PHOTO: Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. (photo via andyKRAKOVSKI / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Various places with long-held religious and spiritual significance in the hearts and minds of indigenous Native American people are deemed sacred. These special sites include mountains, springs, lakes, rivers, trees, groves, caves and more.
It is here in these sacred places the natural world and the spiritual world weave together in ways only the indigenous people can fully comprehend and relate to. They are sites of ceremony, inspiration and reverence that even non-indigenous people can learn from and appreciate.
Here are some of the most highly significant spiritual sites sacred to our indigenous Americans.
Mesa Verde, Colorado
Once home to the Anasazi tribe, Mesa Verde means the ‘ancient ones,’ in the Navajo language. This Colorado locale is a revered place among many southwestern Native Americans.
In 1888, two cowboys riding along the mesa edge looking for stray cattle found the ancient cliff palace dwellings of a rich and complex culture. The structures discovered here are said to be dedicated to the gods. Researchers have found evidence that the people at Mesa Verde had sophisticated math knowledge, using the golden ratio, a mathematical calculation also used at the Giza Pyramids, to construct a sacred Sun Temple.
What is not known however is the answer to why these people suddenly disappeared. A combination of factors — including climate change, population growth, competition for resources and conflict all may have led to the abandonment.
Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Deep in the remote deserts of northwestern New Mexico lie the extensive ruins of the greatest architectural achievement of the northern American Indians. Known as the Chaco Canyon complex, the site was once the main social and ceremonial center of the Anasazi culture.
For over 2,000 years, Pueblo peoples occupied a vast region of the Four Corners area that was a location for ceremonies, trade and political activity in the prehistoric era.
Radiating out from the Chaco complex is an enigmatic series of straight lines that extend ten to twenty miles into the desert. These enigmas have puzzled archaeologists for centuries. There is substantial evidence that the Chacoan people demonstrated a complex solar and lunar cosmology in their magnificent architecture.
Cahokia Mounds, Illinois
80 mounds located near St. Louis, Missouri, represent the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico. Occupied primarily during the Mississippian period (800 to 1400), it included some 120 mounds. They were believed to be built by ancient Mississippi region tribes. Monks Mound is the largest of the structures, believed to have once been the home of the tribal chief.
The size of this ancient place is said to have taken up an area of six square miles and is protected under UNESCO as the largest prehistoric site in North America that still exists today.
Devil’s Tower National Monument. (photo by Patrick Clarke)
The Devil’s Tower, Wyoming
Rising 1,267 feet, Devil’s Tower, thought to have been created from the remains of a volcano, is the center of many Indian religious ceremonies and rituals. Sun dances, vision quests, and prayer offerings are all significant parts of Devil’s Tower history.
According to Native American legend, seven little girls were playing in the forest when giant bears started chasing them. The girls ran and jumped on a boulder and started praying. The rock began to grow up toward the sky, putting quite a distance between the girls and the bears. It’s said that the cracks and columns on Devil’s Tower were carved by the bears’ claws as they attempted to climb the tower.
Mount Shasta, California
Local Native Americans have always believed that this stunning mountain in Northern California was the sacred center of the universe.
Northwestern California Native American tribes traditionally view the majestic Mount Shasta as being home to a spiritual and energetic field connecting a wide range of important volcanic landscapes and mountains extending northwards and southwards of their tribal territories.
The Black Hills, South Dakota
The Black Hills are considered highly sacred by the great Sioux Nation. Rising above the plains of western South Dakota, southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming lies one amazing sacred and storied landscape.
To the Sioux, this fascinating land represents emergence points for human beings, places of healing waters and burial rites, along with gathering places for sacred medicines and ceremonial grounds. Combined together, these specific sites form a sacred unified landscape. Although individual places continue to be used for spiritual practices, the Sioux feel a strong spiritual connection to all of the Black Hills.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona
Situated in northeastern Arizona, Canyon de Chelly lies within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation and the Four Corners region.
Millions of years of uplifting plate tectonics and stream-cutting erosion have created the colorful sheer cliff walls of this magnificent canyon. As one of the longest continuously inhabited landscapes in North America, it is a site of historical relevance and majestic beauty. Natural water sources and rich soil provided a variety of valuable resources, including plants and animals that have sustained families for thousands of years.
The Ancient Puebloans found the canyons an ideal place to plant crops and raise families. The first settlers built pit houses of adobe and stone. Unlike other archaeological sites composed of ruins left by the long-deceased, Canyon de Chelly’s history continues on with the living who consider the canyon to have both environmental and sacred significance.
Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa
This Midwest Iowa monument preserves more than 200 prehistoric mounds built by pre-Columbian cultures, mostly in the first millennium CE. These numerous intriguing effigy mounds are shaped like animals, including bears and birds.
Thankfully, federally recognized tribes have linguistic and cultural ties to the ancestral peoples who built the effigy and other earthwork mounds at the monument site. The mounds preserved here are considered sacred by many Americans, especially the Monument’s 20 tribes culturally associated with these ancestral builders.
A visit offers contemplative opportunities to ponder the meanings of the mounds and the people who built them. The 200-plus American Indian mounds are located in one of the most picturesque sections of the Upper Mississippi River Valley.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. (Photo via Carol aka / Flickr / Creative Commons)
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument preserves the site of the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, near Crow Agency, Montana. The battlefield represents the American Northern Plains Indian’s last armed efforts to preserve their way of life.
In the spring and summer of 1876, the United States Government launched a military campaign against a portion of the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians, who refused to live within the boundaries of the Great Sioux Reservation. The Seventh Cavalry and their Indian scouts attacked a village of 6,000 to 7,000 Sioux. Custer and a large portion of his regiment perished, along with many Native Americans.
Modern Native Americans hold a great amount of honor and reverence for the intrepid warriors who fought valiantly here to preserve their way of life. Many who visit this battlefield claim they feel a strong sense of sadness and poignant emotions in this consecrated place.
Crater Lake, Oregon
Crater Lake inspires awe. Native Americans witnessed its formation 7,700 years ago when a violent eruption triggered the collapse of a tall peak. Scientists marvel at its purity—fed only by rain and snow. It’s the deepest lake in the US and one of the most pristine on Earth. Artists, photographers, and sightseers gaze in wonder at its azure blue waters and stunning setting atop the Cascade Mountain Range.
For thousands of years, Native Americans have tied their hunting, berry gathering, and vision quests to Crater Lake. The area has a rich history with the tribes calling the area home, and many tribal legends and myths revolve around the lake.
Tribal members have even reported experiencing visions of supernatural beings living in the lake. Those who reside in the area today continue to treat Crater Lake with ultimate respect and reverence.