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A dramatic vista of Dinetah " The land is rough, arid, sprawling. The land is everywhere, extending in all directions, occasionally rising into mesas or plunging into canyons until it disappears, at the horizon, into the sky...To the north, the horizon is hazy with the pastel buttes of the painted desert. Sunflowers and snakeweed dot the grasslands. Framing the highway are the ever-present high-tension wires carrying electricity from Black Mesa to the white man. It is peaceful here. Old meets new with unspoken acquiescence, or perhaps it is simply surrender" (Benedek 182).

The geography of the Navajo Nation has inspired descriptions ranging from the elegant to the exoticizing, but Benedek's simple assertion, "the land is everywhere" most accurately captures the landscapešs essence to the untrained eye. Indeed, when standing on a flat alluvial valley such as Chinle Wash, the land stretches out in endless array under a dramatic blue sky where one can often see rain falling in the distance, but evaporating before it hits the ground.

But this is only one of many topographies of the reservation of the Navajo Nation, which spans 25,000 square miles across Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado (the "Four Corners" region of the United States). The land is part of the Colorado Plateau, "an intensely dissected rocky region of elevations that range from about 3,500 feet above sea level to more than 10,000 feet" (Klukhohn and Leighton 47).
Monument Valley

Monument Valley; Photo taken by Author

Besides flat valleys, the reservation boasts broad upland plains, rugged tablelands with dramatic buttes and mesas such as Monument Valley, and impressive mountains such as in beautiful Tsaile and Luckachucki Trudy-Griffin Pierce poetically captures the essence of Navajoland, or Dinetah: "Navajo country is a varied land of magnificent vistas: Canyon de Chelly with its weathered vermillion cliffs and winding canyons, the fantastic spires and pinnacles of Monument valley, the dark fluted mass of Shiprock floating above a grassy sea, the broad cloud-dappled valley of the Little Colorado, the fragrant high pine forest of the Chuska Mountains, the mountain grasslands of the Kaibab Plateau" (15).

Each topography has a different climate and vegetation (Kluckhohn and Leighton 48-49):

Warm, arid desert climate Desert vegetation--grasses and browse plants which are sparse, slow growing, produces only a small margin for grazing use, is easily injured by overgrazing, and requires long periods for recovery after depletion (49).
Intermediate steppe climate steppe vegetation--grasses, sagebrushes, pinyon-juniper--will produce more forage than desert but cannot be regularly overgrazed.
Cold, subhumid climate of the mountains Subhumid vegetation--yellow pine timber, oak, and associated grasses and shrubs. (summer range, good forage).

The Navajo identify four mountains that form the boundary of their land: Blanca Peak (Sis našjiin) to the east in New Mexico; Mt. Taylor (Tsoodzil) to the South in New Mexico; San Fransisco Peak (Dookšošoš sliid) to the West in Arizona; and La Plata Mountains (Dibeš Nitsaa) to the North in Colorado. There are also two important mountains, Gobernador Knob (Cholišiši) and Huerfano Mountain (Dzil našoodil) in New Mexico, which are within the boundary of the four mountains (Beck and Walters 80).

While these mountains are important geographical markers, they are even more vital spiritual markers, for the Navajo recognize these as four sacred mountains that border their land from the time of emergence. [thesis leading to next page]

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