Coal Mine Canyon
Coal Mine Canyon

There are not any famous attractions to be found anywhere near Coal Mine Canyon in the vast desert of northeast Arizona. It is hidden by the sheer mass of the canyon walls and there are no signs to indicate its whereabouts. The gorge has become an oasis for travelers who are drawn to the bright, colorful strata lining the upper end of the ravine.

Ages ago, the Great Colorado River system cut its path through the Colorado Plateau in Grand Canyon National Park. Over time, the slow, scouring action of moving water, sediment, and wind have left the canyon looking more like an artist’s palette than a typical landscape. The colors, forms, and textures are what make the Grand Canyon so unique.

I’d bet there are dozens of more places like this, sitting at the edge of the 120 miles wide Painted Desert, a sparsely settled region without many roads but covered by extensive areas of exposed, weathered rock.

A permit is required to visit the canyon, cost $12 (in 2020), available from the Navajo Parks & Recreation office in Cameron, or online at Access points near the highway and along the rim are included in this charge, while overnight stays require a separate charge.

What are you waiting for?

A permit is required to visit the canyon, cost $12 (in 2020), available from the Navajo Parks & Recreation office in


The opportunity to see the canyon is accessed from Highway 264 between Tuba City and Old Oraibi, a little-used road that forks south off the much busier US 160, passes through the wide valley of Moenkopi Wash before climbing up to the top of a flat, featureless plateau (Coal Mine Mesa), reminiscent of the endless Llano Estacado of New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle.

On the day the decision was made to name this place Mesa and Canyon, the group had little idea of the tiny piles of coal that would be their namesake. Now the tiny piles of coal are all that the eye can see, crusted black deposits of Mesa’s low-grade coal seen in her clear, clean canyons. The dirt road stretches like a living thing across the surface of the earth, its throat scratched by occasional rows of palm trees. But here, out in the world,

The Canyon

If you are looking for an adventurous view that’s not for the faint of heart, Coal Mine Canyon is the place for you. Roughly 15 miles west of Tuba City, Coal Mine Canyon can be reached by following a dirt track for roughly 1/2 mile. Located at the end of Highway 264, Coal Mine Canyon is best seen from the Tuba City rim. From here, visitors can walk to the canyon rim, but be warned, the rim is quite narrow and the drop is.

The placid of the northern view is a sight to behold as the flat land seems to descend a deep ravine. It is a 4-mile long canyon of a narrow, but the picturesque scene of fins, cliffs, and caves.

No other park, other than Coal Mine Canyon, can match the variety of both color and form shown in Coal Mine Canyon.


The canyons were made by eroding stone and rock, and also by the water that seeps through the cracks and over the cliffside, creating waterways and sculpting the land. This canyon has a visible path to the east and west and the ends of the canyon, and there are two main promontories, one with a vertical drop-off to the north and one to the south. Footprints left by visitors along the ravine’s delicate soils show the steps of all who wander away from the beaten paths, yet in these hills, visitors are in few in number, due to the steep slopes in every direction. The ravine is similar for miles along each side, but the south rim holds the best formations. What is north of the canyon? A rolling landscape of pastel-colored badlands at the mouth of the canyon. These rolling lands extend beyond the ends of other tributaries of the gorge and of nearby Ha Ho No Geh Canyon and Blue Canyon, which have similar formations and are not visited often. 

Scenic landscapes can be found across the Navajo Reservation, such as around Moenkopi Wash and along Ward Terrace, including some that the locals apparently do not want publicized. Coal Mine Canyon, with its waterfalls and scenic views, would make a great place to camp.

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