Near Hoover Dam the Colorado River courses through a stunning landscape of deeply shaded canyons and multihued mountains of stone. ©Jim Hinckley’s America

When putting together a jigsaw puzzle you can’t throw away red pieces just because you don’t like the color. You can’t tell the story of Goldilocks and not include the three bears. You can’t cut cannibalism from the tragic story of the Donner Party. And you can’t tell America’s amazing story without including the history of slavery and the civil rights movement, the genocide of native people and the patriotism of the code talkers, the Know Nothing Party, the contributions of immigrants and the history of prejudices against immigrants.

Northern and western Arizona is a land of scenic wonders without equal. Here you will find the awe inspiring majesty of the Grand Canyon and the red rock country at Sedona. And in the Black Mountains you can drive a segment of Route 66 cut through landscapes so stunning a one eyed blinid man would have trouble taking a bad photo.

But before Route 66, the National Old Trails Road, Atlantic & Pacific Railroad, and the Beale Wagon Road cut across this vast desert wilderness this was the home of the Pai and Mojave people. It was their trade routes that were followed by an expedition led by Father Garces in 1776, and the explorers that followed. That trade route became the Mojave Road across the vast wilderness of the Mojave Desert.

The oral traditions of the Pai tell of a great flood that was drained when the creator thrust a stick into the ground. This oral history tells the story of the people that were created from the reeds. Then Kathat Kanave gave the people the knowledge neede to live in this diverse and often harsh land.

According to legend after a mud fight between children the tribes were seperated. The Mojave were given the upper Colorado River Valley north and south of where Route 66 crosses that river. The Yavapai that became mortal enemies to the Hualapai were drven south below the fork of the Bill Williams River. The people now known as hopi and Navajo were moved east. And the Havasupai had a new homeland at what is now Grand Canyon National Park and the valley’s near Cataract Canyon.

The Hualapai were largely a nomadic people that lived in bands or clans. At the time of European contact the Pine Springs and Peach Springs bands were recorded as being the largest with four camps of about 200 people.

This monument to a dark chapter in the history of the Pai people at Beale Springs is just one piece of the puzzle. More pieces are needed if the picture is to be seen with clarity.

From about 1300 to 1850 the Pai adapated an intricate relationship with the land. The bands migrated seasonally as they followed game and periods of harvest. Pottery and baskets were essential, an in time they developed a unique and beautiful design.

The Mojave developed productive farms along the Coloraod River. For the Hualapai farming was limted to the valleys occupied by the Havasupai, and the valleys of the Bill Williams and Santa Maria Rivers. Small scale farming to supply bands with a few dozen people took places at places such as Beale Springs, Peach Springs, and Diamond Creek. Squash, beans, maize and pumpkins were the primary crops before European encounter.

To drive Route 66 without knowing the story of the road, and the people that linked their lives to that storied highway, would be little different from a trip on the interstate highway. It would be sterile and colorless.

To drive Route 66 without knowing the story of the Pai, the pioneers, the tragic clash of cultures, and eforts to heal old wounds, is akin to just reading every second chapter in a book. The story is incomplete.

Enhance your journey on Route 66, and through life. Learn before you go. Don’t be offended by the storytellers. Let history fill your adventure with color, with balance, with inspiration, and without important lessons from the past.

Jim Hinckley’s America is the sharing of America’s story. Tales of the Pai, this too is America’s story.



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