beauty nightly.

Yosemite has had visitors weaving amongst its towering sequoias for over 10,000 years, so you won’t be the first to discover this place. The Sierra Miwoks started calling Yosemite their home 3,000 years ago. To this day, you can visit the Village of Ahwahnee in the park. You’ll find the village behind the Yosemite Museum. They’ve preserved/recreated Miwok huts — a cedar bark and grape vine version of a teepee. Also, you’ll find the most common dwelling for the Miwok, the cedar cabin. This became the prototype for most cabins built in California and the west by settlers searching for gold. It’s still the cabin most people will build to this day in California’s wilderness.

CANYON DE CHELLY

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Away in the desert, there’s a place of ancient mystery, where deep blue skies stretch endlessly against the rich red of rock and sand. Towering walls rise from the dust of the earth’s floor. The canyon was split long ago by some unseen giant, water snakes along the gap between the canyon walls, giving life to world of the Diné. Their world was that of steep canyon cities interconnected with seemingly endless orchards of peach trees and irrigation systems. Goats and sheep scrambled down the hard rock to the waters below.

Canyon de Chelly has homes dating back to 350CE. The Pueblo lived in the canyon for a millennia before decamping further east in what is now New Mexico. The Anasazi also called this mysterious place home. The Diné, or Navajo, are believed to have arrived in the southeastern deserts over 600 years ago and joined the Hopi between the Four Sacred Mountains.

Visiting the Canyon de Chelly, and Navajo Country, allows the wayward traveler a glimpse into the world of the Navajo, their way of life, and the pristine beauty of a land still tied to its ancient peoples.


TAOS PUEBLO

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New Mexico’s very name indicates that it’s new. It’s not. It is very, very old. The Rocky Mountains end there. The Pueblo did not end there. It was colonized by the Spanish nearly 100 years before any English landed on the Atlantic coast. The Pueblo gave the Apache and Navajo a land to explore and thrive on. Later, they had to fight the Spanish in the red dirt — turned deeper red by bloodshed. Then, one day, the Americans arrived.

The oldest continuously inhabited town in the USA is Taos. One-thousand years ago, Taos was built. The Puebla are living there to this day. If you’re American and want to find the oldest part of America that is still part of an untouchable past, then Taos is where you need to go. Pueblo sites abound across Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Some date back to 500BCE — that’s pre-Rome. But Taos is one of our only living connections to a lost past.

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS

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The Great Smoky Mountains confound many while drawing even more into a deep and dark forest. For thousands of years, the Cherokee called these misty hills home. They’d build city after city along the narrow river bottoms. Each city would be connected by a dark and hard trail along the river, across the hills, through the trees, through the smoky mist.

There’s nothing left of the Cherokee in the Great Smoky Mountains. Ethnic cleansing does that. Once upon a time, their territory stretched from the Mississippi up to the Great Smoky Mountains across to the Carolinas and back down to Georgia. The Cherokee that survived are in Oklahoma now. If you go to the Great Smoky Mountains, find Oconaluftee Village. It’s the last refuge of what once was before the cleansing. The area has a history of thousands of years. There is little-to-nothing left. Find what you can. Breathe in the mist.

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YELLOWSTONE

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This is a place that is unique amongst the entire world. There are only a few super volcanoes on Earth and Yellowstone is one of them. The steam plumes are misty skyscrapers that disappear into nothingness. The animals are not confined by any cage. Wolves will eat you. Bears will kill you. The park feels full of primordial life.

Yellowstone has been inhabited for 11,000 years. Sit down and consider that. There have been humans living and working the Yellow River for over TEN millennia. The obsidian that was mined there has been found over 1,000 miles away in the Mississippi delta. Yellowstone has been a focal point of trade for economies before Jesus was even born. Amazingly, we can visit this place almost unchanged from what it was 10,000 years ago when the Shoshone and Crow first started fishing, hunting, and mining there.

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NEZ PERCE NATIONAL MONUMENTS

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Before you hit the Cascade Mountains, you’ll find a high desert. The peach trees and hop bushes fill the air with pollen, and, eventually, motley leaves. Wild horses of brown, white, and black lope across plains — racing toward the horizon. It is the last range of grass before you hit the harsh thundering of the Pacific Ocean. There were teepees. There were bison. Today, there are onions.

The Nez Perce were noble. Chief Joseph gave up and claimed he would fight no more. He accepted exile and died a simple death with a broken heart. You can visit his grave. He was fighting to hold on to a land his people had been living on for 11,000 years. There are little to no indicators left of the Nez Perce on their lands. That doesn’t mean you can’t gaze upon the jagged beauty of the Sawtooth Mountains, or get lost in the Craters of the Moon.


KNIFE RIVER INDIAN VILLAGES

North Dakota is a place most people don’t want to go. Their loss. The horizon sneaks up on you in North Dakota. The moon enlarges beyond any size the moon should normally be. When you can see nothing but grass and horizon and your mind starts to ask where one ends and the other it begins. Imagine a North Dakota sans any modern convenience. Now imagine that 8,000 years ago. That is how long people have been on the Knife River. That is longer than Damascus (one of the oldest inhabited cities on Earth) has had people living in it.

The current village at Knife River dates back to the 1600s. The majority of the Knife River tourist attraction dates back to the ’80s. American Indians have been living here for millennia. The attraction is much less old. Maybe the most of this site is not “authentic,” that does not take away from the reality that people lived on this spot for nearly ten millennia.

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HOPEWELL MOUNDS

It’s hard to find a piece of native America east of the Mississippi. Too much ethnic cleansing. There are places that remained cloaked in mist and the unknown past that binds us all. Today it is more like a golf course with too many hazards. Do you want to venture into them? Maybe your ball will fly over a place you don’t want to be. Sometimes it drops into that hazard. Then you have to figure your way out. In Hopewell, your only way out is embracing a city from 200 years before Christ.

Hopewell Mounds offer the wayward traveler a place to find peace in the rough. If you arrive early in the morning on a spring day, you can watch the water turn to mist and rise from the mounds that used to be part of a city of thousands of people. The cities are now grassy knolls. The grassy knolls are a national park where you can reflect upon an ancient world.

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