Arizona Trail acknowledges cultural resources

Adapted from Arizona Trail Association e-news articles


When you’re out on the Arizona Trail it’s important to remember you are often walking in the footsteps of people who have lived on this landscape for 10,000 years or longer. Many of the trails we hike run and ride on were used as traditional footpaths as people migrated seasonally, pursued animals, and visited sacred sites. Evidence of these people has been left behind in the form of cultural resources, or artifacts. Each one of these individual pieces fits into a larger puzzle of understanding the people and their way of life. When a piece is missing, sometimes the story may be lost altogether. Each artifact on the land is a vital part of Arizona’s history and it’s our responsibility to protect them.

The Arizona Trail Association (ATA) recently developed the Arizona Trail Steward Guide to Cultural Resources in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Arizona State Historic Preservation Office to give trail stewards information on what they may discover while doing routine maintenance since moving dirt is likely to reveal artifacts hidden below the surface. The guide details common artifacts they’re likely to see and how to identify them, including flaked stone, ground stone, ceramics, and historic trash. It explains why it’s important to leave what you find and how to properly document, protect, and report your findings.


The ATA recently designed and installed a new sign at Aspen Corner—a primary access point to the Arizona National Scenic Trail near Flagstaff, AZ. This sign is the first on the USFS-Coconino National Forest that includes an Indigenous perspective. ATA worked with the national forest and nine Tribes to get the native names of the culturally significant mountain peaks just right, and remind visitors they are visiting a sacred landscape.

Over the past five years, the small parking area off Snowbowl Road known as Aspen Corner has become an increasingly popular access point for Arizona Trail hikers and mountain bikers. A short link trail wends through a healthy stand of aspens and past dramatic volcanic boulders to arrive at the AZT near Alfa Fia Tank. The views of the San Francisco Peaks are inspiring, and some of the highest quality miles of trail in all of northern Arizona can be found nearby. In an effort to assist with navigation, remind visitors of Leave No Trace practices, and promote the Arizona Trail, the ATA offered to develop an interpretive sign at this location. With approval from the Coconino National Forest we installed a covered kiosk last year with help from local volunteers.

Understanding that the Peaks are among the culturally significant natural features throughout northern Arizona, the ATA proposed the idea of including of indigenous language and perspectives into the sign. The ATA was shocked to hear this had never been done before on the Coconino National Forest – a 1.8-million-acre forest immersed within an indigenous landscape. In collaboration with the Forest’s Tribal Liaison, the ATA’s Executive Director began communicating with language experts and representatives from nine tribes. After almost two years of consultation and reaching consensus on what information should be included, the sign was finalized and installed this summer. It reminds recreationalists they are entering a sacred landscape, and a request to visit with respect. It also includes the original names of the peaks in nine indigenous languages:

Nuva’tukya’ovi — Hopi
Dook’o’oosłííd — Navajo
Hvehasahpatch — Havasupai
Wik’hanbaja — Hualapai
Dził Tso — Apache
Wi:mun Kwa — Yavapai
Nuvaxatuh — Southern Paiute
Sunha K’hbchu Yalanne — Zuni
Tsii Bina — Acoma
‘Amat ‘Iikwe Nyava — Mojave

The ATA hopes this small, respectful acknowledgment encourages other trail organizations and land managers to engage indigenous communities every time interpretive signs are developed and installed on public land. The ATA will continue working with tribes on this project, and plans are underway to include a QR code where visitors can use their smartphone to hear the names of the peaks in each language.

Unless otherwise indicated, all material in Pathways Across America is public domain. All views expressed herein are perspectives of individuals working on behalf of the National Trails System and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the Federal agencies.