The Navajo Nation Reservation, a territory larger than the state of West Virginia is a desert climate consisting of cold winters and hot summers, which are tempered by the arid climate and 5,000 foot elevation. The northern boundary is home to Monument Valley, a "Navajo Tribal Park" - similar to a US National Park. This iconic landscape has been the backdrop of Hollywood westerns for the past eighty years.
Less noticeable are the numerous abandoned uranium mines overlooking the valley on surrounding mesas. These mines are suspected causes for radioactivity in drinking water and inhaled dust, strong enough to lead to malignant tumors.
Twenty-five miles south of Monument Valley, in the heart of the Navajo Nation, are the Black Mesa and Kayenta Coal Mines. These neighboring mines together make up the world's largest strip mining operation. In 2006, the Black Mesa Mine suspended its operations, while the Kayenta Mine remains active, providing approximately 8 million tons of coal each year. This multi-billion dollar operation subsidizes power for Arizona's largest cities including Phoenix, Tucson, Scottsdale, and Flagstaff.
The Black Mesa has remained an area of controversy among the Navajo as well as the Hopi, whose own reservation territory lies within the Navajo Nation, just south of the Black Mesa. Peabody's strip mine has a long history of environmental and health impacts from its operations. New studies show that the billions of gallons of water pumped out of the aquifer for the coal mining have dramatically affected water levels and quality.