Homol'ovi - which means "Place of the Little Hills" in the Hopi language - is the only Arizona state park dedicated to American Indian culture.
PRESCOTT - To Donald Nelson, a Hopi who grew up in Prescott, Homol'ovi is not just another state park.
"Homol'ovi State Park to me is a very special place, in that it reaffirms the history of our migration as Hopi clans," Nelson said of the park, which sits along the Little Colorado River about 60 miles south of the Hopi mesas.
"I would not be sitting here today if it were not for the strength, the courage and the tenacity of my ancestors to live and to survive in such a rugged environment, guided by a very strong faith and guided by the assurance that we would be taken care of if we were to follow certain instructions," Nelson said.
Homol'ovi - which means "Place of the Little Hills" in the Hopi language - is the only Arizona state park dedicated to American Indian culture, featuring several ancient pueblos that were home to Hopi ancestors.
Earlier this year, the park faced potential closure because of state budget cuts and low visitor counts, but protests and offers of assistance from the Hopi tribe have kept it open - at least for now. So far, the park has lost only two employees but remains open every day except Christmas.
Hopi ancestors (archaeologists call them the Anasazi) lived at Homol'ovi for centuries, eventually building huge pueblos before leaving for the mesas to the north in the late 1300s where others already lived.
Hopi often return to visit Homol'ovi, said Assistant Park Manager Chad Meunier, who thoroughly enjoys the spectacular views and solitude of his home in the park.
The Hopi migration story is too complex to explain here, but an important piece of the story is that the Hopi ancestors left ruins, petroglyphs and pottery shards at places such as Homol'ovi so others, including their future leader, could know they were here.
"These are physical evidence that the Hopi clans were traveling to the center of the Earth as they were entrusted to do," Nelson said. "The pottery sherds, the ruins themselves, are guideposts and this is the way that they will find us.
"So it is important that ruin sites as a whole within the Southwest, if not throughout North America, remain intact."
It is sad to see that, instead of appreciating this important piece of history, some Homol'ovi visitors shot bullet holes into the petroglyphs and dug up the pueblos, kivas and graves to loot them.
This looting reached a fevered pitch by the 1960s, when people were even bringing backhoes in for the search.
"I have always been taught that when I visit a site ... I should approach it with respect," Nelson said.
"I should always remember that these were living human beings ... quite similar to myself."