The Trail of the Ancients passes through the unique geology of the Colorado Plateau high desert, offering a rich but fragile mix of natural resources. The stunning rock formation, Shiprock, is a central scenic point that is visible from most places on the Trail of the Ancients. Shiprock provides a focal point for the interpretive theme of the landscape and helps to integrate the trail stops. The visible cultural heritage of the Four Corners area boasts numerous archaeological sites, modern communities, and Indian lands.
Chaco Culture National Historic Park, a world heritage site, is the centerpiece of the New Mexico segment of the byway. Occupied at the height of Ancestral Pueblo culture, from around AD 850 to 1250, it served as a major center of the ancestral Puebloan civilization. Remarkable for its monumental public and ceremonial buildings, engineering projects, astronomy, artistic achievements, and distinctive architecture, it was a hub of ceremony/trade for the prehistoric Four Corners area for 400 years.
The Navajo people arrived late on the scene. Their roots trace back to the Athabascan people of northwestern Canada. Spanish explorers first used the name Navajo. The Navajo call themselves Dine’, meaning “The People.” Contact with other groups and the introduction of farming and ranching brought lasting changes to the lives of the Dine’. The Navajo reservation is the largest in the continental United States, both in size and Indian population.
Scenic turnouts along the Trail of the Ancients reveal vast valleys, towering mountains, badlands, clear blue lakes, raging rivers, and gentle streams.