Off the Beaten Path: 4 Corners Region and the Stories of the Navajo

 Off the Beaten Path: 4 Corners Region and the Stories of the Navajo

The 4 Corners Region of the U.S. has a plaque where you can put your foot down and stand in four states at once in the Navajo Nation.

You may have been there. 

Our off the Beaten Path reporters Patti & Tom Burkett visited the 4 Corners Region and the special plaque.

This is their report:

The 4 Corners Region is part of the Navajo Nation

image of plaque for 4 corners region in navajo nation

The little parking lot that surrounds the plaque is ringed by stands where Native American women and children offer a variety of handmade goods for sale.  

The 4 Corners Region is a strikingly beautiful area of rocky desert that encompasses nearly thirty thousand square miles in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.  

I (Tom) felt at least a little at home when we arrived here because I’d read all of Tony Hillerman’s books, some of them two or three times.  Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, two Navajo Tribal police officers, spent the book series investigating crimes all across Navajo country, so place names and the geography felt like old friends as we drove across the desert.

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The 4 Corners Region is a vast and beautiful landscape  

It is also the place where some of the earliest civilizations on the North American continent flourished.  

In the Coconino National Forest, the V Bar V Heritage site protects a thousand-year-old astronomical calendar that native peoples used to successfully practice agriculture here, no mean feat when the annual rainfall is less than twenty inches a year.  

You can help out by buying a Red Rock Pass, which grants access to sites not covered by a National Parks Pass and funds conservation efforts.  

We’ll be spending a lot more time in this area, and I’m sure they’ll be much more to tell, but this trip was our chance to visit Canyon de Chelly.

The name of the monument is a Spanish corruption of the Navajo word tsegi, which means rock canyon, so the Parks name is really canyon of canyons, one of those odd naming things that don’t make much sense.  Despite its national monument status, this is Navajo tribal land.  

photo of jeep tour of 4 corners region
Patti Burkett with Hosteen Daniel, who took the Burketts on a great jeep tour of the 4 Corners Region's Canyon de Chelly.

There are drives with overlooks along both the north and south rims, and one public hiking trail, but if you want to really get to know the land and its stories, you’ll sign up with one of the Native tour companies.  

We pulled into the welcome area and signed up on the spot.  Very soon, Hosteen Daniel arrived in his four-wheel drive to begin our tour.

The floor of the canyon has banks of various widths along a small river.  We crossed several side streams, and Daniel told us the water level rises and falls during the year.  The river was quite shallow, and we saw a number of folks riding their horses down the river itself as we passed along the sides.  

On the banks and up the side canyons were many traditional Navajo hogans.  

“I grew up in the canyon,” Daniel told us, “but nobody does anymore.  No TV, too hard to get the children out to school, and no jobs.”  

Up and up the canyon we went, past farm plots and herds of sheep, stopping to look at petroglyphs and cliff houses similar to the ones at Mesa Verde. 

Spider Rock – and the stories of the Navajo

Eventually, we arrived at a towering column of rock.  Hosteen Daniel pulled his jeep off to the side where we had a good view and could sit in the beautiful warm sun of the day, and he told us a story. 

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 “This is Spider Rock,” he began.  He went on to tell about Spider Woman, the Hero Twins, White Shell Woman, and how the Navajos learned the sacred patterns woven into their traditional blankets.  

His voice rose and fell, and at times his eyes glistened with tears as he told the history of his people.  We sat, quiet, for who knows how long until he was finished, then we just sat and looked and listened to the birds.

The light was failing when we four-wheeled our way back down the canyon, feeling the weight of that history as we looked at things we were seeing for a second time that day.  

It is a deep and intimate experience to hear someone’s personal story.  And you’ll find plenty of folks willing to tell if you’re willing to take the time to listen, out here off the beaten path.

Want to travel the 4 Corners Region yourself? Check out our RV Adventure Guide Bundle for the Southwest!

Off the Beaten Path: 4 Corners Region and the Stories of the Navajo 6

This special 3-book bundle is our guided RV tour of Arizona, Utah, and Colorado and has routes, maps, photos, and insider tips on the best places to camp and boondock. CLICK HERE for info!

Off the Beaten Path: 4 Corners Region and the Stories of the Navajo

Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.

4 Comments

  • Hey y’all, I have heard from recent travelers to the Four Corners area that the area is closed, fenced off, and trash is blowing around everywhere….due to Covid. Before driving to this desolate out of the way area, DO call to see if it has reopened. Sincere there are no services of any kind when you get there, and even the fry bread vendors not there, you would be stranded if your vehicle failed. Take care, and mask up!

  • Mike, Patti and Tom, This post about 4 Corners and the Navajo Indians brought back a lot of memories for me. I lived just outside of Farmington, New Mexico when I was 8 years old. I have been to 4 Corners, Spider Rock and Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Canyon de Shay). I’ve been down the path to the floor of the canyon and seen the cliff dwellings in the canyon. I’ve not only seen, but have visited the hogans that the Navajo people lived in. My family ran a mission school where we both boarded and taught children from the reservation whose parents could not provide for them. My little sister is half Navajo, her mother “gave” her to us because she could not keep her. I am 63 now and planning to move from Virginia to the Albuquerque area sometime soon. I am looking forward to living close enough to be able to visit the places I remember – a trip into my past. Thanks so much for the memories today.
    Barbara Casper

  • We RV’d at Spider Rock RV park. Funky, basic but OK . The recorded flute music played each morning was enchanting. We hired Benjamin to take us a tour of the canyon booked through Lawrence at the camp.

  • FYI- the fry bread at 4 Corners is the worst I have EVER eaten! Surprisingly, in Mesa Verde National Park at the cafeteria they made some VERY good ones!! I love me some fry bread tacos and dessert!!

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