Exploring Northeastern Arizona’s Navajo Nation
The Navajo Nation is North America’s largest Native American tribe with the country’s largest Indian reservation, stretching across Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. While Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley are popular parts of Navajo Nation lands, the tribe’s capital city of Window Rock is less well-known. Located five hours from Phoenix on the Arizona–New Mexico border, it offers the country’s only tribal-owned zoo, a veteran’s memorial, and the iconic Window Rock formation.
Where History Meets the Present
The town of Window Rock is named for a 200-foot-high sandstone hill with a circular hole in it. The Veteran’s Memorial within the Window Rock Navajo Tribal Park, designed to honor Navajo troops who served in America’s wars, sits at the foot of the rock. This serene memorial is a place to experience the grandeur of the unique rock formations, enjoy a picnic, or pick up a few handcrafted Navajo trinkets.
In the park, explore the memorial via a circular path the Navajo created to emulate a medicine wheel, representing the circle of life and the four cardinal directions. A centerpiece of the park is the large statue of a Navajo code talker. Instrumental in the Allies winning World War II, code talkers used the Navajo language to communicate, creating the only code our enemies could never break. The complete circle leads you under 16 angled steel pillars, behind which a wall notes the names of war veterans.
Explorations in Art and Wildlife
About 2 miles from the memorial, the Navajo Nation Zoo and Botanical Park is off of Arizona state Route 264. Started in 1963, the zoo now houses more than 100 animals, including elk, eagles, hawks, and two Mexican gray wolves. This “sanctuary for nature and the spirit” is filled with rescued animals of the Navajo Nation. The zoo also works with wildlife rehabilitation facilities in the Southwest to help care for injured animals and return them to the wild.
Near the zoo is the Navajo Museum Library and Visitor’s Center, which showcases Navajo culture through artwork and reproduction of a traditional Navajo hogan.
Stop by the Navajo Arts and Crafts Enterprise (NACE) on Route 264 to find handcrafted Navajo blankets, pottery, jewelry, and clothing. And, if you’re craving local flavor, try blue cornmeal pancakes at Dine Restaurant.