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Physiography of the Navajo Nation

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

Dook'o'oosliid (San Francisco Peaks), a stratovolcano sacred to the Dine and other Southwest Native peoples, viewed from the lava fields at Wupatki National Monument, Arizona. Details

Physiography was originally a description of the physical nature of objects, especially of natural features, and later became synonymous with physical geography ([Bates and Jackson, 1984] ).

The Navajo, unlike most Native American tribes, continue to live on their ancestral homeland. The Navajo Indian Reservation is 130,000 square miles, and covers parts of southeastern Utah, northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado. This 15 million acres of desert land ranges from about 5,000 feet to 11,000 feet in altitude (LUHNA, 2002 (more info) ).

The Navajo homeland was traditionally located between the four sacred mountains of the Navajo, which include Blanca Peak (Sis Naajini) to the east, Mount Taylor (Tsoodzil) to the south, San Francisco Peak (Dook' o' oosliid) to the west, and Mount Hesperus (Dib' Nitsaa) to the north (Baars, 1995 ). Today, their land lies to the south and west of the historic homeland and is entirely on the Colorado Plateau, but the traditional boundaries of NavajoLand (Din' Bik'yah), within the four sacred mountains, overlapped into the southern Rocky Mountains and Rio Grande Rift. The landforms between the four sacred mountains are two large basins, the San Juan Basin on the east and the Black Mesa-Holbrook Basin complex on the west, each bounded by uplifts of very ancient origins (Baars, 1995 ).

This area is a region of fairly flat-lying sedimentary rock formations which has been gently but quickly uplifted over the last few million years. It is a colorful region of sandstone and shale pinnacles, arches, and canyons cut deep into the remains of great Mesozoic deserts, river basins, and seashores where dinosaurs once roamed. The Colorado Plateau is drained by the Colorado River and its tributaries, the Green River, San Juan River and Little Colorado River (Definition of Colorado Plateau (more info) ).

Tségháhoodzáni (Window Rock), a natural arch in the Middle Jurassic Bluff Sandstone, an eolian unit exposed along the Defiance Monocline. The capital of the Dine Nation is nearby. Details

To further investigate the physiography of the Navajo Nation, follow the links below.

Physiography of the Colorado Plateau

Resources containing information about the physiography of the Colorado Plateau:

  • Colorado Plateau Physiographic Province (more info) This site covers information pertaining to the Colorado Plateau physiographic province. Topics include a general topographic description, regional highlights, and sections of the Colorado Plateau, including the Grand Canyon Section, High Plateaus of Utah Section, Canyon Lands of Utah Section, Unita Basin Section, Navajo Section, and Datil Section. Navigation tools on this site allow the user to access the homepage and other pages of this report.
  • 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.
  • The Colorado Plateau Region (more info) This website consists of a series of fact sheets that provide a brief account of the Colorado Plateau physiographic province. Links within the text lead to a glossary of terms and additional information about the Colorado Plateau. Links are provided for information on the people, places, biota, change, tools, trends and research for this area. 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 site.
  • Colorado Plateau Mosaic This is a section from the 1986 NASA publication"Geomorphology from Space." The section provides a detail discussion of the geomorphic features of the northern Colorado Plateau region of the western United States, focusing on the four corners region of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. Text is accompanied by photos of features such as monoclines, upwarps, domes, river meanders and gorges.
  • Geologic Provinces of the United States: Colorado Plateau Province (more info) This site covers information pertaining to the Colorado Plateau physiographic province. Topics include building the basement, lithic layer cake, and rising crust and downcutting streams. Links within the text lead to a glossary of terms, a geologic time scale and a list of National Parks exhibiting Colorado Plateau geology. A map is included that allows the user to click on and view information on other geologic provinces. Links are also provided that allow users to view maps and illustrations.
  • Colorado Plateau Mosaic (more info) This is a section from the 1986 NASA publication "Geomorphology from Space." The section provides a detail discussion of the geomorphic features of the northern Colorado Plateau region of the western United States, focusing on the four corners region of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. Text is accompanied by photos of features such as monoclines, upwarps, domes, river meanders and gorges.

Topographic and Geologic Maps

Resources containing topographic and geologic maps on the Navajo Nation:

Suggested Future Reading on the Physiography of the Navajo Nation

Resources containing information on the physiography of the Navajo Nation:

  • Navajo Country. Baars, 1995 This book provides a geologic and natural history of the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. The Four Corners area includes Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. (citation and description)



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


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We continue to build the Impacts of Resource Development on Native American Lands collection. Recommendations for additional resources regarding useful URL's, maps, articles, data, and teaching activities are appreciated.

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