Building a Tourism Operation Near Mystical Antelope Canyon

Native Business spoke with Roseann Littleman and her husband Lester about capitalizing Arrowhead Campground & the Navajo Wagon tours.

Roseann and Lester Littleman invite tourists to unplug and experience the Diné way of life in the rugged, high-desert landscape of Navajo country. Guests can book a stay in one of their traditional dwelling options, Hogan or Tipi. The Littlemans also offer wagon tours to the hidden Mystical Antelope Canyon, a spiritual place of towering sandstone walls. The enterprising couple call their bed-and-breakfast and tourism operation “Arrowhead Campground & the Navajo Wagon.” 

The Littlemans had already listed their residences on Airbnb when they approached the Native American Business Incubator Network (NABIN) on the Navajo Nation for assistance. Among other recommendations, NABIN quickly advised the Littlemans move their Airbnb e-listing from LeChee, Arizona, to nearby Page, “which is a big tourist community where Lake Powell is,” said Jessica Stago, lead business counselor for NABIN. 

Whereas numerous slot canyons weave through the area, the canyons on the Littleman’s property have a unique advantage. They run east to west. Nearly all the area slot canyons stretch north to south. As the sun rises and sinks, it casts light through the red stone slots. “Throughout the day, the lighting changes, and they have a longer time to lead tours,” Stago said. 

Native Business spoke with Roseann Littleman about capitalizing Arrowhead Campground & the Navajo Wagon tours. 

As the sun rises and sinks on the Littleman’s property, it casts light through the red stone slots.

1) When you came up with the idea for your business, what were your initial thoughts about how to capitalize it?  

We set funds aside about 5 or 6 years ahead of time; we started purchasing the equipment—the welding machine, the tractor—we were going to use. We planned ahead to where we had the stuff we needed when we opened the business. We got rid of personal loans. We didn’t buy any vehicles for anything, so we had the money ready for after retirement.  

2) What difficulties did you encounter with raising capital to start your business?

Where to start… Waiting for the business site lease and going through the archeological clearance, spending money for travel back and forth from Window Rock to Tuba City, Arizona, to meet with small businesses in Tuba. 

We knew that borrowing the money was going to put us down, so we had to use our own money for this, using retirement money. 

 We needed labor for the ground work—using the tractor, setting up the tipi, making signs for the entry to the campground, etc. We couldn’t get a business loan because we were not established. So, we got a personal loan for the restroom. Tourists want to be able to shower, they want to know if there is running water.  Tourists way of life is different; they are used to things like electrical.  We try to show them about how we live, in a traditional way.  

3) Were you aware of any federal or Native American programs to help you finance your business, and did you feel that you had access to them? Did you take advantage of those programs? 

Only NABIN, and the Small Business in Page at the Community College—those are the only programs.  

Dolly at Navajo Regional Business Development Office (RBDO) showed us how to keep the business going with all the paperwork that we had to go through. It took time. 

We were stalled for two years because of the consent form that slowed us down. We couldn’t get the business site lease until we got the family to approve the consent form allowing us to start a business on the grazing rights land. Even though I have a grazing permit, I had to work with the other people that have a permit too, because they have their livestock in the area. It’s open range, so they are your neighbor, and if they don’t want you to do the campground or tour, they won’t sign the consent form. And then that will be the end. We had to work with them to get the okay for the business.

4) Were you aware of any programs for Native entrepreneurs available in your community or through your tribe? 

The Navajo Regional Business Development Office (NRBDO) is where we started. We attended some classes with them on how to go about business ideas; it was a help to us. We didn’t know anything about trade names or anything, we had no guidance. We’re not familiar with computers, so running a website was something we didn’t know how to do. We were just going along on our own.The other tour operators won’t help you, because they are too busy with their own businesses. 

5) Did you feel like you had the appropriate amount of business and accounting training to provide you with an understanding of how to go about accessing capital? 

No, there was no training available.  

6) What avenue(s) did you ultimately use to fund your business, and knowing what you know now, what funding path would you recommend to other aspiring or emerging entrepreneurs?

We used our personal income, our own savings. We set aside money strictly for this business.  We know a loan is something that you have to pay back, and over time, what you pay builds. So if the business is not successful, you lose a lot of money. I didn’t want to take a chance on a big loan, so I wanted to pay a lot of it our self.  

7) How did the process of raising capital to launch your business empower you as an entrepreneur? 

A lot of it is sacrificing—not buying things and making sure to lower your bills so you can save money. 

8) How has access to capital changed over the course of operating your business? What additional business strategies have you used to help fund your business? 

The camping helps to keep the project going, so the money coming in from that is paying for what we need now.  So, what money that is coming in, we have to use toward the expenses. Without the money from the campground, we would be stalled, because the canyon tour is not well known, so it’s taking time to get going. The hardest part is getting the materials down to the slot canyon.

9) What would your advice be today for entrepreneurs who are just starting to seek funding for their businesses?

It’s more of a work around than anything. You have to come from all sides, look into everything, talk to people, ask questions and see how you want the money to work for you.  

At times, things seem impossible in your mind. There are just two of us, and we have 10 things to do, and we have to do this one day at a time. You just have to go with it. You have to practice teamwork, communicating with each other. 

10) What are some of the ways that Indian Country could improve its support for funding emerging entrepreneurs?

I would like to know more about how to write for grant money, or where are the grant funds, or match funds to help start a business.  

For information about lodging or tours, visit mysticalarrowhead.com or call (928) 640-3852. 

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