Spanning 27,000 square miles, the Navajo Nation Reservation is the largest tribal sovereign nation in the United States. Its boundaries extend from northwestern New Mexico into northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah, a combined area larger than many U.S. states. Home to the Navajo people, the vast area is rich with national monuments, tribal parks, historic sites, cultural attractions, and stunning natural beauty.
“We want tour groups to experience Navajo culture, food, and history at the source on the Navajo Nation,” says Kristal Anderson-Begay, marketing specialist at Navajo Nation Tourism Department in Window Rock, Arizona. “We hope that people take away that we are one of the many tribes in North America. Each tribe has its own culture, beliefs, way of life, and language. We are still here. Responsible and sustainable tourism is very important on our land.”
One of the ways groups can connect with the Navajo spirit is by taking in the peace and tranquility of a tribal park. One of the most recognized landscapes in the country, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is often considered the centerpiece of Navajo Nation, and one of five tribal parks overseen by Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation. The natural wonder, located along the state line of southeast Utah and northeast Arizona, is a collection of crimson mesas and towering sandstone buttes. Authorized tour operators offer guided experiences within the 92,000-acre park, including Jeep tours, stargazing tours, horse trail rides, and photography tours.
Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park in Arizona is home to the famed Antelope Canyon—a place that has inspired photographers for decades. Shaped by millions of years of water and wind erosion, the pristine slot canyon welcomes visitors inside the truly natural sculpture. To experience the magic of the Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon, all visitors must use an authorized tour operator.
Other tribal parks include the Four Corners Monument Navajo Tribal Park, where the four states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado intersect, and Canyon de Chelly National Monument in northeastern Arizona, recognized as one of the longest continually inhabited landscapes in North America.
In Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of the Navajo Nation, groups will find Window Rock Tribal Park & Veterans Memorial. With a graceful, red sandstone arch as a backdrop, the park is home to symbolic structures like a statue of a Navajo Code Talker and a healing sanctuary with a sandstone fountain. Nearby, the Navajo Nation Museum, Library & Visitors Center preserves and interprets the culture of the Navajo Nation. The museum features Native dis- plays, a gift shop, auditorium, snack bar, outdoor amphitheater, and an authentic Navajo hogan dwelling.
Also nearby is the Navajo Nation Zoo and Botanical Park, the only Native American-owned and -operated zoo in the country. The nature sanctuary is home to injured or orphaned wildlife, as well as over 50 animal species native to the Navajo Nation and the Southwest.
At the Explore Navajo Interactive Museum in Tuba City, Arizona, visitors learn all about the journey Navajos take through life. The 7,000-square-foot museum is divided into directional symbol quadrants, where visitors begin in the east and move clockwise. Each quadrant introduces visitors to the land, language, history, culture, and ceremonial life of the Navajo. Nearby, the Navajo Code Talkers Museum showcases how the Code Talkers transmitted information on tactics, troop movements, orders, and other vital battlefield information in their Native dialect during World War II.
Another way to immerse in Navajo culture is by purchasing Native goods.
“Buy straight from the source as much as possible,” Anderson-Begay says. “Purchase authentic crafts, jewelry, art, and handmade Navajo products from a Navajo person or business.”
One place to buy Navajo products is at a trading post. A number of these historic meeting places have been preserved and remain in business. The Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, established in 1876, is the oldest continuously operating trading post on the Navajo Nation and in the country. Visitors can browse authentic Navajo crafts, explore exhibits, attend rug-weaving demonstrations, and take a self-guided tour of the original 160-acre homestead.
Public events like Navajo fairs are another place to find Navajo-made goods. After a long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these Navajo events are just beginning to take place again. Some popular fairs include Northern Navajo Fair in Shiprock, New Mexico; Western Navajo Fair in Tuba City, Arizona; and Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock, Arizona.
For tour operators interested in visiting Navajo Nation, Anderson-Begay says the Navajo Nation Tourism Department can help suggested places to go but cannot negotiate prices or schedule tours. “Each place/destination will need to be reached for pricing and scheduling, as each business on the Navajo Nation operates independently,” she says. “We operate similar to a destination marketing organization at a county level, but in the Navajo Nation.”
Know Before You Go
• Navajo Nation remains under a COVID-19 mask mandate.
• Navajo Nation observes Daylight Saving Time and typically follows the same time zone as Denver, Colorado.
• Powwows and Fancy Grass Dancing are not traditional Navajo events. These have been adopted from other tribes and slowly adopted over the past few decades.
• Not all ceremonies can be attended by non-Natives.
• Younger generations of Navajo are recapturing the traditional tribal name Diné, which means “The People.”
• Visitors should respect the land. If you find artifacts on the ground, respectfully observe them, and leave them in peace.
For more information, call Navajo Parks & Recreation Department at 928-871-6647 or visit navajonationparks.org; or call Navajo Nation Tourism Department at 928-810-8501 or visit discovernavajo.com.
Main image: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park; Credit: Arizona Office of Tourism