New Mexico‘s San Juan County is home to several places, which interest the off-the-beaten-track kind of travellers. The preserved structures of the Aztec Ruins National Monument and the pueblos of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park are a real treat. But, one place stands out – literally – from the rest is Shiprock.
Towering alone in the desert of the Navajo Reservation, Shiprock is a 1,583ft tall sand-colored volcanic plume. Formed 30 million years ago, it not only makes for an interesting site for miles around, but has deep significance in Navajo religion and myth.
According to a legend, this gigantic formation of volcanic and igneous rock was originally a piece of land that became a bird. The bird took flight, carrying the ancestral Navajo people on its back before landing at sundown and turning back to stone.
If you venture out towards Shiprock (via an off-road vehicle only) any aspirations you might have to climb will be dashed by the second part of the legend. The people the bird carried continued living on its peak after it turned back to stone. They were “coming down only to plant their fields and collect water”. However, one day a lightning strike left them stranded. As a result, in accordance with Navajo custom, people are now forbidden to climb it, so no one disturbs those spirits.
Indeed, due to its religious significance to the Navajo Nation, it is recommended that non-natives stay at least three miles from Shiprock. However, despite this, a visit (albeit from afar) is sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone with an interest in an unusual and dramatic nature.
As you contemplate the extremes of the landscape: the desert, flat and featureless for miles, your chances of becoming awestruck by incredible and colossal geological bird remain high.