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Climate and Biota of the Navajo Nation

This page was written by Erin Klauk as part of the DLESE Community Services Project: Integrating Research in Education.

Tsé bit'a'í ("Rock with Wings") or Ship Rock, a 550-m exhumed diatreme and dike complex in the mid-Tertiary Navajo Volcanic Field. It is a prominent landform in the northeastern Navajo Nation. Details

The Navajo Nation, which is located on the Colorado Plateau, is arid to semi-arid. The annual precipitation in most areas is less than 10 inches. The Navajo Nation is known for having very cold winters and very hot summers, with an annual average temperature of about 40ºF to 55ºF. Climatic patterns vary from south to north across the Colorado Plateau. Much of the northern Plateau shares a climatic regime with the Great Basin. The region generally lies outside the typical major pathways of winter and summer moisture-bearing masses. Winter moisture comes infrequently from Pacific air masses, and summers are generally hot, with infrequent convective rainfall. Precipitation in the southern Colorado Plateau is low to moderate in the early winter, increasing in February and March, and then dropping off quickly into April. May through June is very dry throughout the region (LUHNA, 2002 (more info) ).

California Condor. Details

These bi-seasonal and north-south climatic gradients have led to development of a vegetation gradient as well, with species more dependent upon summer precipitation occurring dominantly in the southern and southeastern Colorado Plateau and declining toward the northwest. Locally, these generalizations are modified by high topographic diversity (LUHNA, 2002 (more info) ).

Mexican Spotted Owl. Details

The fauna in this area is very diverse. No other region in the country has so many mammal species, and many of these species and their named subspecies are endemic to the Southwest. Many species reside here, including the endangered California Condor, and the threatened Mexican Spotted Owl (LUHNA, 2002 (more info) ). Reptiles include the horned lizard, collared lizard, and rattlesnake (Colorado Plateau Semidesert Province (more info) ).


To further investigate the climate and biota of the Navajo Nation, follow the links below.

Climate of the Colorado Plateau

Resources containing information about the climate of the Colorado Plateau.

  • Western Regional Climate Center (more info) The Western Regional Climate Center website provides links to information on historical climate data, current observations and forecasts, Western Regional Climate Center projects, climate monitoring, and educational and travel pages. Links are also provided to the National Climatic Data Center, Regional Climate Centers, State Climate Offices, and sites pertaining to wind energy, marine climatology, and solar energy. Because of the abundance of information and data, a site map is provided to ease navigation.
  • Modern Climatic Conditions on the Colorado Plateau (more info) This fact sheet provides a brief introduction to the modern climatic conditions of the Colorado Plateau. Additional links lead to a discussion of the importance of climate studies to understanding the land cover history of the Colorado Plateau, and a description of the causes of long-term cycles of climate change in the Southwest. Also included on this site is a search box that enables users to search any topic on the Land Use History of the Colorado Plateau web pages, and links to further research and resources including information about the people, places, biota, change, tools, trends and research for the area of the Colorado Plateau.
  • Climate of the Colorado Plateau (more info) This fact sheet provides a brief overview of the climate of the Colorado Plateau. Links within the text lead to additional information about the climate and ecology of this area. Links also lead to a description of modern climatic conditions on the Colorado Plateau, and a description of the causes of long-term cycles of climate change in the Southwest. Also included on this site is a search box that enables users to search any topic on the Land Use History of the Colorado Plateau web pages, and links to further research and resources including information about the people, places, biota, change, tools, trends and research for the area of the Colorado Plateau.
  • Colorado Plateau Semidesert Province (more info) This factsheet describes the Colorado Plateau semidesert province, which includes parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Topics covered are land-surface form, climate, vegetation, soils and fauna.
  • Native People-Native Homeland Climate Change Workshop (more info) This report addresses climate changes on Native American lands. The report discusses the effects of climate change on indigenous peoples and their lifeways. Also included are crucial research needs and the Albuquerque Declaration. Information about climate changes is provided by the Wisdom Circles, including The Eastern Woodlands, The Great Lakes, The Great Plains, Pacific Coastal and Intermountain Areas, Rocky Mountain and Great Basin Area, and The Southwest.
  • Paleobotany and Paleoclimate of the Southern Colorado Plateau (more info) This site discusses paleobotany and paleoclimate on the southern Colorado Plateau. Topics include regional paleoenvironment reconstructions and modern climate and paleoclimate of the southern Colorado Plateau. Links within the text lead to information on more specific topics. Links are also provided for information about the people, places, biota, change, tools, trends and research for the area of the Colorado Plateau. Also included on this site is a search box which enables users to search any topic on the Land Use History of the Colorado Plateau web pages, and links to further research.
  • Geo-Ecological Study of Historic and Prehistoric Land Use in the Hopi Buttes area, Navajo Nation, Arizona (more info) This project examines land use, climatic variability, and their related impacts on land-surface conditions in the ecologically sensitive Hopi Buttes region of the Navajo Nation. Research on separate aspects of the ecosystem includes bedrock geology, surficial processes, soil and water quality, and plant ecology, as well as the history of human habitation. Collaborative work with Navajo tribal members provides information for education and community-based land-use planning.
Walls of Upper Cretaceous diorite porphyry exposed in Teec Nos Pos Canyon, on the eastern flank of Dzil Nahoozilii, the Carrizo Mountains laccolith, near Four Corners. Details

Flora of the Colorado Plateau

Resources containing information about the flora of the Colorado Plateau.

  • Biota of the Colorado Plateau (more info) This site deals with the changes in the biota of the Colorado Plateau. Main topics include biotic communities, changes in the biota, and agents of biotic change. Each of these topics has a variety of subtopics. Links within the text lead to more specific information for each subtopic. Links are also provided for information about the people, places, change, tools, trends and research for in area of the Colorado Plateau. Also included on this site is a search box which enables users to search any topic on the Land Use History of the Colorado Plateau web pages, and links to further research.
  • Colorado Plateau Semidesert Province (more info) This factsheet describes the Colorado Plateau semidesert province, which includes parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Topics covered are land-surface form, climate, vegetation, soils and fauna.
  • Past, Recent, and 21st Century Vegetation Change in the Arid Southwest (more info) The purpose of this research project is to document vegetation change in the arid lands of the southwestern United States. The project compiles data on past and present plant distributions and combines it with data on past, present, and future climates in order to predict future plant distributions. This site provides a brief background of the project and links to sites supporting its four major research efforts: a macrobotanical digital library, digitized range maps for modern plants of the arid southwest, a fossil packrat midden database, and modern climates of North America. Also included is background information on late Pleistocene and Holocene vegetation change and a link to paleoecological and historical vegetation studies at the Colorado Plateau field station.
  • Biological Inventory of National Park Areas on the Southern Colorado Plateau ( This site may be offline. ) This 209-page PDF report contains a completed and ongoing biological evaluation and inventory of the 19 parks, monuments and historic sites located on the southern Colorado Plateau. This document describes the physical setting and range of habitats of native birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and vascular plants. Information comes from existing resources and ongoing field investigations. Descriptions of field methods, data analysis and management, and numerous figures and tables are also included.
  • Proceedings of the Biennial Conference of Research on the Colorado Plateau (more info) This site is a list of links to proceedings of the Biennial Conference of Research on the Colorado Plateau from 1991 through 2001. Each conference provides a list of reports on subject matter dealing with biological resources, cultural resources, physical resources, and natural resources.
  • Paleobotany and Paleoclimate of the Southern Colorado Plateau (more info) This site discusses paleobotany and paleoclimate on the southern Colorado Plateau. Topics include regional paleoenvironment reconstructions and modern climate and paleoclimate of the southern Colorado Plateau. Links within the text lead to information on more specific topics. Links are also provided for information about the people, places, biota, change, tools, trends and research for the area of the Colorado Plateau. Also included on this site is a search box which enables users to search any topic on the Land Use History of the Colorado Plateau web pages, and links to further research.
  • Landscape Changes in the Southwestern United States: Techniques, Long-term Data Sets, and Trends (more info) This report discusses land use and landscape changes in the southwestern United States. Themes that are explored are the importance of climatic variability in driving ecological processes and modulating human land uses, and the use of historical and paleoecological data to detect and explain trends in ecological patterns and processes across southwestern landscapes. Also discussed are the effectiveness of regional network approaches in the development of historical data sets, the use of historical data to discriminate between natural and cultural causes of environmental change, and the use of historical data to define and constrain natural ranges of variability and, in some cases, to set targets or determine templates for restoration and sustainable use of ecosystems. Topics include the paleobotanical record, ground-based and aerial photography, and fire-scar histories. Text is accompanied by maps, graphed data sets, and a list of additional references.
  • Southwest Exotic Plant Information Clearinghouse (more info) The Southwest Exotic Plant Information Clearinghouse is a cooperative effort among the USGS, the National Park Service and Northern Arizona University to organize comprehensive information on exotic plant species in the southwest on one web location. This site provides information on the distribution and ecology of native and exotic weeds in the southwest by providing links to downloadable weed distribution maps as well as reference lists of weeds organized by scientific name, common name, or geographic region.
  • [Baumgartner et al, 2000] This article in Water, Air and Soil Pollution provides results from a study that simulated metal (manganese, molybdenum, selenium and uranium) concentrations found at ten inactive uranium ore milling sites. The study determined plant tissue levels after a controlled 90 day growth period. Most of the plants showed an increased accumulation of each metal, with some accumulations reaching unacceptable levels.

Fauna of the Colorado Plateau

Resources containing information about the fauna of the Colorado Plateau.

  • Biota of the Colorado Plateau (more info) This site deals with the changes in the biota of the Colorado Plateau. Main topics include biotic communities, changes in the biota, and agents of biotic change. Each of these topics has a variety of subtopics. Links within the text lead to more specific information for each subtopic. Links are also provided for information about the people, places, change, tools, trends and research for in area of the Colorado Plateau. Also included on this site is a search box which enables users to search any topic on the Land Use History of the Colorado Plateau web pages, and links to further research.
  • Colorado Plateau Semidesert Province (more info) This factsheet describes the Colorado Plateau semidesert province, which includes parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Topics covered are land-surface form, climate, vegetation, soils and fauna.
  • Biological Inventory of National Park Areas on the Southern Colorado Plateau ( This site may be offline. ) This 209-page PDF report contains a completed and ongoing biological evaluation and inventory of the 19 parks, monuments and historic sites located on the southern Colorado Plateau. This document describes the physical setting and range of habitats of native birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and vascular plants. Information comes from existing resources and ongoing field investigations. Descriptions of field methods, data analysis and management, and numerous figures and tables are also included.
  • Mexican Spotted Owls in Canyonlands of the Colorado Plateau (more info) This report discusses the habitat and occurrence of the threatened Mexican spotted owl in the Canyonlands area of the Colorado Plateau. Surveys, historical records and field survey results are included in this report.
  • Proceedings of the Biennial Conference of Research on the Colorado Plateau (more info) This site is a list of links to proceedings of the Biennial Conference of Research on the Colorado Plateau from 1991 through 2001. Each conference provides a list of reports on subject matter dealing with biological resources, cultural resources, physical resources, and natural resources.


For ideas on how to use these webpages in a classroom, a Study Guide is provided.




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