Physiography of the Navajo Nation

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


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) ).


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:

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:



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


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