Shiprock, New Mexico: The Rock with Wings.

Officially named Tsé Bitʼaʼí, or “rock with wings”, this is a surreal and somewhat eerie place. Commonly referred to as Shiprock, it’s an isolated rock and ridge that’s a true sight to behold. A 29-million-year-old fossilized volcanic throat jetting straight up from the ground, seemingly out of nowhere, it’s jagged and rugged across the entire formation. Connected to Shiprock is an incredibly long, rocky ridge which resembles the spine of a dragon, just sitting quietly nearby, waiting to be awoken. It’s highly revered in Navajo culture and must be respected.

The mysterious “dragon spine” next to Shiprock.

Located in Navajo County, in the very upper northwest corner of New Mexico, it’s about 11 miles southwest of the city of Shiprock. However, you can see it for miles before ever coming close – from the West on I-160, near the Four Corners Region (Four Corners National Monument.) and while still in Arizona, and from Colorado to the North, coming down I-491. It sits alone in a field with nothing but the mysterious dragon spine located near it. It’s impossible to miss.

The Navajo Nation officially governs it, as it’s on their land and plays a significant role in their culture. They have multiple legends associated with the rock. Per one legend, the rock suddenly became a giant bird, which then carried the ancient Navajo on its back from another dimension into this world. The Navajo then lived on the rock, only coming down to tend to their fields or for water. In a later legend, there were two monstrous birds living inside Shiprock, causing mayhem for the people living below. They were eventually killed by two heroic Navajo twins named “Monster Slayer” and “Spider Woman”. The twins allowed the monster bird eggs to hatch, which ended up living peacefully with the Navajo and allowing them to use their feathers for ceremonial purposes.

We were afraid to get too close. 👀

The rock is said to be extremely haunted, by both ghosts and other unsettling beings, like skin walkers. Many who come here claim to see weird things or develop feelings of sadness, fear, or dread. I am happy to report that we did not see anything frightening or feel dread; however, there was a slight uneasy feeling. This could’ve been due to how creepily quiet it was, as we were the only two there (there was an older couple who left relatively soon after we arrived). You couldn’t hear any sound from the city nor from the various 2-lane highways nearby. Or perhaps it was simply because we knew some stories beforehand, as it’s been prominently featured on paranormal podcasts and YouTube channels. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Designated a U.S. Natural Landmark in 1975 by the National Park Service, rock climbing is illegal. Legal before 1970, there are seven routes to the peak, all rated “difficult”. The first official ascent was in 1939 by a Sierra Club party, and it was the first climb within the United States that used expansion bolts and pitons. Rock climbing was strictly forbidden by the Navajo in 1970 after three serious injuries occurred. They ended up banning rock climbing not only at Shiprock, but on all land under Navajo Parks & Recreation control (like Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.).

If you put Shiprock into a GPS, it’ll tell you it’s almost 1.5 hours from the city of Shiprock… which is only 11 miles away. This is because the GPS will take you only to the entrance gate, and then expect you to walk the rest of the way. However, there is a worn dirt road that will take you right to the base of the rock if you wish. There is no sign alerting you to the road, but it’s difficult to miss. We did not drive to the base, as the road got increasingly rugged. We stopped approximately 0.3 miles away and enjoyed the surrealness from a distance.

Also, we picked up numerous pieces of trash, from beer cans to discarded metal car parts. It’s a real travesty that people visit such a beautiful, untouched, and important land to many, and leave behind their trash. Please – if you visit Shiprock, or truthfully any place, take your trash with you. As they say, “pack it in, pack it out”!

Overall, give Shiprock a visit if you’re ever in the Four Corners area and have time to stop by one of the coolest rock formations around. If you do visit, please respect the land and those who cherish it. While visiting around Shiprock is not technically banned, as there is no gate or any “no trespassing” signs, it seems to be a grey area. It’s always best to be respectful, humble, and responsible when visiting. Perhaps take some trash with you as a thank you! 🤲🏼

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