The largest Native American reservation in the US, popularly known as the NAVAJO NATION, covers much of northeastern Arizona and extends into both western New Mexico and Monument Valley in southernmost Utah. Everyone can speak English, but Navajo, a language so complex that it served as a secret code during World War II, is still the lingua franca. The reservation follows its own rules over Daylight Savings; in frontier-style towns like Tuba City, the time varies according to whether you’re in an American or a Navajo district.
When the Americans took over this region from the Mexicans in the mid-nineteenth century, the Navajo – who call themselves Dineh, “The People” – almost lost everything. In 1864, Kit Carson rounded up every Navajo he could find and packed them off to Fort Sumner in desolate eastern New Mexico. A few years later, however, the Navajo were allowed to return. Most of the 300,000-plus Navajo today work as shepherds and farmers on widely scattered smallholdings, though craftspeople also sell their wares from roadside stands and tourist stops.
As you travel in this region, respect its people and places. Though the Ancestral Puebloans are no longer present, many of the relics they left behind are on land that holds spiritual significance to their modern counterparts. Similarly, it is offensive to photograph or intrude upon people’s lives without permission.
On a practical note, don’t expect extensive tourist facilities. Most towns are bureaucratic outposts that only come alive for tribal fairs and rodeos and hold few places to eat and even fewer hotels and motels. For information online, visit discovernavajo.com and explorenavajo.com.