XplorMor Team, Bryan and I, were on a road trip across the United States last year. On this particular day, we were driving along US Route 160 from Four Corners Monument in Teec Nos Pos, Arizona to Valley of the Gods in Utah when in the distance the peak of what looked to be a ginormous rocky outcrop appeared. I googled for what it could be, and found a vague write-up on something called Shiprock in New Mexico. So, we decided to take a detour as it was early enough in the day, and turned off on Highway 64. As we drove closer, the size became more and more unbelievable. It’s jagged details coming into focus, looked as though we were headed straight into J.R.R. Tolkien’s Mordor. We’ve both traveled around the world but never seen such a solitary massive formation jutting high out of low-lying plains.
Shiprock pierces the flat plateau, looming an incredible 1700 feet over the sparse desert lands of northern New Mexico. This magnificent rock formation, left from an ancient volcanic plume, is sacred to the Navajo Nation. It is known to the tribal people as Tse’ Bit’ ai’, or translated into English, The Winged Rock/Rock with Wings. The Navajo name comes from an ancient myth which tells how the rock was once a giant bird that transported the ancestral people of the Navajo Nation to their lands in the American Southwest.
The Navajo ancestors fleeing a war-tribe crossed a narrow ocean far to the remote north but could not outrun their enemy. Their tribal shamans prayed to the Great Spirit for help. Then in answer to their call, the ground rose beneath them and formed into an enormous bird. The myth says that for an entire day and night the ancestral people flew south on the bird. Finally, at sundown the bird landed at the sight of where Shiprock now stands.
From ancient times, Tse’ Bit’ ai’ has been a pilgrimage place of major importance to the tribal Peoples. When the rock was climbed in 1939, it was taken as a disrespect of the site’s holiness. Finally in 1970 the rock formations were designated as off limits to climbers, and once again accorded the respect due a sacred place.
Shiprock in New Mexico is something to behold, and if you have time, we’d recommend the detour. But be warned that signage and roads to the site are poorly monitored and not maintained. If you go, we’d love for you to share your photos and experience with us!