The Four Corners Region: Exploring the Mysteries of Hillerman Country

By Janis Turk, Go Nomad

Original article at

The four corners of mystery writer Tony Hillerman’s world aren’t on any map.

They lie someplace between fiction and fantasy, myth and memory, and are bordered by ancient cliff dwellings, steep canyon walls, sun-baked Zuni pueblos and dry winds that sweep across Navajo lands.

So the best way to experience Hillerman Country is to go by the book.

Take along some of Hillerman’s 20 best-selling novels while traveling through Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado, and see the Four Corners region of the Southwest through new eyes.

Hillerman recalls it as “love at first sight,” when he first beheld the Four Corners region, and says he’s “been getting acquainted with its mountains, canyons and interesting cultures ever since,” and so have his readers, who have fallen in love with Hillerman’s characters and the rugged country where his murder mysteries are set.

That’s why many well-read travelers are taking to the open road to discover the places shrouded in mystery and enchantment in Hillerman’s novels.

A Special Tour

While you can “go by the book” all on your own, using Hillerman’s tales as your guide, you may want to also consider taking a tour to learn more about the lands and peoples which inhabit the stories.

Three years ago, popular, award-winning mystery writer Tony Hillerman did something almost unheard of for an author of his stature: he endorsed a special “Hillerman Country” tour offered by Scottsdale-based Detours of Arizona.

This laid-back literary road trip takes travelers, for five days and four nights, through miles of high desert mountain lands and rocky canyon paths that fictional characters, like Navajo Tribal Police Jim Chee, Officer Bernadette Manuelito and Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn have covered hundreds of times in Hillerman’s stories.

Better yet, travelers get to meet some of Hillerman’s real-life friends who appear as colorful characters in his novels.

High, Dry, Big Sky Lanscapes

Trekking across the canyon lands of northern Arizona and northwest New Mexico, home of the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and other American Indian tribes, travelers get to know the “friendly high, dry, big sky landscape of the Four Corners world” that Hillerman first beheld in 1945, a world he’s been writing about ever since.

The tour covers 1,100+ miles of glorious rugged country, including a jeep tour of Canyon de Chelly, which is the setting for parts of Sacred Clowns, as well as a walking tour of the ruins of Chaco Canyon, prominent in Hillerman’s Thief of Time.

The tour starts with a pick-up from the Phoenix Sun Harbor airport or from area hotels in Scottsdale, Mesa and Phoenix, and those who travel on their own may want to start there too, as they can make their way up Carefree Highway (Hwy 17) toward Flagstaff, with a small detour off to the west on Hwy 179 for a stop in the popular town of Sedona. From there, travel north to the Grand Canyon, where Hillerman country really begins.

Sacred Places

Maverick Helicopters skip like stones across the top of the Grand Canyon to remind readers of Skeleton Man, the novel in which a diamond-filled attaché case and dismembered arm are found in a Havasu cave.

Later stop at Zuni and Hopi reservations near Four Corners, including a rare visit into private homes and sacred places there — settings for mysteries in Hillerman’s books, like Dance Hall of the Dead, Coyote Waits, Skinwalkers and The Wailing Wind.

Along the way, windswept red-rock canyons and towering monoliths line the highways. The snow-capped peaks of Mount Humphreys hold a regal place outside Flagstaff, in the distance.

Dining at local lunch spots and trading posts like the one in Cameron, Arizona, with its fabulous Navajo taco on the menu, or stops at places like Tuba City or Toadlena, New Mexico, with its Two Grey Hills Weaving Museum, prove unforgettable as well. Wend through golden aspen groves until coming upon the ghostly shadow of Shiprock Mountain.

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Copyright © 2014 by Go Nomad. This article was written by Janis Turk and originally published at