Mission Statement: The Painted Desert Project connects public artists with communities through mural opportunities on the Navajo Nation.

In June of 2009 I started a self-funded, public art project on the Navajo Nation, Western Agency, I called “Big.” I went back through 22 years of negatives and started blowing photographs up larger than life and wheat pasting them onto roadside stands and abandoned buildings. I’m still amazed at the resonance this project has with people on the reservation and amongst travelers passing through. I’m thankful for having found this form of self expression as a means of relating to the community where I’ve lived and worked for almost half of my life.

Shortly after I started wheat pasting I met a fellow street artist based in Prescott, AZ named Yote through the street art blog, Vandalog. For 2 years after that we collaborated on installations on the Navajo Nation, Tucson and Flagstaff.


House in Bitter Springs (collaboration with Yote), October 2009


Black Mesa Junction (collaboration with Yote), October 2009

The western agency of the Navajo Nation is strategically located between the north and south rims of the Grand Canyon to the west, Lake Powell and Zion to the north, Monument Valley and Navajo National Monument to the East and Canyon de Chelley to the south.  The area receives a tremendous volume of traffic.

Many families supplement their income by selling handmade jewelry along the road in homemade stalls.  These stalls were some of the first places I installed my art and over the years I’ve developed friendships with the families.

summation of weekend

Gray Mountain, October 2009

In an effort to boost tourism on the reservation, to supplement the incomes of families with roadside stands, and to nurture the creative talent of local youth, I invited a few world-renowned street artists to come to the Navajo Nation to paint murals in 2012 and have continued doing so as funding allows.  This is the Painted Desert Project.

Google map of mural sites.

  35 comments for “PAINTED DESERT PROJECT

    • jetsonorama
      November 18, 2016 at 3:43 pm

      You’re right, I’ve been on the Navajo nation working as a primary care physician since 1987. I received a 4 year scholarship from the National Health Service Corps and had to work in a health shortage area when I finished my training. Over time I’ve built a trusting relationship with the community where I am. However, the Navajo nation is 27,500 square miles in size and my work is limited to a 120 mile radius.

      I started doing my wheat pasting project in 2009 and started inviting artists to the reservation to paint murals in 2012. The Navajo nation doesn’t have a tradition of muralism or street art. In 2009 when I started pasting I approached the work as a guerilla art project. I didn’t try to engage the community. Younger people appreciated the work while older people were suspicious and alienated by it. Many thought the images were associated with witchcraft.

      Within 2 months of starting my wheat pasting I had an experience with a roadside stand vendor where I’d placed a photo of Code Talkers on his roadside stand without asking. I chose this stand because it was falling down and had a beautiful red background. I week after I pasted my piece I noticed people out repairing the stand. I stopped to find out what was going on and learned that so many tourists had stopped to take photos of the Code Talkers that they decided to start using the stand again. I realized at this point the potential for a mutually beneficial relationship with the community and have been engaging wall owners since that time.

      I’ve heard from members of the community that they feel a sense of pride when they see the images and appreciate that the images give people passing through the area (located in a tourist area between Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon), a sense of who is there. One of my motivations for placing images along the roadside is to reflect some of the beauty of the community back to them. The Navajo people should be amongst the richest people living in the US. On their land is coal, oil, natural gas, uranium and water in aquifers. Yet 20% of my patients don’t have running water or electricity. Because of the way contracts were written for these natural resources the wealth of the nation isn’t returned to the tribe and the Navajo people are amongst the poorest group of people materially. With this comes challenges with alcohol abuse, drug use, an unemployment rate over 50%, a teen suicide rate over twice the national average and so on. Just as my work as a physician attempts to create an environment of wellness within the individual so they can realize their aspirations, the public art project attempts to create an environment of wellness in the community. The project comes from a place of love and I think the majority of people seeing the work get that. In choosing imagery to place along the roadside I feel my primary audience for the work is Navajo people.

      Since 2014 my project (the Painted Desert Project), has been developing more community service projects such as building and/or repairing roadside stands on which art is then placed.

      Thanks for your interest in the project! Peace.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Gloria G
        March 29, 2018 at 8:26 am

        Thank U so much!! May The Creator bring blessings 2 U n ur family. It’s so beautiful. U r doing a good thing!! This let’s people know that there are people living out there in the “wilderness” as some call it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • October 8, 2020 at 10:17 pm

        so proud and grateful that you are part of the #earthjusticeshow. I’ve wheat pasted on city walls (& stenciled on pavements), but seeing yr painted desert might be the road trip of my dreams 2nite.


      • jetsonorama
        October 8, 2020 at 11:58 pm

        right on. thank you for that.


      • Benson willie
        April 4, 2021 at 7:31 pm

        I might have a project that you might interested in ..two 25k gallon tanks . the story behind this you would have to hear..


      • jetsonorama
        April 5, 2021 at 8:29 pm

        Let’s hear the story and where are the tanks?


      • Mark
        May 20, 2023 at 9:31 pm

        Your images are beautiful, striking and stopped me dead in my feet. I had to pull my car over, get out and journey through your images. I would love to return to the area to photograph more of these incredible story telling experiences.


      • jetsonorama
        May 20, 2023 at 9:50 pm

        Thank you Mark!


  1. Richard
    July 14, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    Hello. I am deeply interested in the project, but the link to google maps doesn’t seem to work. How can I find a map of all the works ?


    • jetsonorama
      July 14, 2017 at 10:41 pm

      hey richard. thanks for the feedback. after being up for 5 years the map mysteriously disappeared about 6 weejs ago. i’ve been swamped with projects * haven’t had time to reconstruct it. the majority of sites are between gray mountain and bitter springs on highwsy 89 and between red lake and kayenta on highway 160.


      • Richard
        July 17, 2017 at 8:09 am

        Thank you. I will try to spot them, especially the one by Roa that I admire very much.


    • jetsonorama
      July 17, 2017 at 8:43 am

      richard – bad news. that house was deconstructed in 2014 or so taking the roa piece with it. it’s one of many pieces that no longer exist.


      • Mr.Skacy
        October 4, 2018 at 9:39 pm

        thanks for doing what U did and the person that U are,, U are an amazing artist and human being, now that tourist drive threw here it will give them a sense of who we are as Dine people.People who preserve da land and that respect it.Again thank you.


      • jetsonorama
        October 5, 2018 at 6:24 am



  2. Michael Crowell
    August 12, 2019 at 4:27 pm

    SUNSET …….. MIKE


    • jetsonorama
      August 12, 2019 at 8:38 pm

      Hey Michael. On Facebook search for Persistent in Arts. The artist’s name is Daniel Josley.


  3. September 5, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    Really beautiful work. I left the area before most of your work went up, but I’m always happy to see it when I get down that way to visit.


    • jetsonorama
      September 6, 2019 at 9:44 am

      thanks so much man!


  4. December 27, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    Your love for the land and its people is apparent in your work. I’ll look for your art installations on my next drive through the area – lots of love to you!


    • jetsonorama
      December 27, 2019 at 12:45 pm



  5. Benjamin Barney
    September 4, 2020 at 8:57 am

    I was just sent this site by a friend in Minneapolis.
    I am in Lukachukai and interested in what you are doing
    Get in touch.


    • jetsonorama
      September 5, 2020 at 9:11 pm

      how can i help you?


  6. Steph Thompson
    March 6, 2022 at 8:42 pm

    We just came upon the motel and gas station in Gray Mountain and we’re blown away! We’re doing a Route 66 trip but this stop is so much more interesting. We will definitely come back to look for some more of your installations. Thanks for the joy!!!


    • jetsonorama
      March 6, 2022 at 9:24 pm

      Right on. Thank you for the support.


  7. November 15, 2022 at 11:34 am

    I do a lot of photography and pass through the Navajo Nation annually as I make a trip to Grand Junction annually. I always look forward to passing through and photographing all the great work! I share with many peers. It has been something I look forward to every July when I make my pass through. Thank you so much for the time spent making this all possible, I look forward to exploring the areas that I have not seen yet!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jetsonorama
      November 15, 2022 at 11:34 am



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