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This article is about the rock formation. For the nearby town with the same name, see Shiprock, New Mexico.
Tsé Bitʼaʼí
Highest point
Elevation 7,177 ft (2,188 m)
Prominence 1,583 ft (482 m)
Coordinates 36°41′15″N 108°50′11″W / 36.68750°N 108.83639°W / 36.68750; -108.83639Coordinates: 36°41′15″N 108°50′11″W / 36.68750°N 108.83639°W / 36.68750; -108.83639[1]
Shiprock is located in New Mexico
New Mexico
Location San Juan County, New Mexico, US
Topo map USGS Ship Rock Quadrangle
Age of rock 27 million years
Mountain type Volcanic breccia and minette
First ascent 1939 by David Brower, Raffi Bedayn, Bestor Robinson and John Dyer[2][3]
Easiest route See below
Designated 1975

Shiprock (Navajo: Tsé Bitʼaʼí, "rock with wings" or "winged rock"[4] ) is a monadnock rising nearly 1,583 feet (482.5 m) above the high-desert plain of the Navajo Nation in San Juan County, New Mexico, United States. Its peak elevation is 7,177 feet (2,187.5 m) above sea level. It lies about 10.75 miles (17.30 km) southwest of the town of Shiprock, which is named for the peak.

Governed by the Navajo Nation, the formation is in the Four Corners region and plays a significant role in Navajo religion, myth, and tradition. It is located in the center of the Ancient Pueblo People, a prehistoric Native American culture of the Southwest United States often referred to as the Anasazi. Shiprock is a point of interest for rock climbers and photographers and has been featured in several film productions and novels. It is the most prominent landmark in northwestern New Mexico.


The Navajo name for the peak, Tsé Bitʼaʼí, "rock with wings" or "winged rock", refers to the legend of the great bird that brought the Navajo from the north to their present lands.[5][6] The name "Shiprock" or Shiprock Peak or Ship Rock derives from the peak's resemblance to an enormous 19th-century clipper ship. Anglos first called the peak "The Needle", a name given to the topmost pinnacle by Captain J. F. McComb in 1860.[6] United States Geological Survey maps indicate that the name "Ship Rock" dates from the 1870s.[5][6]


Shiprock is composed of fractured volcanic breccia and black dikes of igneous rock called minette. It is the erosional remnant of the throat of a volcano, and the volcanic breccia formed in a diatreme. The exposed rock probably was originally formed 2,500–3000 feet (750–1,000 meters) below the Earth's surface, but it was exposed after millions of years of erosion. Wall-like sheets of minette, known as dikes, radiate away from the central formation. Radiometric age determinations of the minette establish that these volcanic rocks solidified about 27 million years ago. Shiprock is in the northeastern part of the Navajo Volcanic Field—a field that includes intrusions and flows of minette and other unusual igneous rocks that formed about 25 million years ago. Agathla (El Capitan) in Monument Valley, is another prominent volcanic neck in this volcanic field.[7][8]

Map of Navajo Volcanic Field with Shiprock

Religious and cultural significance[edit]

Shiprock and the surrounding land have religious and historical significance to the Navajo people. It is mentioned in many of their myths and legends. Foremost is the peak's role as the agent that brought the Navajo to the southwest. According to one legend, after being transported from another place, the Navajos lived on the monolith, "coming down only to plant their fields and get water."[6] One day, the peak was struck by lightning, obliterating the trail and leaving only a sheer cliff, and stranding the women and children on top to starve. The presence of people on the peak is forbidden "for fear they might stir up the chį́įdii (ghosts), or rob their corpses."[6]

Navajo legend puts the peak in a larger geographic context, Shiprock is said to be either a medicine pouch or a bow carried by the "Goods of Value Mountain", a large mythic male figure comprising several mountain features throughout the region. The Chuska Mountains comprise the body, Chuska Peak is the head, the Carrizo Mountains are the legs, and Beautiful Mountain is the feet.[6]

Navajo legend has it that Bird Monsters (Tsé Ninájálééh) nested on the peak and fed on human flesh. After Monster Slayer, elder of the Warrior Twins, destroyed Déélééd at Red Mesa, he killed two adult Bird Monsters at Shiprock and changed two young ones into an eagle and an owl.[6][9] The peak is mentioned in stories from the Enemy Side Ceremony and the Navajo Mountain Chant, and is associated with the Bead Chant and the Naayee'ee Ceremony.[6]

Climbing history and legal status[edit]

The first recorded ascent was in 1939, by a Sierra Club party including David Brower, Raffi Bedayn, Bestor Robinson and John Dyer.[2][3] This was the first climb in the United States to use expansion bolts for protection. Pitons were used for direct aid.

Since then at least seven routes have been climbed on the peak, all of them of great technical difficulty. A modification of the original route is recorded as the easiest, and it is rated as Grade IV, YDS 5.9, A1.[2] It was considered a great unsolved problem by the climbing community in the 1920s and 1930s. At that time there was a widespread rumor of a $1000 prize for climbing the peak, which inspired "dozens of attempts by the experienced and inexperienced alike".[2]

The first ascent route is featured in the book Fifty Classic Climbs of North America; however, the idea of climbing Shiprock is repugnant to many Navajo people; climbing has been illegal since 1970.[10][11][12] In spite of this, rock climbers continue to see Shiprock as an interesting place to climb. According to reports from the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department, which administers recreational activities on Navajo land, there have been false claims that the department allows rock climbing and cooperates with rock climbing organizations. A 2006 press release addressing Monument Valley, another area of monoliths within the Navajo Nation, states:

Permits are issued by the department to camp and hike in some areas, but not for sacred monuments such as Shiprock.


Ship Rock and associated dikes, in a cropped, marked, and lower-resolution image from original by NASA Visible Earth. This image was acquired by an ASTER sensor and colors are not photo-like. 
Aerial view of Shiprock 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ship Rock". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved November 30, 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c d Audrey Salkeld, editor, World Mountaineering, Bulfinch, 1998.
  3. ^ a b Herbert E. Ungnade, Guide to the New Mexico Mountains, Sage Books, 1965, pp. 170–172.
  4. ^ Wall, Leon; William Morgan (1994) [1958]. Navajo-English Dictionary. New York: Hippocrene. ISBN 0-7818-0247-4. 
  5. ^ a b Butterfield, Mike, and Greene, Peter, Mike Butterfield's Guide to the Mountains of New Mexico, New Mexico Magazine Press, 2006, ISBN 978-0-937206-88-1
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Laurance D. Linford, Navajo Places: History, Legend, Landscape, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, 2000, ISBN 0-87480-623-2, p. 264–265.
  7. ^ Steven C. Semken, The Navajo Volcanic Field, in Volcanology in New Mexico, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 18, p. 79–83, 2001. ISSN 1524-4156
  8. ^ Paul T. Delaney, Ship Rock, New Mexico: The vent of a violent volcanic eruption, Geological Society of America Centennial Field Guide—Rocky Mountain Section, pp. 411–415, 1987.
  9. ^ Shiprock on Dark Isle
  10. ^ Roper, Steve; Steck, Allen (1979). Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. ISBN 0-87156-292-8.  page 214
  11. ^ Navajo Parks and Recreation Department
  12. ^ Shiprock Chapter
  13. ^ 2006 Press release about climbing in Monument Valley

External links[edit]