Navajo Land, Navajo Nation, New Mexico, Native Travel Destinations, Native Travel, American Indian Reservation, Checkerboard, Archaeology, Chaco Canyon, Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, National Park Service, Pueblo Ruins, Anasazi Ruins, Aztec Ruins National Monument, Shiprock Pinnacle, Shiprock, Navajo Nation Tourism Department, Tourism, Native Tourism, Bisti Wilderness Area, Bureau of Land Management, Church Rock Pinnacle, Red Rock State Park, Indian Gaming, Navajo Nation Gaming, Bowl Canyon Recreation Area, Toadlena Trading Post, Navajo Rug Weaving, Rug Weaving, Crownpoint Rug Auction, Crownpoint

Courtesy Bowie Snodgrass/Wikipedia

Shiprock Pinnacle on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.

Destination: Navajo Land, New Mexico

Want to explore Navajo land? Here’s what you can do in New Mexico

At 27,000 square miles, the Navajo Nation stretches across three states and includes dozens of travel destinations. With a little bit of road savvy and cultural know-how, anyone can visit Navajo land, the country’s largest American Indian reservation.

Whether you’re a history aficionado or an outdoor enthusiast, there’s lots to do in the New Mexico portion of the reservation. Here’s a sampling of what to do and how to get there.

Getting Around Navajo Land

The entire northwest corner of New Mexico comprises Navajo land. The reservation is framed on the north by the Colorado border and on the south by I-40. The eastern-most communities comprise a checkerboard area, or a mixture of private, state and tribal land.

In most circumstances, ownership of the land won’t matter. Keep in mind, however, that many of the dirt roads are unmarked and often lead to private property. Stay on clearly marked roads and remember you are a visitor on Navajo land.

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Archaeological Wonders of Navajo Land

If history or archaeology pique your interest, head first to Chaco Canyon National Historical Park. More commonly known as Chaco Canyon, this 53-square-mile archaeological site operated by the National Park Service boasts the densest concentration of pueblo ruins in the Southwest, dating from the year 850.

Chaco Canyon is located in the community of Nageezi and is accessible via a series of roads accessible from either state highway 371 or 550. Prepare to drive several miles on dirt roads to reach the park, but keep in mind that roads can be impassable during inclement weather.

The park is very remote and amenities are limited, but camping is available. A visitor center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission to the park is $10 per person.

For more of the same Anasazi ruins, head north to Aztec Ruins National Monument, located off the reservation in the small town of Aztec. While not as immense as Chaco, Aztec Ruins offers an intimate look at the pueblo cultures from nearly 1,000 years ago. Admission is $5 per person.

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Photo by Ray Landry

Visitors climb over ancient pueblo structures at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

A Photographer’s Dream

If photography is your thing, pull on some hiking boots and head to the Shiprock pinnacle, one of New Mexico’s most iconic landmarks. Located near the community of Shiprock, this towering monolith is known as Tse’ Bit’ A’i, or “rock with wings.”

White settlers renamed it Shiprock because of the peak’s resemblance to a 19th-century clipper ship. Visitors can drive all the way to the foot of the pinnacle, though hiking or rock-climbing are prohibited.

“It’s an open area with no entrance fees,” said Corrine Jymm, a spokeswoman for the Navajo Nation Tourism Department. “All we ask is that you don’t take rocks, don’t climb the pinnacle and don’t spread graffiti.”

For more hiking and photography, head south to the Bisti Wilderness Area, located off state highway 371. Here, roughly 60 square miles of remote badlands are open for hiking, exploring and spectacular photography. The badlands are on Navajo land but overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.

For more strenuous hiking, don’t forget the Church Rock Pinnacle, located just off I-40 east of Gallup. Called nature’s church steeple, the rock was carved by wind to form a towering pillar of sandstone.

To get there, leave the interstate at exit 26 and follow signs for Red Rock State Park. The Church Rock trail begins at the post office and the trailhead is well marked.

Gaming

No trip to the Navajo Nation is complete without stopping at one of the three casinos in the New Mexico portion of the reservation. Fire Rock is accessible from I-40; Northern Edge is just south of the city of Farmington; and Flowing Water is in the small community of Hogback, just east of Shiprock.

Outdoor Activities

If you’re traveling with family, check out Bowl Canyon Recreation Area for camping, picnicking, hiking or canoeing on the lake. Located near the community of Crystal, this site offers a lush retreat in the high mountains.

The nearby Camp Asááyi is available to accommodate large groups in furnished cabins. Two hiking trails promise stunning panoramic views of pine trees and rippling streams.

Navajo Land Culture

For visitors with an eye for culture, the Toadlena Trading Post offers a comprehensive history of Navajo rug weaving. Located way off the beaten path, the trading post and rug museum are nestled in the Chuska Mountains near the Arizona border.

To get there, take U.S. 491 to Indian Service Route 19. Be prepared for dirt roads before you reach the destination.

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Courtesy Toadlena Trading Post

The Toadlena Trading Post offers visitors a comprehensive history of Navajo rug weaving.

Directions to additional trading posts can be found here.

Finally, for an authentic and truly unique Navajo experience, head to the Crownpoint Rug Auction, a live auction founded more than 50 years ago in the small community of Crownpoint, located about 30 miles north of I-40, on state highway 371.

The auction takes place once a month (usually the second Friday) at Crownpoint Elementary School and showcases contemporary, handmade, wool Navajo rugs and the weavers who make them. Rugs sell from less than $50 to more than $1,000.

Comments
  • Mary Frances G.

    We have been going to Santa Fe and Taos for the Christmas holidays for the past few years, but we first fell in love with “The Land of Enchantment” in 2008. The first time was in January when I went to meet my future father-in-law (from Marin County, CA) who spends 6 weeks in Santa Fe, every year. I was pleasantly surprised to experience the snow, the incredible history of our nation’s first capital, but more profound was the Native American culture that pervades everything in Santa Fe, EVERYWHERE, that touched my soul. We returned for Christmas, that same year, and I have been in awe with the culture, the Pueblos, the markets, museums, and absolutely all things Native American. My heritage is 100% Greek, but my soul and spirit, somehow, is connected to “Native America.” In my 3rd quarter of life, i wear only gold from my Greek culture, or turquoise, for my Native American kindred spirit. After reading about the Navajo Lands, we will include this in our trip. I truly look forward to visiting the territory of our “Wind-Talkers” who are truly on the top of the list of unsung heroes of World War II. I only wish I would have known so much more about the true, shameful history of how “the colonists from the 15th century, forward, exterminated, lied, cheated, stole, raped, murdered, and systematically annihilated the true inhabitants of America, so much sooner. During the 40 years i taught English and American Literature, I made sure my students received an in-depth lesson of the Jewish Holocaust to teach how intelligent, “civilized” men are capable of evil, horrific crimes. I am not sure why we were never taught the crimes and atrocities against our Native Americans in depth. Of course, we knew who Custer was, Little Big Horn, Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph, The Trail of Tears, Geronimo, Cray Horse, Osceola, and some more, but never, ever the volumes of disturbing truths I know now. The old Spanish fort in St. Augustine, Florida also holds tragic history of the various Native Americans who were “interned” there…..

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Destination: Navajo Land, New Mexico

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