Coal Mine Canyon has orange features in the center, and red/white stripes on one canyon wall.

Coal Mine Canyon is a little known pocket wilderness area on the boundary between the Hopi and Navajo reservations.  The closest town is Tuba City, AZ.  The first time my friend Charles and I looked for it we had not done our Internet research.  There were several roads that were possibilities.  We did not want to trespass, so we waited for another opportunity.

This photo shows the coal deposits for which the canyon is named.

One of the challenges I face when I write about little-visited sites is whether to divulge location.  Ultimately, if a site is open to the public and safely accessible, I will tell someone how to find it.  After all, I am not an early explorer on horseback.  The only way I know about these features is combing the Internet or talking with locals when I am in the Southwest.  Someone told me.  So I will tell you.

Hiking the canyon

A few things to know about Coal Mine Canyon:

  • Unless you hike down into the canyon, it will only take an hour or two to see it.
  • The trail down into the canyon is steep, but there is a rope railing by the trail for assistance.
  • The coal deposits are superficial, right up on the surface layers.  No actual mining has occurred here that I could see.
  • It is still not visited much, but it has been developed for a long time.  That story is told by some concrete picnic benches old enough to show deterioration.
  • If you go in and hike solo, be sure to tell someone where you are going and arrange for help to be sent if you don’t check back in.  Carry water and so on.

    This shows one of the larger hoodoos in Coal Mine Canyon.


Finding the canyon

To find Coal Mine Canyon, take AZ 264.  The turn off is at mile marker 377.  Once on the dirt road, it will fork.  Stay by the fence.  A small sign is posted a little way in.  There are fenced off areas that are not to be entered.  Private property adjoins at least one side of the canyon.

Does not take much imagination to caption this one. Maybe a famous Beach Boys song?

Photographing the canyon

The developed viewpoints are excellent for getting the iconic photographs of Coal Mine Canyon.  You may wish to use lenses ranging between 24 and 200 mm focal length.  I played with my 500 there, but it was really just too big a lens for the job.  You want to arrive in time for the sun to be down in the canyon, which will not happen early in the day, but preferably not midday.  Some raking light would be nice there.  It is the sort of place you will likely shoot “as is”.  If you’re lucky, you will arrive on a day with a dramatic sky.

Using my 500 mm lens I was able to capture a photo of the other party there when we visited. A rock climbing spot it would seem.

Another wide shot of the canyon. One of the iconic viewpoints.