Shiprock (Navajo: Tsé Bitʼaʼí, rock with wings or winged rock) is a volcanic rock formation rising 1,583 feet (482.5 m) above the high-desert plain in the Navajo Nation. It is located about 12 miles (19 km) southwest of the town named by the peak. Governed by the Navajo Nation, the formation is in the Four Corners region and plays a significant role in Navajo religion, mythology and tradition. Shiprock is the most prominent landmark in the northwestern New Mexico and a prime object for fine landscape photography.

I find Shiprock fascinating and certainly worth a trip if you are already in the Four Corner area. Its size garanties that on a clear day you will see it already from as far as 50 miles (80 km), but you really need to come to its base to fully appreciate the uniqueness and power that this 25 million year old volcano plug emanates.

Getting to Shiprock:

Being such a prominent landmark in the otherwise pretty flat landscape will make a perfect beacon. The easiest way to get there is from US 491. Coming from the town of Shiprock you turn after 6.3 miles (10 km) west onto Red Rock Hwy, also known as Indian Service Road 13. After another 6.5 miles (10,3 km) you will see the first dirt road leading toward it. However, this road requires a 4×4 SUV! The other option, if you are driving a regular passenger car, is taking the Indian Service Route 5010 almost a mile (1.6 km) further, right before the volcanic ridge that leads north towards Shiprock. From either of these two dirt roads it is about 4 miles (6.5 km) to the base of Shiprock.

For further graphical instructions on how to get there you might click on the map situated at the bottom of this page.

Taking shots:

My experience is that Shiprock is at its best in the late afternoon, close to sunset. You can take it easy and shoot from the plain, but I recommend some hiking up the ridge to include the leading line of the ridge as a foreground element towards Shiprock in the background. This will provide a strong sense of depth to your photograph. Do not get illuded. The distance from the road up to the top is deceiving, besides you will have to scramble it down after the sun has already set. There is no trail up there, so you are on your own. The ideal conditions to photograph Shiprock is the combination of sunset light and a sky rich in clouds providing some additional background drama to the massive Shiprock.

I am sure the rock is also a very interesting subject in the early morning. If you want a comfortable bed during the night you will have to stay either in the town of Shiprock or Farmington. This will require an early bird behaviour to be there at the base at the right time. The alternative is to camp at Shiprock’s base which is perfectly legal and free.

From the base and the top of the ridge I recommend the use of a wide angle, but do not forget to bring also your 70-200mm for those shots along US 491.

Last update: Oct. 16, 2010