For more free things to do, check out the blog posts for Colorado and Utah.
Three of the Four Corners belong mostly to the Navajo Nation: Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Both Arizona and New Mexico have sites that are known for the presence of Ancestral Puebloan ruins: Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “shay”) in Arizona and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.
Canyon de Chelly is located on Navajo land and Navajo people still live and farm in the Canyon. A tour of the Canyon floor, led by Navajo guides, will cost money, but the road which loops around the Canyon offers spectacular views of cliff-dweller ruins and beautiful rock formations. There are overlooks from both the north and the south rims. The history of the Navajos in Canyon de Chelly is both fascinating and sad. When Kit Carson was charged with “rounding up” all Navajos and leading them on the Long Walk to what was almost a concentration camp in Texas, some Navajos were able to avoid being captured and continue living in this area using their knowledge of the land. I recommend reading up on the history of this area in conjunction with your visit. Knowledge of past events will enrich your experience visiting the Canyon.
Going further west, you can’t miss the Glen Canyon Dam and beautiful Lake Powell. The visitor’s center in Page offers an amazing view of this massive dam and the lake it formed. Lake Powell, in the Glen Canyon Recreation Area, is such an unusual body of water, with innumerable small fingers and tiny crevices to explore. You can pay for tours or houseboats, or you can bring your own kayak and explore independently.
Closer to the Arizona corner, lies Shiprock, the Navajo town and the rock formation. Although the formation was named because of it’s similarity to a large sailing ship, the Native Americans see it differently–as the spread wing of an eagle with the rest of the bird underground. You can drive up to Shiprock, but the most intriguing view (featured on a National Geographic Magazine cover) is from a road which heads over the Lukachukai Mountain pass (towards the north rim of Canyon de Chelly). Shiprock is actually a volcanic vent and there is a ridge of shorter volcanic vents terminating at the larger formation. Including the ridge of vents in your photo of Shiprock gives a wonderful perspective shot.
In New Mexico, Chaco Canyon National Monument has a small fee to enter, so, although it is definitely worth exploring, it can’t be included here. However, west of Chaco, just south of Bloomfield is a bizarre lunar landscape–Bisti Wilderness. From the parking area, some walking is required to get to the incredible hoodoos, petrified logs, and mounds of the strangest rock formations. You can climb all over these to find geologic treasures and really stretch your imagination with your camera. No facilities at this desert wonderland, so bring food and water for hours of exploration.