Shiprock, New Mexico | Day Drunk: Shiprock, New Mexico

October 26, 2013

Shiprock, New Mexico

I first came to know Shiprock in a geology class during the latter half of my freshman year at college. For those of you keeping score, that was EIGHT years ago. With a click of the mouse, projected across a large white screen, there was Shiprock: a jagged monolith sailing above the dessert floor. And in those minutes where Shiprock loomed mightily over me in my lecture hall, my journey was set and suddenly all I yearned for in my life was to see Shiprock.

My chance finally came in 2008, and then again just recently when Vness and I crossed the country to California. Each time, watching Shiprock pierce the horizon filled me with an incredible joy. For one, I am always elated to accomplish a dream, to let the web of highways draw me into the Southwest where my geologic mecca lays. Secondly, Shiprock is a massively impressive natural monument and plays a large role in Navajo mythology. Plainly, Shiprock is important.

Shiprock in the winter of 2008.
Shiprock this fall, 2013.

Shiprock is a 1,583 feet tall ancient neck of a long-ago volcano located in Shiprock, New Mexico in the Four Corners Region.

Above maps provided by Google.

About 30 million years ago, lava erupted from the Earth's mantle and was thrust upwards through the crust. The lava cooled, forming a "neck" of rugged igneous rocks. Later, more lava squeezed up through cracks creating jagged dikes, which radiate from the center of the formation.

3D image showing Shiprock's dikes. Provided by Google Earth.
In the shadow of one of Shiprock's dikes.

Vness gazes up at the jagged dikes.
The dikes are composed of a granular iron ore know as "Minette".

Where is the volcano now? Gone. Over the past 30 million years, the softer sedimentary rocks surrounding Shiprock have eroded away and left just the tougher igneous rocks, which retain the jagged structure from millions of years past. 

Aptly named Shiprock because of it's sail-like appearance.

According to Navajo legend, Shiprock or Tsé Bitʼaʼí, which translates into "rock with wings", is the giant bird that brought Diné, the people, to their land in the southwest. Unfortunately, once they arrived, Cliff Monster built a large nest on the bird, trapping it. So the Navajos sent Monster Slayer to combat Cliff Monster, eventually killing him, but injuring the bird meanwhile. Cliff Monster's blood flowed down the bird, coagulating into the radiating dikes that surround the peak and to save the bird, it was turned into stone to remind the Diné of it's sacrifice.

A dirt devil swirls before the mighty Shiprock,

A different Navajo legend says that the ghosts of the Diné who were trapped on the peak after a lightning storm curse the peak. Today, Shiprock is off limits to climbers and other ne'er-do-wells, for preservation and protection. Shiprock is a sacred Navajo sight and not to be tampered with.

But I will still drive thousands of miles out of my way to catch a glimpse of Shiprock's magnificent silhouette, watching with anticipation as it paints the horizon and then with longing as it dips beyond my rear view mirror. 'Til we meet again, Shiprock.

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