Arizona native Rick Quinn calls his new book, “RoadTrip America Arizona & New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips,” a “distillation of a lifetime of experience and almost half a million miles of travel by road on four different continents.” He has lived in New York City, San Francisco, and Bogota, and even spent two years living out of his Dodge Powerwagon as he cruised through the northern Andes with his dog Lobo.
Pairing his love for adventure with a background in anthropology, Rick has spent his adult years deeply fascinated by the contemporary Native American art, culture, and history that surrounds him in America’s Southwest. As he compiled his newly released book, it only made sense to include a few tips to keep in mind when visiting and exploring tribal lands and sites.
Here’s what Rick had to say about being published for the first time, and how including Native American landmarks made the experience so special.
When did the idea for this book come about? Was there one clear-cut moment of inspiration, or was it something that slowly compounded over time?
After retiring from my federal government position in 2015, I started doing a little freelance writing and selling short articles about roadside attractions to a travel website called RoadTrip America. The owner of the site was in the process of launching a new publishing business, and since he liked my writing style, he invited me to submit a proposal for a book-length manuscript about road trips in the Southwest. While drafting that proposal, I did, in fact, have a singular flash of inspiration. I’d found a pattern in my road maps that gave me an idea for a whole new kind of road trip book: a series of well-planned itineraries that were specifically focused on scenic roads as alternatives to interstate highways. The publisher liked the idea, and the next thing I knew, I had a book to write.
How much time passed between scribbling out your first ideas and getting to hold a hard copy of the book in your hands?
Writing the book, from initial proposal to final draft, took about 18 months. That includes all of the field research (11,000 miles on back roads), photo selection (I shot 7,000 photographs while driving the routes), background research, multiple drafts of the manuscript, map creation, layout, and proofing. It was a bit more than two months after signing off on the final review that I first held a copy of it in my hands. And I must say, that was quite a moment!
Why did you choose to incorporate information regarding local tribal lands?
I have a degree in anthropology and a life-long fascination with Native American history and culture, so this was a terrific opportunity for me to expound on those topics and share my interests with readers. On a more practical note, some of the most spectacular landscapes in the Southwest are found on tribal lands. Popular attractions like Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley, and Antelope Canyon are all managed by tribal authorities, so the book would have been woefully incomplete if those locations had not been included.
Why is it important to communicate proper understanding and etiquette when visiting these areas?
Indian reservations are considered sovereign nations, very much like foreign countries. Each tribe has a unique language, culture, and system of government, including a police force that keeps the peace. Travelers are generally welcome, but they are guests, and it’s important that they behave as such. Traveling off the main roads is prohibited without proper permits in most places, and those who violate this can be fined for trespassing. Local customs regarding photography can vary from place to place, but as a rule, you should refrain from taking photographs of Native American people, their children, or close-up shots of their homes, unless you’ve been given specific permission (when in doubt, ask). Native Americans, as a people, have been treated horribly by our society, making them all the more deserving of our respect. Additionally, Native American people live in harmony with the natural world — a special quality that’s increasingly rare in modern times.
Without giving too much away, are you able to touch on what makes these tribal areas unique and special?
The United States, especially the West, is a new country in the sense that our history only goes back a couple-hundred years. That’s nothing when compared to places like Egypt and the Middle East, or even Europe. That said, there are Native American sites on tribal land with history that blows the doors off everything else in the region. The Hopi people, for instance, have been living on their arid mesas for almost 2,000 years. The Anasazi ruins in Chaco Canyon were abandoned long before the first Europeans arrived on the continent, and even then, the great houses at Chaco were the largest buildings in North America right up into the 19th century. These are places where history and mystery are palpable — so close you can reach out and touch it. These sites are out of the way and not so easy to get to, but a visit to Chaco Canyon should be on the bucket list of every traveler who is curious about world history.
What do you personally find so fascinating about the tribal history in this region?
I’m fascinated by the many things that we don’t know. There were rich and complex societies living on this land in ancient times, and what little we know about them is largely conjecture, the contents of a dark room viewed through a keyhole. I find all of that particularly fascinating. But regarding what we do know, the particular thing I’m drawn to is the far-ranging trade in the ancient Americas: the trade of exotic goods like cacao pods and macaw feathers, and the trade of ideas about everything from predicting the solstice to the spiritual nature of the cosmos. There are also the ball courts — a setting for ancient ceremonial events that are less elaborate than the crumbling arenas in the Mayan cities of Mexico, but serve the same ritual purpose — that have been found as far north as the Colorado Plateau.
How did you compile the information for this particular section of the book?
I did intensive research in the field, as well as in libraries, and talked at length with friends on the Navajo and Hopi reservations. Most of the tips that I provide are common sense and common courtesy — things like, “obey all posted directives” and “don’t walk into someone’s house if you haven’t been invited.” That said, I’ve traveled extensively over the course of my life, and in my experience, the average person can’t be relied upon in situations where common sense is required. For that reason, yes, it is usually necessary to state the obvious.
What’s your favorite thing about visiting these places? Have they taught, surprised, or rewarded you in any way?
There is an energy in ancient ruins that speaks to a powerful sense of history, and there is an energy present in sandstone buttes and canyons that have been carved into a phantasmagorical landscape by wind and water, representing the very essence of our dreams. Just being in these places is a reward of incalculable value.
What do you hope people take away from your book, and these tips specifically?
I hope that they’ll drive these scenic roads, just as I’ve laid them out, and that they’ll have real adventures of their own and see wonderful things they would not have experienced otherwise. And as far as the tips about proper etiquette in tribal areas, I would hope that travelers using my book as a guide take them seriously, and that they enjoy their visit without offending anyone or embarrassing themselves.