The December sky on the mountain gave a magnificent performance, constantly changing from soft grey mist to thick cloud cover, to gentle white wisps, and then to an occasional separation, revealing a blue so intense I could almost taste it. The air temperature was 23 degrees and I felt warm, captivated as I was by the glorious symphony at play around me.
Whenever I am blessed to spend time in the San Francisco Peaks, I am reminded that they are considered sacred by 13 Native American tribes, including the Navajo and Hopi. I personally find that there is a sense of the sacred here, and I can feel God’s presence. When I was on the mountain last week, I stood still. I watched. I listened. I was renewed.
The Peaks are located in the Coconino National Forest and are therefore managed by the USDA Forest Service, who permitted a ski resort (Arizona Snowbowl) to be built on the west side of Mount Humphreys in 1979. In addition to down-hill and cross-country skiing, the San Francisco Peaks provide a place where nature enthusiasts can camp, hike, bike, explore, or simply connect with nature. I have hiked (more rambling than hiking) the peaks in the fall, embracing and photographing the brilliant gold of the aspen and in the spring and summer, allowing the mountain to wrap me in the cool forests of Ponderosa Pine. I have driven the forest roads around the mountain, exploring this home to elk, bobcat, mountain lion, gray fox, mule deer, porcupine, tarantula, javelina, and of course, rattlesnake and the raucous raven.
The San Francisco Peaks are known by different names; the following are two of many. The Navajo call the mountain Dook’o’oosłííd, “the summit which never melts” or “the mountain which peak never thaws.” (History of the San Francisco Peaks and howthey got their names); the Hopi call the Peaks Nuvatukaovi, “The Place of Snow on the Very Top.” The Hopi believe that Nuvatukaovi is home for half of the year to the ancestral kachina spirits who live among the clouds around the summit and bring “gentle rains to thirsty corn plants.” (San Francisco Peaks)
Like many lands in the U.S., the Peaks have been entangled in conflict for decades over land use and mining rights. More recently, Native Americans, environmental groups, and activists have battled the Snowbowl Ski Resort in the courts and in the streets, claiming that when the resort received permission to use reclaimed water to make artificial snow, it was a desecration of the sacred slopes. (Snowbowl project made of wastewater on Indigenous sacred lands, San Francisco Peaks, Arizona, US)
I highly recommend The Arizona Republic article published on August 20, 2021, which presents an in-depth look at “the battleground between tribal cultural values and developers.” (San Francisco Peaks: A sacred place is imperiled by snow made with recycled sewage)