Dzil Ta'ah Adventures'
cycling tours pair desert landscapes with Navajo creation storiesand
all tour revenue is reinvested into Navajo communities.
It's been more than a year since COVID-19 halted the Navajo
Nation's tourism, but just
this month, popular attractions like Monument
Valley Navajo Tribal Park and Four
Corners Monument partially reopenedand travelers have
a new way to experience these sun-blasted landscapes: by bikepacking.
It's the first iteration of an Indigenous-led effort to bring bike
tourism to the Navajo Nation.
a heart-pumping blend of mountain biking and camping, is well established
on long-distance bike
routes like the Colorado Trail and Alaska's
Denali Park Road. Similar to backpacking,
it's an immersion into the elements, from camping beneath bright
cosmos to cycling through unspoiled wildernesstwo natural
features the Navajo Nation is blessed with across its 27,000 square
miles of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.
But until recently, the reservation's bike tourism was more than
lackingbike tours weren't legally recognized as a permitted
tourism category. In 2016, avid Navajo mountain biker and former
racer Jon Yazzie of Kayenta, Arizona, set out to change that. He
and his partner Nadine Johnson slashed miles of red tape, campaigning
the Navajo Nation's parks and recreation department to grant their
adventure company, Dzil
Ta'ah Adventures, a permit to run overnight bikepacking tours,
as well as half-day mountain-biking excursions, on Navajo land.
Their wish was granted in early 2020, but celebrations waned swiftly
as COVID-19 swept through the reservation.
Instead of using that hard-earned permit to run tours, Yazzie and
Johnson spent the pandemic lockdown scouting trails, testing campsites,
and spreading bikepacking interest among Navajo youth. Now, with
the Navajo Nation's reopening underway, their bike-tour dream can
finally become a reality.
The inaugural bike-tour experience
Navajo Nation bikepacking tours aren't your average cycle-and-sightsee
excursions. Dzil Ta'ah Adventures leads guests deep into the red
sands of Navajo Nation's backcountry, blending adventure with culture
as Navajo guides share stories about their ancestors and the land
they're cyclingsomething the Navajo Nation hopes to see more
of across its tourism offerings in the coming years.
"It's important for Navajo Nation to be in charge of this story,
because more often than not, that story has been told for,
not by, Navajo people," says Navajo Nation member Donovan Hanley,
a legislative staff assistant spearheading tourism development for
Navajo Nation Council's Office of the Speaker. "Jon's push to tell
stories on bikes, the push for adventure, responsible tourism, and
sustainable tourismit really aligns with the Navajo way of
Dzil Ta'ah Adventures
is currently offering overnight bikepacking trips and half-day
mountain biking tours through the Navajo Nation. Getty
Dzil Ta'ah Adventures recently launched bike tours run the gamut,
with customized itineraries based on comfort level and time, from
half-day rides to immersive multi-night bikepacking journeys. Milder
overnight trips, like the jaunt up to Hunts Mesa with about 80 percent
flat dirt road, promise rare golden-hour views of the sandstone
chimneys sprinkled across Monument Valley. As a mountain-bike racer
himself, Yazzie also plans hair-raising tours for even the best-trained
riders. "We have everything from soft-blow sand to riding on shale
shelves, a little bit of single track, a lot of double track, and
sandstone everywhere," he says. (Currently, Dzil Ta'ah is only booking
As Yazzie and Johnson cultivate the bike-tourism movement, Hanley
says another local organization, Navajo
YES, is building new bike trails and infrastructure to further
place Navajo Nation on the outdoor-adventure map. The newly designated
Chuska Mountain Bike Trail, an 80-mile traverse along the spine
of the Chuska Mountains straddling Arizona and New Mexico, is one
of many projects likely to amplify Navajo Nation's adventure tourism,
A Navajo-led movement
These mountain and desert vistas are jaw dropping, but bikepacking
here is about so much more than a stellar backdrop. This is one
of few Navajo Nation tourism movements that's entirely Navajo runwith
all tourism dollars staying in the Navajo community.
"In Kayenta right now, only a [fraction] of tour companies are
Native-owned," Yazzie says, noting he was initially inspired to
start a bikepacking group so he and his friends could get permits
to camp on Navajo lands only accessible to registered tour companies.
But Yazzie quickly realized these permits could do so much more.
By "spreading the bikepack stoke" across the Navajo Nation, particularly
among youth, they could ensure bike tourism profits the Navajo people
for generations to come.
With full-time jobs, Yazzie and Johnson don't need the profit from
Dzil Ta'ah Adventures for themselves. Instead, they will put tour
money toward a Navajo-youth bike program to help the next generation
of Navajo bike-tour guides learn everything from riding techniques
and topography, to Wilderness Advanced First Aid (WAFA).
On a deeper level, Yazzie hopes welcoming youth into the bike movement
will also help them appreciate their connection to this land, their
ancestors, and the Navajo creation storiesjust like it did
"I was raised with these stories, but they didn't make any sense
until I was actually out there riding," he says, noting one of his
biggest aha moments struck while biking past Bears Ears National
Monument. "These stories come from our grandparents and our ancestors,
and the tours we run revolve around both the authentic creation
stories and our modern-day struggles."
Back country cultural experiences through bike packing
Our Mission: To promote community wellness, lifelong fitness, youth
empowerment and family togetherness across the Navajo Nation. To
achieve our mission, our work is grounded in five programs: Dine
Bike Project; Navajo Trails Task Force; Outdoor Adventure
Programs; Community Education & Outreach; and Navajo
Parks Race Series & Tour de Rez Cup Series.