Sacred to the Navajos as “Tsé Bitʼaʼí” or “the rock with wings,” Shiprock is an isolated peak that rises nearly 1,583 feet above the flat surrounding New Mexico desert. Surrounded by mystery, beauty, and a powerful legend, this magnificent rock is nearly 30 million years old and is visible for up to 100 miles. You’ll find the rock with wings in San Juan County, south of the town Shiprock, New Mexico.
The Origin of Shiprock
Millions of years ago, a volcano stood in place of the rock we see today. As it eventually turned dormant, the magma hardened, and the exterior of the volcano eroded away. The hardened magma was left behind to form an imposing, spectacular structure that would come to be called”Tsé Bitʼaʼí” and Shiprock.
When viewed from some angles, the rock bears a resemblance to a large bird, sitting with folded wings. This resemblance is central to the Navajo legend of “Tsé Bitʼaʼí.” This legend tells us that there was once a piece of land in the North which transformed into an enormous bird. The bird then carried the Navajo people on its back to the land that is now New Mexico. At sundown, the bird alighted on its current location and was immediately turned back to stone. The people brought on the bird are the original Navajo people.
The Navajos continued to live on the rock after the bird turned to stone, and they only came down to get food and water. Then, one day, lightning struck the rock, stranding the people at the top of the peak. Climbing Shiprock is said to disturb the spirits of those who were stranded and died. Out of respect for those Navajo spirits and for the tragic death of a rock climber in the 1970’s, there is currently a Navajo Nation ban on climbing the rock with wings.
Visit the Rock with Wings
To reach this beautiful peak, take US 431 south from the town of Shiprock. Use a vehicle with high ground clearance and avoid traveling in the rain. It’s certainly not an easy adventure to get there, so be prepared. You’ll see no road signs, and the drive is pretty rough. Still, it’s well worth it to experience the mystery and majesty of nature in this incredible place. So take a trip to Shiprock this summer, and tell us about your experience.