Earth Notes - Mount Taylor

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Mount Taylor

Most maps name it Mount Taylor after 19th-century President Zachary Taylor. But to many Native Americans it is a sacred peak known by far more ancient names.

The Din , or Navajo, consider its slopes to be the southeastern boundary of their domain. For them it is home to many holy spirits and a place for ceremonial training, as well as the gathering of medicinal plants.

Geologists regard the 11,400-foot peak as a dormant volcano, while government officials know it as the domain of various state and federal agencies. Under their oversight, its slopes have seen decades of logging, grazing, and uranium mining.

But uranium is linked by many area residents to skyrocketing rates of cancer and lung disease. Recent attempts to resume mining have led to a rare victory for a coalition of tribes seeking to protect the mountain from such activity.

More than 500 square miles of Taylor is now designated a Traditional Cultural Property on New Mexico's Register of Historic Properties. While the mountain is still under a mix of private and public ownership, five tribes now have an official voice in deciding what occurs on state and federal lands there.

The designation requires automatic review of all development requests by Navajo, Zuni, Laguna, coma, and Hopi leaders. The idea is to preserve archaeological sites, as well as specific places on Mount Taylor used today for ceremonial purposes.

For this New Mexico mountain, at least, careful human use equates to environmental and cultural health.

-Richard Mahler