Native American people have made Arizona their home for thousands of years.
Tempe is the historic homeland of the O’Odham and Piipaash. Native American history and culture are woven throughout every region in the state, and their spiritual connection to this ancestral land continues today. Whether you are a visitor to Tempe or have lived in the area for years, check out these fascinating museums and ancient ruins of the original inhabitants of Arizona.
Hike up “A” Mountain for views of ancient Hohokam petroglyphs
Located on the southeast corner of Mill Avenue and Rio Salado Parkway, “A” Mountain is situated adjacent to Arizona State University and Downtown Tempe.
“A” Mountain, officially named Hayden Butte Preserve Park, is not only a great spot for hiking and enjoying views of Tempe, but also a chance to get a glimpse into Native American history. The butte is culturally significant to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, which considers the butte to be a sacred place and a link to its ancestors. Hikers and explorers alike can view hundreds of rock art images, that were made by the Hohokam between A.D. 750 and 1450. Many of the petroglyphs can be easily seen from the trails on the south side of the mountain.
Discover the Tempe History Museum
809 E. Southern Ave., Tempe, Arizona 85282 | (480) 350-5100
Learn about the city’s past and present at the Tempe History Museum. The Main Exhibit Gallery explores the area’s earliest inhabitants: the Hohokam. Read their story and view pieces of their history, such as tools, carefully woven baskets and more. This exhibit also includes works created by modern-day carvers and weavers. Museum hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Visit S’edav Va’aki Museum (formerly Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park)
4619 E. Washington St., Phoenix, AZ 85034 | (602) 495-0901
For a prehistoric look at the Ancestral Sonoran Desert People, known to archaeologists as the Hohokam, visit S’edav Va’aki Museum (formerly Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park) — the only publicly accessible ancestral village site in the city. Begin your visit with an award-winning introductory video on the civilization that inhabited this village and browse galleries that explore the Hohokam culture. Then head outside to the trail that winds around the archeological site, including a platform mound, a ballcourt, and centuries-old irrigation canals as well as recreated dwellings. Museum hours are Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., and Sundays, 1 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.
Go back in time at the Arizona Museum of Natural History
53 N. Macdonald, Mesa, Arizona 85201 | (480) 644-2230
A visit to the Native Cultures of Western North America exhibit explores the lifeways of dozens of Native American peoples, including a great variety of objects from the Navajo, Apache, Hopi, O’odham, and Hualapai peoples. Textiles, baskets, ceramics, katsinas, beaded leatherwork and more demonstrate the cultural richness of Southwestern traditional Native cultures.
Additionally, the Southwest Gallery presents information on the ancient cultures of central Arizona from the Paleoindian hunters who arrived around 13,500 years ago to the advanced irrigation systems of the Hohokam farmers that operated until A.D. 1450. The gallery presents displays of prehistoric artifacts and replicas of Hohokam homes excavated by museum archaeologists in the Mesa area.
Plan a visit to the Heard Museum
2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85004 | (602) 252-8840
Founded in 1929, the Heard Museum has become recognized internationally for its collections’ quality, educational programming and festivals. Focused on accurately portraying Native arts and cultures, Heard combines the stories of American Indian people through art, including various paintings, drawings, prints, photography and sculpture. Make sure to stop into The Heard Museum Shops, featuring pieces from hundreds of artists. Museum hours are Monday-Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Discover the Musical Instrument Museum
4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix, AZ 85050 | (480) 478-6000
See musical instruments used throughout history from all over the world at the MIM. During your visit, stop by the Native American exhibits to see instruments used for ceremonial music. Artworks include a striking 11-foot totem pole and a large box drum. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Explore the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community
To get there from Tempe – Just 15 minutes north of Tempe, take the 101 N freeway and exit east on Indian School Rd. The community is located just east of Scottsdale.
Learn about the traditions, culture and history of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community by visiting the Huhugam Ki Museum. The museum highlights several pieces of history for the O’odham (Pima) and Piipaash (Maricopa) tribes. It’s located on the main tribal campus at 10005 E. Osborn Rd., Scottsdale, AZ 85256. Open Tuesday-Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free.
Plan a lunch stop at The Stand for authentic food from the community. The Stand is located just off the corner of Alma School and Indian School (not to be confused with the burger-and-taco joint of the same name on 36th Street and Indian School). The fry bread and tortillas are both made in-house and are beyond delicious. Featuring outdoor seating on old tree stumps, and friendly owners, this is a “can’t miss” spot—open weekdays for lunch.
Explore the Gila River Indian Community
To get there from Tempe – Take I-10 east for about 15 minutes and exit at Queen Creek Road heading west (right). Drive about one-half mile to Maricopa Road and turn right.
Plan a visit to the Huhugam Heritage Center to learn about the Gila River Indian Community (CURRENTLY CLOSED FOR RENOVATIONS). The museum highlights the ancestral, historic and current cultures of the Gila River Indian Community, made up of two tribes – the Akimel O’otham (Pima) and the Pee Posh (Maricopa). View an outstanding collection of nearly 500 O’odham baskets, an exquisite Pee Posh pottery collection and arts and crafts museum collections. The museum is located at 21359 S. Maricopa Rd., Chandler, AZ 85226. Museum hours are Wednesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Another way to experience the culture of the Gila River Indian Community is to take a trail ride at KOLI Equestrian Center. A native American-owned enterprise, the guides at KOLI will tell you about their tribe’s history and our desert environment while you take a relaxing horseback ride. Visit their website to book your trail ride.
Discover the past at the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
1100 W. Ruins Dr., Coolidge, AZ 85128 | (520) 723-3172
To get there from Tempe – Take I-10 east, for approximately 36 miles, to AZ-387. Take Exit 185 and follow the brown Casa Grande Ruins National Monument signs.
The Casa Grande ruins are one of the largest prehistoric structures ever built in North America. Just 45 minutes from Tempe, the “Casa Grande” is believed to have been inhabited by the Hohokam from 1350 C.E. to 1450 C.E. The self-guided tour is a short walk around the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument featuring informational signage along the way. One-hour guided tours are offered from late November through early April. It is recommended to call on the day of your visit for tour schedules. The Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. – closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Plan a trip to northern Arizona to explore Navajo Nation
To get there from Tempe – Drive north for approximately 3 1/2 to 4 hours to Navajo Nation
In just under four hours, visitors can explore the wonders of the Navajo Nation. The current Navajo Nation extends into Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Utah. Discover the awe-inspiring beauty of the area by visiting Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Learn about the tribe’s rich history by visiting one of the museums: the Navajo Interactive Museum in Tuba City (10 Main St., Tuba City, AZ 86045) and the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock (Highway 264 and Loop Rd., Window Rock, AZ 86515).
Visit the Hopi Reservation, located in northern Arizona
To get there from Tempe – Drive north for approximately 4 hours, through Navajo Nation, to the Hopi Reservation
Plan to visit the Hopi Cultural Center first, AZ-264, Second Mesa, AZ 86043, to start your journey. The Hopi Reservation encompasses approximately 1.5 million acres offering panoramic views of the surrounding low-altitude desert. Experience the rich history, culture, art and food of the Hopi people by scheduling a tour through the First Mesa Consolidated Villages. Call Marilyn June, the General Manager, directly to schedule your tour at (928) 734-2401, and be sure to read through these guidelines before your visit to make it an enjoyable experience.
To learn more about neighboring Native American communities and historical spots, visit www.tempetourism.com/discover-tempe/native-american-communities/.