Walking in Beauty: Navajo Mountain Hiking and History

Guided hiking trip into the natural and cultural history of Navajo Mountain

Old Rainbow Lodge siteThe Navajo call this place Naa’tsis’aan, which means “Head of the Earth Woman”, while Paiutes that live here call the region Paiute Mountain. This rugged, hard-to-access corner of canyon country has long provided sanctuary to its occupants. In part due to the remote nature of this region, the cultural and archeological sites found here are unique and well-preserved. On this trip, you’ll explore this corner of the desert southwest with the Canyonlands Field Institute, the Atene family, and a guest anthropologist. 

The first night of the trip will be spent at a lodge, while the rest of the time will be spent tent camping with truck support near the Atene family homestead and in the rugged terrain between the mountain and San Juan Arm of Lake Powell. As an attendee on this trip, you’ll experience hearty meals and a comfortable base camp prepared by CFI guides. This one-of-a-kind experience will provide a unique and insightful view into the deep human history and the stunning landscapes surrounding Navajo Mountain. 

Expert Knowledge

The Atene family has been hosting CFI expeditions on Navajo Mountain Since the 1980s. In 2024, our trip will be led by Brandi Atene a longtime CFI guide who grew up at Navajo Mountain. We will also be joined by BLM Archaeologist Jojo Matson, as well as expert naturalist Nicky Haroldson. Read more about the trip’s faculty below! 

Adventurous Hiking

During the day, you will explore the sandstone domes and canyons that define this area. Your guides will take you to historic sites, hogans, and caves used by the region’s inhabitants, from Archaic Desert Culture up to the present day. Each day’s curriculum will feature a blend of ecological beauty, unique geology, and cultural sites. Hikes each will be one to five miles round trip, either on trails, on sandy roads, up rocky talus slopes or along dry washes. This trip is considered moderately challenging due to elevation and rocky, uneven ground, walking pace will average one mile per half an hour. Please contact us if you have questions about hiking or camping conditions. 

"I had long wanted to explore the Navajo Mountain area. This trip turned out to be the perfect way to do it. I was again in touch with the Colorado Plateau but experienced a new part of it. Highlights of the program? Being with members of a local Navajo family made the land come alive in a way that would be impossible without their personal knowledge and perspective. The place and the people are woven together."

- Tom W. Denver, CO

Location:
Bluff, Utah and Navajo Mountain
Dates:
April 23, 2024 through April 27, 2024
Duration:
4 nights, 4 days
Group Size:
Minimum: 6, Maximum: 9
Cost:
$1950 plus $60 Navajo Nation fee
Accommodations:
First night motel, then 3 nights camping
Challenge:
Level-

This is how we rate the challenges you might face on a CFI trip.


Level 1 - Easy

  • Low level of physical activity, minimal movement required
  • 0 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking or walking 0-2 miles per day

Level 2 - Moderate

  • Medium level of physical activity, some movement required
  • 1-4 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking up to 4 miles per day
  • Flatwater or mild whitewater rapids

Level 3 - Active

  • Medium or high level of physical activity
  • 1-5 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking up to 5 miles per day
  • Class I - III whitewater rapids

Level 4 - Challenging

  • High level of physical activity
  • 1-6 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking 5 or more miles per day
  • Class IV whitewater rapids
CFI's Essential Eligibility Criteria outlines specific challenges that you may face on CFI trips. Please consult the EEC for information on responsibilities of participants.
Notes:
  • Fee includes first night lodging and orientation. Lodging is double occupancy; you may request a single room for an additional fee.
  • $300 nonrefundable deposit is required to make a reservation and applies to the total final fee.
  • Due to Navajo Nation regulations, this is an alcohol free trip.
  • Participants provide their own sleeping gear or may rent tents, sleeping bags, ground pads or cots from CFI.

See other trips in these categories:

All participants on our adult seminars and on our private trips are required to be fully vaccinated.

Trip Narrative

Day 1

Meet your fellow trip mates at 7:30 at the Recapture Lodge in Bluff, Utah. We will orient you to the rest of the trip, talk about what to expect, and answer any questions you may have. Enjoy a night in the Lodge before we venture out the following morning. This night of lodging is included with your trip fee.

Day 2

In the morning, we will make final preparations and load up in CFI 4wd vehicles and drive to Navajo Mountain, highlighting geography, geology, and historical features along the way. Our route takes us on N16 to Navajo Mountain. This road was paved only recently, where before a rugged road limited access within this remote community. We’ll do a short hike to the old Rainbow Lodge site on the west side of the mountain, and then head to the small community of Rainbow City.  In the afternoon, we will set up our base camp near Rose Atene’s homestead on Navajo Mountain where many residents still live traditionally using livestock, weaving and other arts to form a basis of the economy.

Days 3 – 4

Our hiking takes place along the flanks of Navajo Mountain and the San Juan River, an area seldom explored except by the families that live there. These are working landscapes still utilized by Paiute and Navajo residents. Formal archaeological research of this area started in the 1930’s by University of Utah and continued in the 1960’s as part of the Glen Canyon Survey work conducted by Northern Arizona University and most recently as part of an extensive survey for paving the road N16.  We will hike to nearby sites and learn about Archaic and Ancestral Puebloan cultural history.

Our explorations include the rugged sandstone maze of fins, domes and narrow canyons on the north side of the mountain that served as effective hideouts for Ute, Paiute, and Navajo peoples avoiding capture by U.S. Military. We will also hike a section of the Wetherill (Rainbow) Trail, an ancient route later discovered by Anglo Explorers with the help of Indigenous guides. This is one of the two trails leading to Rainbow Bridge.

The remainder of the trip’s itinerary may vary with current conditions. Our destinations will include Hawkeye Natural Bridge, Lost Mesa, Sand Dune Cave among others and depending on current dirt road conditions. We may see an array of wildflowers, wild horses, and wildlife.

Day 5

We will close out the trip with a morning hike, lunch, and closing reflection and return to the Recapture Lodge before 4:30 that afternoon. Lodging this evening is not included within the trip fee.

Guest Faculty

Ms. Jordan MatsonFaculty: Jordan “Jojo” Matson is an archaeologist currently working for the Southwest Colorado Bureau of Land Management. In her work now with the BLM, she is focusing on collaboration with tribal partners in how landscapes are managed.  Ms. Matson previously worked for the Navajo Nation Heritage and Historic Preservation Department. She holds a graduate degree in Environmental Management for Integrative Public Lands Management from the Western Colorado University.  Beginning in graphic design and ending in archaeology, she combines her skills to help reshape how we look at cultural resources. I Previous employment has included work as a field technician for Paleo West and Montgomery Archaeological Consultants and as an educator-guide for CFI, Crow Canyon Archaeology Center, and Canyon Country Discovery Center. She was co-author of Cultural Resource Visitor Management Strategy for Bears Ears National Monument: Issues Analysis, Trends, Research & Recommendations and served on a committee improving field school curriculum on collaborative management for Ancestral Public Lands.  Jojo looks forward to returning to Navajo Mountain, working with the Atene family and sharing her insights for “decolonializing archaeology.”

 

Brandi AteneBrandi Atene grew up at Navajo Mountain, herding sheep, gathering sumac for her grandmother’s basket making and exploring these canyons. Brandi went to college in Kansas on a basketball scholarship while keeping ties close to home. Brandi has worked as athletic coach and led llama pack stock trips in Utah and Colorado. She currently works for CFI as a Program Manager and Lead Guide. She heads native youth program development for CFI and is the mother of one son.

 

 

 

Nicky Haroldsen has explored and led CFI trips in the Navajo Mountain/Rainbow Bridge area for many years having first started with CFI in 1999. She has guided many land and river trips and led guide training since that time. On the spring trip, she will provide an overview of Anglo exploration, early trading post and dude operations. She is a lover of rocks and wildflowers. She lives in Castle Valley near Moab with her husband and runs a small farm.

Among the best guides I’ve ever had. They were attentive to my circumstances and helpful whenever needed.” S. Miller, participant 2023

“I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Navajo way of life and especially their reverence for Mother Earth. The food prepared was both healthy and excellent. Please keep providing these excellent opportunities for us to enjoy and learn outside. Thank you. ” B. Malone, participant, 2023.

Accessibility and Safety

For any CFI trip, please consult the Essential Eligibility Requirements to determine if this trip is right for you. You can also reach out to CFI at info@cfimoab.org to ask any questions. 

Regardless of the time of year, please bring all items suggested on the packing list, including rain layers.

CFI trips generally happen rain or shine, with some modifications possible depending on the weather.

 

Camping:

During the Navajo Mountain trip, you will be staying in a truck supported base camp. This means that all your gear will be packed in CFI's vehicles, and we will drive to our campsite and set up a comfortable base camp. 

Camp will feature spots for your tent, a camp kitchen, and a centrally located seating area. We will use rain tarps and shelters in case of hot or rainy weather, and we bring chairs for each participant. There will be a nearby latrine to use for the bathroom.

Hiking:

We will spend most of our days hiking on a trail or driving in vehicles to and from trailheads.

The day hikes will range from 2 to 4 miles round trip. You’ll travel through dry washes, up and down talus slopes, and along sandy Jeep roads. Though the distances are not far, the hiking is fairly challenging, with some elevation gain and loss. If you want to opt out of certain hikes, you’re welcome to take in the views around base camp instead.

Guide Training and Emergencies:

Every CFI guide has either a Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder certification. Your trip leader will have a Wilderness First Responder certification. Anyone working with youth has passed a background check, and drivers are insured with clean driving records.

Backcountry trips carry In-Reach satellite communication devices for emergencies. All guides have been evaluated by Canyonlands Field Institute as possessing the judgement, skills, and disposition required for mitigating risk in the field. 

Need to Know

  • Lodging on April 23 at Recapture Lodge is included with fee. 
  • Lodging after the trip ends on April 27 is not included. 
  • All cook and dishware, meals, snacks, and river gear are provided by CFI.
  • Tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads can be rented from CFI. 
  • Due to Navajo Nation regulations, this is an alcohol free trip.
  • All participants on our adult seminars and on our private trips are required to be fully vaccinated to Covid-19.
  • Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page for more information on CFI procedures