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Visiting Shiprock in New Mexico

The sun was slowly hiding behind the horizon. We were driving an empty road, US-491 N. Suddenly, like a mirage, from the flat, dusty New Mexico desert raised the mysterious rock formation. It looked like the wreck of a vast ship that sea washed ashore. It was a famous Shiprock formation. So, we decided to stay overnight in Farmington to visiting Shiprock in New Mexico the next day. As always, we share our tips and impressions from this fantastic and he Navajo Nation saint place.

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visiting shiprock

What is Shiprock New Mexico?

Name of the rock

Shiprock (Ship Rock) in Navajo language is Tsé Bitʼaʼí. Which means “rock with wings” or “winged rock.” And it refers to the legend of the great bird that brought the Navajo from the north to their present lands, to the Four Corners region. When you use your imagination, Shiprock, viewed from certain angles, resembles a large sitting bird with folded wings. The north and south summits are the tops of the wings.

Size of the Shiprock in New Mexico

This striking volcanic plume was formed around 30 million years ago, developing as a plug within the vent of an active volcano. The rock formation is rasing nearly 1,583 feet (482.5 m) above the high-desert plain of the Navajo Nation in San Juan County, New Mexico.
Shiprock peak elevation is 7,177 feet (2,187.5 m) above sea level. The rock formation has 27-30 million years old.

Navajo Nation

The Navajo Nation governs the Shiprock formation. Most important to know is that it is a sacred place. Since 1975, Shiprock is a National Natural Landmark. Moreover, it is the most prominent landmark in northwestern New Mexico. It is in the Four Corners region, so it’s a perfect idea to add Shiprock to your road trip plan if you are going to Four Corners Monument. Furthermore, rock plays a significant role in Navajo religion, myth, and tradition. It is located in the center of the area occupied by the Ancient Pueblo People, a prehistoric Native American culture of the Southwest United States often referred to as the Anasazi.

Are you interested in Ancient Pueblos & the Native American community in New Mexico? Check our related posts about famous Taos Pueblo and about Bandelier National Monument

navajo nation in new mexico

Shiprock Geology

The Shiprock is a monadnock, an isolated rock hill that rises abruptly from a virtually flat surrounding.

Shiprock is composed of fractured volcanic breccia and black dikes of igneous rock called Minette, or lamprophyre. It is the erosional remnant of the throat of a volcano. The rock probably was initially formed 2,500–3,000 feet (750–1,000 meters) below the Earth’s surface, but it was exposed after millions of years of erosion.

Shiprock is the exposed neck or throat of a long-vanished volcano, which is the solidified feeder pipe of the volcano that erupted over 30 million years ago. At that time, lava or molten rock came up from the Earth’s mantle and was deposited on the surface of the mountain. Evidence suggests that the lava explosively interacted with water and formed what geologists call a diatreme or a carrot-shaped volcanic vent.

Climbing Shiprock

The first ascent took place in 1939 by David Brower, Raffi Bedayn, Bestor Robinson, and John Dyer. But a climber tragic accident in 1970 caused the Navajo Nation to ban rock climbing not only on Ship Rock but on all Navajo lands. For Navajo Nation, it was a curse. So, similar to other cultures around the world, rare rock formations are considered mystical and not to be climbed right now.

Movie Appearance

Shiprock Pinnacle is a point of interest for photographers. Furthermore, it has been featured in several film productions and novels. Movies in which Shiprock Pinnacle appeared are:

visiting shiprock

Where is Shiprock?

Shiprock Peak coordinates are 36°41′15″N 108°50′11″W. It lies about 15 miles southwest of the town of Shiprock, which is named for the peak.

How to get to Shiprock Peak from Farmington?

From Farmington is about 41 miles. So, take US 64 west to Shiprock and bear left at the intersection with US 491. Continue 7.1 miles on US 64, 491 and turn right (west) onto the paved Indian Service Route 13. Continue 7.6 miles on IR 13 and turn right (north) onto IR 5010, a good dirt road. Follow IR 5010 north to Shiprock, which is about 3.5 miles away.

How to get to Shiprock Peak from Four Corners Monument?

From the Four Corners Monument, you have two options. The shorter route leads through US-64 E and is 35 miles. It takes around 50 minutes drive. The longer route we have chosen leads through US-160 E and US-491 S. the length of the road is about 55 miles and about a 1.5 hour drive.

Our favorite NM maps and guides:

New Mexico Road & Recreation AtlasDeLorme New Mexico50 Hikes in Northern New MexicoA Guide to the State's Greatest Hiking Adventures
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visiting shiprock
visitin shiprock in new mexico

The best visibility of Shiprock

Visiting Shiprock in New Mexico is not easy. However, Shiprock Peak is visible 30 to 50 miles from the peak, in almost every direction. But best viewing is west of Farmington along Hwy. 64 or south of Shiprock on Hwy. 491.

It’s not legal to get to the base of the rocks as it’s a sacred place for the Navajo Nation. We admired it only from a distance, and the same we recommend to you.
To get the base of Shiprock for an up-close view, turn west off Hwy. 491 onto Red Valley Road / Route 5, south of the formation. Route 5 passes through the south dike and connects with dirt roads that lead to the base of Shiprock’s peak. But check if the road is open for tourists on the Navajo website. During our visit, it was prohibited, so we took photos from a distance. We admired the pinnacle from the Indian Service Route 13 and US Highway 491.

visiting shiprock

According to the Navajo Nation website, driving onto the dirt road leading to the formation is prohibited, so respect their rules. You can view and photograph the pinnacle from the paved roadway (Indian Service Route 13 or from US Highway 491). So, when you visiting Shiprock use the zoom to take great photos, as we did. We used Nikkor 80-400 and Canon 24-70 to make our photos from a distance, to respect their rules.

visiting shiprock

Where to stay when visiting Shiprock in New Mexico?

The Navajo Nation prohibits camping in the area. But visiting Shiprock is worth your time. So, the best idea is to stay in Farmington. Check availability and prices on booking.com.
We stayed in Best Western Plus the Four Corners Inn, and we can recommend it. It has high standards, spacious, clean rooms, and excellent service. The hotel offers classically furnished rooms with free Wi-Fi and a cable TV. It features an indoor pool and a relaxing jacuzzi. You can book it directly through the Best Western website.

You will also find shops and restaurants in Farmington. Furthermore, it’s a great base not only for visiting Shiprock but for exploring this part of New Mexico.

Nearby Attractions

Visiting Shiprock in New Mexico takes you a few hours. But, as we mentioned above, Farmington is a great base for exploring the area, so it is worth considering this city to stay in it for 2-3 days. What are the best nearby attractions?

Hiking in Bisti Badlands

Have you heard about The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area in New Mexico? Also named Bisti Badlands? Walking through the Bisti Badlands Wilderness is like entering an alien, prehistoric world of desolate desert and bizarre rock formations. But, there are no marked trails, it is difficult to find them. So, we have prepared complete Hiking The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Guide for you. 

 Bisti Badlands Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area

Visit Four Corners Monument

You can combine visiting Shiprock in New Mexico with the Four Corners Monument. The Four Corners Navajo Tribal Park is the unique landmark in the United States where four states intersect at one point: Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. So, it is possible to be in four states in one day!
The original marker erected in 1912 was a simple cement pad but has since been redone in granite and brass.

The park is open year-round and features a demonstration center with Navajo artisans. Furthermore, Navajo are selling handmade jewelry, crafts, and traditional Navajo foods there.

The Four Corners Monument general admission is $5.00 per person. For ages six or younger is free. National Park and Golden Age Passes are not accepted. No dogs allowed. More information you will find on the Navajo Nation website.

Four Corners Monument

19 Comments

  1. We totally missed Shiprock when we visited New Mexico.  Interesting to learn that the translation relates to a bird and not a ship.  But I must admit I have trouble seeing either in the shape.  i don’t ever really think of there being volcanos in this part of the U.S.  That left behind structures like Shiprock.  

  2. The Navajo history and curses I find to be very interesting. Shiprock is dramatic and stunning! I can not imagine the depth of seeing that in person or falling from that while climbing! 30 million years old, wow! The shiprock is cool being a monadnock. What a wonderful sight to take in while seeing the Four Corners Monument! I will defiantly have to add this to my bucket list when seeing the Four Corners. 

  3. I have only visited the more touristy part of  Mexico ( Cancun ) like a lot of other tourists as this is most promoted but posts like these show us so much more of a country. I have read similar articles and would love to re visit Mexico and experience these hidden gems like the Ship Rock. The views over sunset are just picture perfect. Never imagined the history and how old this place is as well. Sad you cant camp around but I guess good as over tourism in these natural beauties kills it sometimes. Thanks for sharing a great attraction . 

  4. Shiprock looks amazing, thank you for this post! I really want to spend some time exploring the American southwest because I love learning more about the Native American culture. I also love the landscape of the region, I’ve only gotten to visit Colorado so far.

  5. I have never been to Mexico yet and it crossed my mind to put it on my bucket list. But after reading the article, I feel like going to this city one of these days. I’m very much interested in visiting the Four Corners Monument. 

  6. I have never been to Mexico but I surely have it in my list. I generally love places that have these awesome rock formations. I find them really cool and very picturesque. 
    Shiprock looks like an awesome rock formation. I would love to visit this. I will add it to my list of places to see in Mexico.

  7. Mexico is so far off from India.  But diversity and cultural similarity does intrigues me definitely. All the pictures are so so wonderful. Shiprock looks very adventurous place.  I like how the entire place revolves around a single giant rock. Four Corners Navajo Tribal Park has this amazing landscapes .. maybe someday I would be able to visit this place ..

  8. We’ve been looking for places to visit on our roadtrip and this looks like an incredible stop! I can’t believe you’re able to see Shiprock from even 30-50 miles out! That plus the demonstration center with local crafts would be so cool to check out! 

  9. I will be honest and tell you that I had never heard of Shipwreck before. It seems quite interesting to learn about its geological formation. Good suggestion about the Bisti Badlands. It definitely seems to be a place that is alien. I would not mind a hike here.

  10. As a big Tranformers fan, I have always wanted to visit New Mexico because some important parts of the movie was shot here and you have given a very detailed explanation about the place. Thanks for sharing this blog as it would be very helpful for anyone planning to visit this place!!

  11. ahhh nothing like an American road trip! I haven’t yet made it to this part of the country, but I’m dying to go. Did you have wifi signal in Bidi Badlands? Looks great but I’d hate to get lost out there!

  12. This is a nicely done comprehensive article, shiprrock looks like a nice place to visit. But what impressed me more are the Navajo artisans, where they keep their culture and tradition still alive, by selling handmade jewelry, crafts, and traditional Navajo foods there.

  13. Very cool! It reminds me of monument valley, but a bit sharper haha. New Mexico is a day and a half away from me, so maybe I could see this on a  multi-way road trip!

  14. What a cool rock formation! Thanks for the geology lesson behind why it is shaped the way it is. Great post

  15. This place looks absolutely beautiful, and I love that it has so much history too! Nature is so fascinating!

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