Located on the northeast end of Bluff near the mouth of Cow Canyon rests the Navajo Twins comprised geologically of Bluff Sandstone. This landmark, to the Navajo, represents three things.
The Mule Ear diatreme, formed by an explosion of gases in a volcanic pipe, is similar to many such features found throughout Navajo land - Alhambra (outside Mexican Hat/Halchita), El Capitan (Monument Valley), and Shiprock, New Mexico, for examples. These volcanic necks protrude because of eroded surface soil, standing in stark contrast to the lighter colored sandstone formations prominent throughout the region.
This one-hundred-mile-long sandstone monocline is part of the Monument Upward and has served for centuries as a barrier to much of man's movements in the area. Navajo people have many teachings about the creation and use of this rock formation they call Rocks Standing Up.
As you drive through Comb Ridge, you will see wavy lines of variegated colored sands and sandstone. The red, gray, and tan colors make a distinctive set of patterns that are snakes. On the west side of Lime Ridge is a corresponding pattern that shimmers and wriggles in the changing light - the earlier and later parts of the day making them more distinct.
This dramatic landscape, comparable to Monument Valley to the south, is said to be made up of Navajo warriors frozen in stone, to whom the Navajo people can appeal for protection.
Water in a high desert climate draws people to it as iron filings to a magnet. While the pipe is a modern additions, this site was a favorite meeting place for Navajo hunters heading for higher ground in a search of deer in the more thickly vegetated area.
The Goosnecks is a deeply entrenched meander cut by the San Juan River 1,000 feet below. This dramatic landscape has made its way into many a geography book to illustrate stream erosion whose qualities were dramatic enough to turn the area into a state park in 1962.
As one proceds down the highway with the San Juan River on the left, there soon appears Mexican Hat Rock, known to the Navajo as "Black Hat." While the formation has the shape of a sombrero on end, the name Black Hat may have come from a white man named Bill Young, whose Navajo name was Black Hat.
Traveling across the San Juan River after Mexican Hat and reaching the first flat of higher ground, you will encounter on the west side of the road a large volcanic neck of igneous rock named Alhambra by geologist Herbert E. Gregory in 1915. The various spires in the formation apparently reminded him of the Moorish castle in Spain of the same name. To the Navajo it is called "Black Rock Sticking from Ground," and is a sky supporter.
As you look to the east from the road there is a large valley floor in which three dranages flow then meet in Gypsum Creek, approximately three miles north. There is no name for this valley but the drainages are Halgaito Wash, Eagle Rock Wash, and Stagecoach Wash. Looking south one can see the northern end of Monument Valley's Navajo Tribal Park and pick out a certain rock formations such as Totem Pole. Between Stagecoach and Eagle Rock washes lies a small aptly-named formation called on a topographical map Conical Butte, but to the Navajo is known as White Tipped Mountain.
As you go up the hill and through Monument Pass, there are spires, mesas, and other rock formations on both sides of the road. Each has a story and a name. One of these is Eagle rock, which sits next to Eagle Mesa.
Butler Wash, named after John Butler, who in 1879 was among the first in an advance party of Mormon settlers to explore the area, is famous for its ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) remains.
Comb wash on the west side of the ridge runs parallel to Butler Wash on the East side. During the spring, water from snow melt runs down its length emptying into the San Juan River, but most of the year it is dry with the exception of a few small springs. One of these water sources was historically called Navajo Spring but to the Navajo it was called "Sweet Water Coming Out."
A large group of Native Americans, the Anasazi, used Lime Ridge to their advantage. It is believed that these ancestral Puebloans used the rock when boiling food such as corn to help break down the amino acids present in the vegetable.
The "Devil's Window" or missing sandstone block is this square notch seemingly "knocked" how of this wall of sandstone. The block that is said to have been knocked out sits atop a hill just to the west of why 163, nearby.
Also widely known as "Muley Point" by modern visitors, the turnoff is located just before the Moki Dugway on HWY 261. From the edge of Cedar Mesa's cliffs visitors can look down into the Goosenecks of the San Juan River and gaze upon the rock formations of Monument Valley to the south.
Raplee Ridge, known locally as the Navajo Blanket because of its variegated sand and rocks designs, is a dramatic anticline that during the early morning and late afternoon casts deepened shadows on the red, gray, and brown of the formation.
Today, as one travels through the town of Mexican Hat with stores, motels, and other buildings lining both sides of the road, it is difficult to imagine what it looked like during the gold rush and oil boom of the last decade of the nineteenth and first decade of the twentieth century.
Once you have ascended the switchbacks that leave Halchita behind for more level ground, you will see to the northwest the Bears Ears, an important site in Navajo thought. To the Spanish they were Orejas del Oso, to the Navajo, Shashjaa, and to the Utes, Kwiyagat Nugavat. All translate into Bears Ears.
After passing the Red Lands Viewpoint with its vendors' booths and proceeding a short distance to the point just before entering Monument Valley, a road to the west serves as the main artery of travel on Douglas Mesa. This approximately twenty-mile-long plateau that ends at the San Juan River near the Goosenecks is the home to many Navajo families who originally settled on this land because of the rich grass available for livestock.
The Valley is famous for the scenery included in the 91,696 acre Navajo Tribal Park dedicated in 1960 whose entrance is located in Utah. The Valley itself extends into Arizona where a good portion of the park is found, but many of the most-photographed rock formations are in the northern end.
Unlike the local knowledge concerning the Navajo Twins, the San Juan River figures heavily in many of the better-known tribal teachings. This 380-mile-long river begins high in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado and terminates today in Lake Powell, fed by the Colorado River.