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Window Rock, Arizona – 5 Things You Need To Know

Cheyenne Reed

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The small city of Window Rock is located in Northeastern Arizona near highway 264 on the border of New Mexico. It serves as the seat government for the Navajo Nation and also serves as its capital.

1. No One Lived in the Town of Window Rock Until 1936

Navajo Nation building.
Flickr User Terry Feuerborn
Flickr User Terry Feuerborn

It was in 1936 that Window Rock was chosen to be the center of the Navajo Central Agency. Window Rock lies within the St. Michael’s Chapter, atop the Defiance Plateau. It lies right along the Arizona/New Mexico border; in fact, a handful of its buildings are in New Mexico.

After John Collier, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at the time, selected the location, sandstone was brought in from a local quarry and a number of buildings were erected in curved lanes. Among them were a Bureau of Indian Affairs, a Navajo Tribe building, and a Public Health Services building. Even a Navajo Tribal Council House was erected. It wasn’t until 1961 that the Navajo Tribal Museum and Library was established. It also has its own fairgrounds where the Navajo Nation Fair is held, and even has a zoo!

2. Window Rock Was Almost Named Something Else

Flickr User Tyson Helms
Flickr User Tyson Helms

Before John Collier chose Window Rock as the location for the Navajo Central Agency, the area was known by its ceremonial name, “Niʼ Ałníiʼgi,” which translates as “Center of the World.” He wanted to keep this name, but he gained little support for this idea from the rest of the Navajo Nation. Instead, they mocked the name, twisting it into “ni ałnííʼgóó,” which translates as “into your middle parts.” Finally, the Navajo nation decided on “tségháhoodzání,” which translates as “perforates rock” after the towns iconic Window Rock.

3. It is Very Important for the Navajo People

Flickr User Bill Oswald
Flickr User Bill Oswald

Window Rock is north of the other administrative buildings. It is symbolic of the Navajo (Dineh) people, and they incorporate it into their traditional Navajo Water Way Ceremony, which they call “Tóee.” Window Rock is one of only four places Navajo medicine men visit with their woven water jugs to collect water for a ceremony held to celebrate the abundance of rainfall. Window Rock itself is an incredible 200-foot tall sandstone cliff — with a perfect hole in it. It is a perfect natural amphitheater created by many years of erosion. Navajo legend explains that Window Rock was created by the wind as the world was created and is the home to a giant serpent. When a huge chunk of stone fell a few years back, the Navajo people cited the widened hole as proof that the serpent was still in residence — and growing!

4. Over 95% of Those Living Here are Native American 

Flickr User Jazzie B
Flickr User Jazzie B

All in all, Window Rock covers just over five square miles. According to the 2010 census, nearly 3,000 people live there! However, it is suggested that when tribal offices are open on weekdays, close to 20,000 people might crowd into the town. Children in this small town go to Window Rock Unified School District, and Tsehootsooi Medical Center welcomes anyone in need of care. The locals treasure not only Window Rock but a handful of other nearby geological treasures as well. Headed south there are the sandstone monoliths called the Haystacks, which the Navajo call “Tséta’cheéch’ih,” or “Wind Going Through the Rocks.” Just a little more south and you’ll find the “Tséyaató,” or “Spring Under the Rock” that the Navajo people passed by during their “Long Walk” in 1864.

5. There’s A Lot to Do in Window Rock

Flickr User peason24
Flickr User peason24

Tourism is a growing industry for Window Rock. Many tourists choose to stop here because it is close to other attractions like Petrified Forest National Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Of course, many people do come simply to see Window Rock as well – it must be worth it if they named the town after it, right? While you’re in town, be sure to see the Navajo Nation Code Talkers World War II Memorial. And then explore the National Navajo Museum and Library.

In 1997, a new $7 million hogan-style facility was built to house all of the Navajo artifacts. Swing by any day Monday through Friday and check it out for free! Navajo Nation Zoological and Botanical Park is another attraction where you can spend a day for free. You can check out native plants and animals like mule deer, cougars, golden eagles, black bears, and bighorn sheep. All in all, they’ve got over fifty species native to the Navajo Nation. More than 40,000 people visit each year!

Finally, you can’t miss the Ch’ihootso Indian Market Place. Open Monday through Sunday, it’s a great place to admire authentic wares made by local Hopi and Zuni artists!

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