The Four Corners region of the United States is too mediocre a name to describe so vast an expanse of the Southwest, representing the corners of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. The extraordinary canyons and red-rock landscapes took millions of years to create; for spectacular beauty and grandeur, the Southwest’s stunning scenery defies categorization, and is unlike any other place on the planet.

Four Corners is a broadly-defined region within a 500-mile (805 km) radius of where theses four states intersect.

When travelers speak of the “Four Corners,” they may be driving from Zion National Park into Arizona towards the Grand Canyon, or through New Mexico, Colorado, and Monument Valley, passing near numerous national parks, historical monuments, popular cities, and unnamed, remote vistas which traverse the region; but it’s impossible to visit, appreciate and see everything during a single journey.

One of the planet’s greatest natural treasures is found in the Four Corners region.


Image credit © Dustin Naef “The Grand Canyon”.

A Wonder of the World

The Grand Canyon is rightly called one of the wonders of the world. When Teddy Roosevelt dedicated it as a national monument, he famously said: “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve upon it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”


Image credit © Dustin Naef “The Grand Canyon”.

On a remote edge of the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, the cragged rim of the Grand Canyon plunges thousands of feet to a place at the bottom, where the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers meet. The spectacle of the canyon from this vantage point is too immense to take in at first glance; it’s a sight where the phrase “once seen, never forgotten,” may have very well been first said.

This place is called the Confluence.


Image credit © Dustin Naef “The Confluence”.

In spite of its close proximity to the Grand Canyon’s south rim—one of the world’s busiest tourist destinations—this part of the canyon is as nearly remote, unseen, and uninhabited today, as it has been since prehistoric times. It is still the traditional home to the Diné, or Navajo people.

A Sacred Site

Many Native Americans throughout the Four Corners region view the Confluence as sacred site; it is an origin-creation place, where life first emerged.

Native Americans still undertake rugged journeys on foot for hundreds of miles, following the ancient footpaths of their ancestors along prehistoric trails descending thousands of feet into the canyon to reach the Confluence, a journey essential to honoring their traditions. Many different tribes make pilgrimages every year into this remote region of the canyon, and have sacred places there which have never been forgotten or abandoned.


Image credit © “Cathedral of the Moon” Loree Johnson.

Indigenous people view these sacred sites as creation-origin points, and also places that help keep the universe flowing in balance and harmony. When that harmony and balance is threatened or lost—we are not only harming the planet, we are also harming ourselves too, because all life is interconnected.

Natural Temples and Holy Places

I have always been interested in North American history, legends, folklore, and ancient sacred sites. All of the National Parks located throughout the United States were, and still are, sacred sites to indigenous people, and many others too; who don’t just go to these places to look around, these places are culturally thought of as natural, creator-made temples; the dwelling places of sacred and holy beings. People go to visit these places for prayer, spiritual guidance, healing, and ceremony; they aren’t thought of as scenic stop-overs along the highways between cities, or popular vacation spots.

In modern times, non-Native people from all over the world also travel to these places with a well-meaning desire to reconnect with nature, to experience a moment of quietness which has been driven out of the cities. But one of the unintended consequences this “yearning for the sacred” has created is that many of these sites have been overwhelmed by large crowds, poorly managed, vandalized, and sometimes even carelessly destroyed by commercial development; which directly threatens the balance of nature.


Image credit © “Monumental Sunrise” Loree Johnson.

Last year I was traveling through the Four Corners region of the Southwest and had the extraordinary privilege of visiting the Confluence as a guest; I was on a research trip in Sedona, Arizona doing a story about the tension between modern New Age spiritualists, and the commercial exploitation of Native American culture, and sacred sites.

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