The casinos of Indian Country in the Southwestern United States rise up out of the desert like sparkling metropolises along what's often an otherwise barren or sleepy stretch of landscape.
Their slot machines, buffets and spas draw busloads of tourists, many of whom will have this one-and-only exposure to a tribe and its people.
Over the past few decades, such casinos have come to dominate the public consciousness surrounding Native American tourism offerings. And for good reason.
There are 470 Indian gaming operations in the United States, according the 500 Nations website. Those casinos, owned by 242 of the nation's 565 federally recognized tribes, operate in 28 states, bringing in an estimate $30 billion in annual revenue.
But there is a new narrative emerging when it comes to Native America tourism, one that extends far beyond the ubiquitous casinos to include a richer cultural experience and exchange for visitors via opportunities to learn such things as Native American cooking, crafts, games, hunting, music and more.
And perhaps now, as Native Americans are making headlines with protests about the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would destroy sacred and historic Native American sites and damage local water supplies--it is more important then ever that we have these sorts of interactions.
To be fair, such experiences have always available on some level, you just had to dig deeper, travel further, look harder because it wasn't always cohesively organized, marketed, packaged or presented.
Within the past year or more, however, there's been a variety of intriguing developments in the Native American tourism industry, not the least of which is the launch of a slick new website, NativeAmerica.Travel, a place where tribes from across the country share their travel-related offerings and visitors from around the world can create an Indian Country vacation bucket list.