Destination: Navajo Land, Utah
The Utah portion of the Navajo Nation is among the most remote areas in the country, with many communities located more than 100 miles from the nearest amenities. But the strip of Navajo land in southeastern Utah also contains some of the most ruggedly beautiful and iconically Western vistas in the world. From the sandstone cliffs surrounding Lake Powell to the towering rock formations of Monument Valley, this isolated area has much to offer for visitors who don’t mind journeying off the beaten path.
If you’ve always wanted to be in four places at once, start your trip at Four Corners Monument, the only place in the country where four states meet. For an admission fee of $5 per person, visitors can sit, stand, lie down or even do acrobatics in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah simultaneously.
The original marker was erected in 1912 to mark the intersection of the four states; it has since been redone in granite and brass.
A visitor center is open year-round, and vendors sell jewelry, crafts and traditional foods from booths surrounding the marker. Picnic tables and restrooms are available, but there is no running water or electricity.
The San Juan River cuts through the Navajo Nation in the southeast corner of Utah, and then marks the reservation’s northern boundary as the river flows west into Lake Powell. For an adventure that spans both ancient and modern worlds, try rafting the San Juan River from the town of Bluff to Mexican Hat.
This 27-mile trip downriver takes you through deep canyons carved into sandstone and offers intimate views of archaeology and geology. Although the river has some rapids, most of the trip is family-friendly and camping is available at Sand Island and Comb Ridge campgrounds.
As you float, take note of the cliff dwellings and petroglyphs visible from the river. Pause at Butler Wash Petroglyph Panel, which contains panels more than 1,000 years old. At River House, stop and walk inside the ruins, which date from the 1200s.
From Mexican Hat, take U.S. 163 to the Utah-Arizona border. As you approach Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park from the north, you may recognize “Forrest Gump Highway,” the remote section of the road made famous in the 1994 film.
Monument Valley, located on the state border, encompasses 30,000 acres of stunning rock formations and breathtaking vistas. Although the site is among the most-photographed in the U.S., it is a tribal park and subject to restrictions.
“We do not accept drones for any reason,” said Louise Tsinijinnie, a spokeswoman for the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department. “Don’t take things out of the park, and don’t leave things inside. Visitors are welcome, but we ask that they remember that this area is sacred.”
Admission is $20 per vehicle. Accommodations are available at The View hotel, located inside the park.
The western-most edge of the reservation in Utah borders the turquoise waters of Lake Powell. No trip to this manmade lake would be complete without also visiting Rainbow Bridge National Monument.
At 290 feet tall, Rainbow Bridge is considered one of the world’s highest natural bridges, but this sandstone structure also is a Navajo sacred site. It is accessible via a two-hour boat ride on Lake Powell, followed by a mile-long walk; or by an overland trail on the south side of the lake. Hiking and camping permits are available from Navajo Parks and Recreation.