Navajo Mountain – Head of the Earth

Navajo Mountain (Naatsis’áán – Head of the Earth)


Navajo Mountain - Head of the Earth

According to Navajo oral traditions, Navajo Mountain and Rainbow Bridge are integral parts of the creation story cycle.

After forming the six most sacred mountains–Mount Taylor, Blanca Peak, San Francisco Peaks, Hesperus Peak, Gobernador Knob and Huerfano Mountain–the First People created several more important peaks.

Although Navajo Mountain isn’t one of the six most sacred mountains, the peak does carry such significance that traditional Navajos still refuse to climb the mountain above the lower elevations.

Traditional Navajos believe these mountains and their spirits can help cure the sick, protect the people and bring rain.

In one creation myth, the Navajos traveled far in their quest for their homeland and carried with them five animals–a bear, a snake, a deer, a porcupine and a puma. After many days of travel, the people abandoned the snake and the porcupine near Navajo Mountain.
“The snake and porcupine were of no use, but were a trouble instead, since they had to be carried along.” They turned the snake and porcupine loose at Navajo Mountain, which is why they exist in great numbers in this region today.

Navajo Mountain, a large laccolithic dome, straddles the Utah-Arizona border of the Navajo Indian Reservation. The Navajo call this sacred mountain Naatsis’aan, “Head of the Earth Woman.”

Navajo Mountain has a rich and varied historical past. The earliest maps identify it as Sierra Panoche. The ruined dwellings and irrigation ditches of Desha and Anasazi people, evidence of years of human occupation, still stand on nearby mesa tops, canyon walls, and desert floors.

Official documentation of the occupation of Navajo Mountain began with Spanish explorers and Catholic fathers Anastasio Dominguez and Silvestre Velez de Escalante, who “met only Paiutes” when they forded the Colorado River near Navajo Mountain in 1776. The San Juan Paiutes and Navajos occupied the surrounding mesas and rugged canyons in the early 1800s.

The Paiutes had friendly relations with both Navajos and Utes (traditional enemies of the Navajos), and frequently served as a bridge between the two. They began losing their traditional lands between Navajo Mountain and Kayenta in 1884. Over the years, the Navajo succeeded in getting Paiute holdings added to their reservation. In the 1980s, the Paiutes asked to be recognized as a distinct Indian tribe.

According to Navajo oral traditions, Navajo Mountain and Rainbow Bridge are integral parts of the creation story cycle. These two landforms are key fixtures in the story of Monster Slayer and are important ceremonial sites for the Protectionway and the Blessingway.

Rainbow Bridge

The discovery of nearby Rainbow Bridge by white men created controversy over whether John Wetherill, Byron Cummings, or W.B. Douglass saw or reached the bridge first. A number of amateur and professional archaeologists surveyed Navajo Mountain; they included John Wetherill, Earl Morris, Ralph Beals, Neil Judd, J. Walter Fewkes, Harold S. Gladwin, A.B. Kidder, Byron Cummings, and Charles L. Bernheimer. In 1960 and in 1981 Alexander J. Lindsay and Richard Ambler excavated sites near Glen Canyon and the northeast portion of Rainbow Plateau for Northern Arizona University.

The Rainbow Lodge and Trading Post were built in 1924 by S.I. Richardson and his son Cecil. A second post, a tent operation located near War God Springs, was operated on the other side of the mountain by Ben and Myri Wetherill. In 1932 the Dunn family from Chilchinbito established the Navajo Mountain Trading Post near Cottonwood Wash; it was sold by Dunn’s daughter Madelaine Cameron in 1978.

Trader S.I. Richardson claimed the road he built in 1924 from Red Lake to Navajo Mountain followed an ancient “Ute War Trail.”

Navaho Legends by Matthews, Washington,- Navaho Legends.
Sacred Land, Sacred View – Robert S. McPherson
Utah History Encyclopedia

The Four Navajo Sacred Mountains

Mount Blanca (Tsisnaasjini’ – Dawn or White Shell Mountain – East
Mount Taylor (Tsoodzil – Blue Bead or Turquoise Mountain) – South
San Francisco Peaks (Doko’oosliid – Abalone Shell Mountain) – West
Mount Hesperus Dibé Nitsaa (Big Mountain Sheep) – Obsidian Mountain – North

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