Navajo Solar Project
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Roughly 250,000 people call this “domestically dependent” sovereign nation home. It is a place full of diverse landscapes, tradition, beauty, and history. Many inhabitants live in such remote places that simple amenities like running water, power and lights aren’t available. Miles of rugged dirt roads separate neighbors and the cost of running power and water to each home becomes fiscally impossible. Thus, over 18,000 homes are without power.

navajo-driveWe loaded up the Goal Zero van with panels, power packs and lights and hit the road. When the opportunity came to be involved with this particular project James Atkin Goal Zero Director of Brand Marketing commented, “It was a no brainer. We have spent time in the Navajo Nation before and those who were there came back with a deep respect for the people and a realization that we need to do more. The people at Elephant Energy and The Honnold Foundation pulled together a great opportunity for us to go down and lend a hand.”

This project was part of a larger ongoing operation run by Elephant Energy, known as Eagle Energy to the Navajo. They are a non-profit dedicated to resolving the energy access issues in Africa and in the Navajo Nation. Eagle Energy and The Honnold Foundation partnered with Goal Zero, The North Face, and Clif Bar to install solar panels and lights on rural homes and to donate to an entrepreneurship program Eagle Energy has already set in motion.

Monument Valley was once a great sandstone plain. Millions of years of wind and water carved away the different layers of sandstone and has now left behind these great monolithic monuments.


The Anasazi lived in the area before their disappearance. The Navajo people and culture emerged somewhere between 1100-1500 A.D. and eventually, as did most native tribes, had their encounter with conquistadors and the American Government. In 1864, many Navajo were taken captive and forced to walk over 300 miles east to Fort Sumner. Many died along the way. This traumatic history has now become a part of the Navajo identity.

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Cedar Wright (left) and Alex Honnold (right) install solar panels in the Navajo Nation

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Goal Zero team members demonstrate a new lantern

As part of the team Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright, both professional climbers, set out on a mission to bike to and climb over 30 desert towers. During a four-week period they rode hundreds of miles and climbed what ended up being more than 40 towers between Moab and Kayenta. Their plan was to end their mission, aptly titled Sufferfest 2, in the Navajo Nation to help raise awareness about the energy issues these people face.

The Honnold Foundation, a non-profit Alex started with hopes of using his climbing to positively impact on the world, made the arrangements for them to ride into Kayenta and meet up with the teams from Eagle Energy and Goal Zero to begin installing solar systems.

The collision of traditional living, love of the land, poverty, and modern utility has many of these people trying to find a balance. One thing many people sacrifice is a clean light source. Eagle Energy has built an entrepreneur program where those who live on the Navajo Nation can apply to become sales reps of different solar systems to help empower the people to solve this issue.

“With the addition of solar into the community, the positive effects are immediate and obvious.  No more running a truck for two hours to charge a phone.  No more breathing fumes from lanterns to see at night,” said David Rosner, Goal Zero Installation and Product Manager. “Productivity, education, and health immediately increase with this displacement.  With distribution of product in place, this program builds economy internally by creating jobs while providing a much needed lighting and power solution. Both short term and long term programs have been implemented to help the concerns of the Navajo Nation.”

Blog6Wilbert Yazzi, now a blind amputee due to diabetes, was a bull riding champion, cowboy, sheep herder, and guide in his younger years. He and his mother Rose live in Monument Valley. “This is where I was born, where I raised horses, sheep and cows. My grandmother and grandfather raised sheep here in this valley. They got me into it. That’s why I loved it. They put me in school to learn the modern way, the white man way, so I went to school and got a job from there. I went out of the reservation to work, but my goal was to come back here and stay down here,” said Yazzi. “I wanted to do the living out there and then stay down here and retire. That was my goal. Now I am lucky I am down here. It is hard though, it really is.”

Through the years they have had generator after generator.  “We have about 50 generators out in the trash dump. I buy one, it breaks down. Buy another one, it breaks down. I go through generators every year. I can’t keep up with them. I bought another one, but it broke down again. Now I borrowed one and I use it once in a while. I have wanted a solar panel. At night we come home and nobody can cook because there’s no light. I need something like that,” said Yazzi.

“My mom needs the light. She can’t do anything when it is dark because her eyes aren’t that good,” continued Yazzi. “She can’t see in the dark. That panel is good for her, I hope she likes it. I prayed this morning. I guess this is what I prayed for.”

“It is sad to see our neighbors and countrymen live in conditions we consider unfathomable. The level of poverty they are forced to live with on their own land is heartbreaking. However, the will to remain instead of assimilating into a culture they did not choose shows their true strength. The Navajo are an extraordinary people. Their kindness and fortitude are qualities to be admired. It’s sad to see the younger generation lose the culture and language,” commented Rosner.

Blog9The Navajo Hogan is the predecessor to the energy efficient home. It’s a wood structure, covered in mud, kept cool in the summer by wetting the floor. These structures were once the primary residence of most, but are now primarily used for ceremonial purposes.

This particular hogan belongs to Helen Salazar. She has lived in Monument Valley her entire life and only speaks her native language. Her hogan is used in demonstrations for tourists and where she spends much of her time weaving blankets she sells to generate income. We installed a solar system so she could work into the night.

“The most rewarding part of the trip was to see Helen’s reaction when she saw the lights turn on for the first time in her Hogan,” said Jonathan Munk, Goal Zero VP of Marketing. “Then to see her sit down and begin working on the blanket was amazing. The hogan was full of people and different conversations, but when she started working it got quiet and everyone turned to watch. It felt as if we all got a chance to honor that tradition and see it for the first time.”

We are proud to have been a part of the project, we are proud to have been invited into the homes of these wonderful people, and we hope these systems will make their lives easier. Each person we came in contact with shared something beautiful and unique from their culture and their lives. To become more involved with Eagle Energy visit their site.

Update: Watch the recap of our Navajo Solar project here.

21 Comments

  1. Jo Ann York 4 years ago

    Happy Earth Day! What a great thing you are doing for the Navajo people, I reside in Colorado but was born & raised in Arizona. I have a friend ( I have not been in contact with her in many years) she is Navajo & she would share her stories of growing up on the Navajo Res. & how she would travel back as often as she could to help her Grandmother. Many people today & even when I was growing up ( I am 54) that take many things for granted, simple things like electricity, running water &, inside plumbing!
    As an Adult & before I became Disabled due to a car accident, I was an Adult health Care Provider for Elderly & Handicapped people, I had the Honor of caring for a lady who had early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, she was a very beautiful soul, she was tall & lanky, long silver grey hair of which she wore up in an Navajo bun(that she would do up all by herself) she would often share with me her stories of how she was a young woman/Girl fresh out of College , and her big dreams to be a School Teacher , she was hired by the Government to drive out & live amongst the Navajo people & teach their children in Northern Arizona, she shared with me how she thought that she had plans of which did not turn out anything like she thought ,(They had turned out so much better) she explained that she was given multiple Government issued Jeeps(throughout her years) to drive to and from the Reservation to teach the children. The long trips across the desert one way was in itself very long & tiring because the roads were pretty much prehistoric, & not only were the trips long & tiring for her but they were as well for the rugged traditional jeeps that she went through , she explained how the Navajo people took quite some time to trust the new white woman/girl who wanted to teach their children the white mans Education, but after quite some time that trust was gained she was presented by the Navajo people the right to live amongst them , in her own Hogan that she helped to build, & they held the highest respect for her, not only as a Teacher for their children but as a fellow human being!
    She spent many years with the Navajo people & she told me that she was given the gift of sharing, learning & being taught so much more than she could or would have ever expected! I remember one day as she was telling me one of her many stories of her experiences with Navajo people , she was sitting on her bed, fiddling with her hair & putting it in the traditional Navajo bun, that she always wore, & as she spoke she stopped mid sentence & lifted her head slightly into the air, and said JoJo do you smell that!? I looked at her & wondered what on earth was she talking about, she said can you smell the rain in the air!? She said it is going to rain. I looked at her & thought , maybe it was her Alzheimer’s I shook my head & said no sweety I don’t smell the rain in the air.
    I left for the day & went home , and early the next morning as I walked out to my vehicle to go to work, I was completely touched by the pure true beauty of it raining! She knew it was going to rain! How awesome was that! She was one of many beautiful souls , that have come in contact with in my life, of which I think of often, & of more recently with reading your stories of helping the Navajo people! Peace, Love, & Happiness!

  2. todd 4 years ago

    actually the navajo were displaced, then re-placed atop the Hopi Nation; it is the Hopi whom have declined any/all US Govt help and live as True-Hearts (the definition of ‘Hopi’) in remotest arid conditions. Your project is very humane, necessary and welcomed in natural arenas; what will become of the old gear when it expires? You should provide lifetime replacement to those whom will benefit, their life span … not just the gear. Thanks, Guys!

  3. Derrick Lytle 4 years ago

    Great work, guys. Nice to see good companies who actually care. Keep it up!

  4. Desh Mallik 4 years ago

    Fantastic work! Very inspiring. Would love to help.

  5. Audrey 4 years ago

    Wow what a wonderful story.

  6. Mike Jones 4 years ago

    Great job, glad to see such things as this! Thanks.

  7. Helen Jones 4 years ago

    What a great project for some wonderful people! It is great to see the traditional people able to have some help with energy–there is a lot of sun and wind that can be put to good use for energy needs–I always think about this when I am out on this land. Thanks for making it happen.

  8. Allen Evans 4 years ago

    Mr Yazzi is resolute in his convictions and I admire such people.

  9. Charles Nuss 4 years ago

    How many homes were the solar lighting installed in?

    There is great need in many Native American traditional homes. My wife is Navajo, and most of her relatives do not have have running water, and are off the electrical grid.

    • goalzero 4 years ago

      On this particular trip 15 homes received power. The program is mostly based on the entrepreneurship model. Eagle Energy hires and supplies sales reps to help get solar into the homes of more people.

  10. Mike White 4 years ago

    As a has-been, elderly UK climber, it’s great to see how Honnold and Wright are using their profiles in such a positive way. We have our own problems with racism here in the UK and our own dealings with native peoples is nothing to be proud of. Racism clearly remains a major issue in the US. But usually, it seems, only with reference to Afro-Americans. Native Americans don’t feature in the same way. Euro-centrists refer to North America as the ‘New World’, but hardly new to Native Americans with 10,000 years and more of known history. Perhaps the last line of the US national anthem should be amended to “Land of the free, home of the braves”. As that’s not likely, please keep on keeping on.

  11. Linda Sherwood 4 years ago

    I saw this idea working in Mongolia when I had the privilege of visiting that country. We were up in the Altai mountains where some of the nomadic people were grazing their animals. Nearly every ger (Mongolian word for yurt) we saw had a solar panel and a satellite dish outside. I was told they were provided by the Russians when Mongolia was still under Russian protection. What ever we can make up about the Russian motivation for providing them, the solar panel and satellite dish provided these families with the ability to have a clean light source at night and contact with the outside world while continuing to live their chosen lifestyle.
    Great idea, great work!

  12. Karen 4 years ago

    It is really wonderful to hear of the work that your company is doing with the Navajo Solar Project. Thank you for being willing to give back to the community.

  13. ophelia greer 3 years ago

    Wow! Beautiful would like to be part of this goal..how can I help..I personally would like to learn more and I need the solar myself…

    • Author
      goalzero 3 years ago

      Hey, thanks for reaching out! Send an email to sharethesun@goalzero.com, let us know a little about yourself and what kind of effort you’d most be interested in helping with, and our team will get back to you.

  14. Deon yazzie 3 years ago

    Just need to know how to get on it to be help with power

    • Author
      goalzero 3 years ago

      Hi Deon. Send an email to sharethesun@goalzero.com and they can get you more specific information on helping. Thanks.

  15. Wyatt 3 years ago

    Wow great work! 15 homes and 40 towers! Climbing is important!

  16. Wyatt 3 years ago

    Forgot to read the rules (http://navajonationparks.org/permits.htm):

    NO ROCK CLIMBING or BASE JUMPING on Navajo Land. Please abide by the humble religious requests of the Navajo people and do not climb the Monuments. “Navajo law will be strictly enforced on this issue,” Parks Department Manager.

    • Author
      goalzero 3 years ago

      Alex and Cedar received permission from the local Navajo officials to climb in the area. The majority of their project wasn’t within the Navajo Nation.

  17. Frances Sanchez 2 years ago

    Thank you for the light you are bringing where it is most needed for the things we take for granted.

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