Crow Canyon Petroglyphs – The Most Extensive Navajo Rock Art Collection

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From Farmington, New Mexico, an hour’s drive on dusty, unmarked roads will take you across Largo Canyon to the Crow Canyon Archaeology site. This stretch of land marked by gleaming reddish brown rocks is home to many archaeological ruins. In the American Southwest, the Crow Canyon Petroglyphs are known to be the most extensive collection of ancient Navajo rock art from the period between the 16th and the 18th century.

This archaeological site is situated in a remote and quite obscure area in the heart of Dinétah. The Dinétah is the ancestral homeland of the Navajo people. They lived within this area for more than 200 years, until the 1700s when they forced out of it by the encroaching Spanish colonizers.

The petroglyphs, like the stained glass windows in churches, are a representation of the Navajo story – their land, their culture and their religion. The artwork preserves a vestige of the people that once called that place their home. You will find some of their earliest creation stories beautifully narrated through these images.

As you explore the area, you will come across panels of ornate and intricate carved images on the lower cliff faces of the canyon. There is a striking image of a life-size corn stalk (the corn is an important part of the Navajo tradition) and another of a warrior donning a headdress and one holding bows and arrows. The figure with the bow and arrow is a representation of Monster Slayer, who was one of the Hero twins during the time of creation. There is also a peculiar drawing of concentric circles, the center of which, according to experts, is pierced through by the sun’s shadow on an equinox. The Navajos also created images of sword-wielding Spanish soldiers on horseback. This is believed to represent a battle that took place in Dinétah in 1705.

You will find hundreds of such images of humans, animals and supernatural beings on the south and east-facing walls of the canyon. Many of the panels are thought to be associated to traditional Navajo ceremonies because they are similar to the ceremonial sand paintings. There, you will also be able to see much older Ancestral Puebloan rock art mixed in with the petroglyphs. It has been found that Navajo rock art was influenced a great deal by the Pueblo rock art, which was a result of the close association of the Pueblo and Navajo while the Navajo inhabited the Reservoir District. However, one of the biggest differences between the two is the prevalence of much greater complexity and dynamic qualities in the Navajo creations.  

The rock art practiced by the Navajos in the past continue to inspire modern day Navajo artists as well. Visit our website if you wish to buy products created by native Navajo artists. We have an extensive collection of mugs, jewelry and even Navajo design wallets.