Ship Rock

Kim and I aren’t the best when it comes to planning a trip. We usually hit the road with a vague notion of what we want to see and do, and we figure out the details en route. This strategy pays off more often than not.

As we were heading out from Four Corners, I noticed a formation off in the distance. It reminded me of the Star Trek reboot scene in which the Enterprise, still under construction, towers over an Iowa corn field. Yes, my brain is weird.

A mysterious lump on the flat horizon.


We decided to check it out.

As it turns out, my imagination wasn’t too far off. European settlers referred to the formation as Shiprock. They saw it as a gigantic clipper ship. The Navajo name for it is Tsé Bit’a’í, or winged rock – a reference to their legend of a great bird that brought them from the north.

All of us see a vessel of some sort. I find that pleasing.

That’s a big rock. Or a little human. All depends on perspective.


Shiprock is actually the guts of a long ago cooled volcano. It’s framed on its western, southern, and eastern sides by large, natural dikes, also part of the dead volcano. The one you see in my pictures is the eastern dike.

An easy road in. The way out was a *ahem* little more challenging.


People have climbed Shiprock, but that activity is no longer allowed. I’ve read a few different reasons why. One site claims that a climbing death prompted the ban; another site thought of climbing the structure was considered repulsive to the Navajo, so they banned the activity.

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You can drive up to Shiprock, but Google map results can be a little deceiving. What appear to be viable roads when zoomed into Shiprock are paths more suited to ATVs. And these paths often dissolve into the sand.

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Our approach was easy enough. A turn off of the road near the eastern dike is a fairly straight, fairly easy path. Kim’s Impreza has all wheel drive, but not high clearance. We made it to the formation with relative ease. Twenty minutes. Tops.

The same can’t be said for our exit. We took one of those aforementioned disappearing paths because it looked like a road when zoomed in on the formation. Two hours, a lot of nervous dark of night gully hopping, many a mowed down scrub brush, one (accidentally, I swear) sprayed-with-dirt-from-a-wheel-that-lost-traction girlfriend, and the horrifying sight of a very robust gate that was luckily only wired closed, we finally made the 6.5 miles back to rte 13.

The thrill of navigating each impossible obstacle was met instantly with panic over what lay ahead. I KNEW we’d eventually reach an impasse. I thought we’d (I’d) be hiking out to find someone to haul the car out. We never did. The Impreza got us through it with nary a scratch, despite being on only two wheels more than once and mowing down brush windshield high.

This is how much daylight we had left when we decided to leave. Not much. I forgot my tripod for this trip. I had to hold the camera on this long exposure, so it came out blurry.

My other attempts were much blurrier


It was an awesome experience – seeing this massive formation, making an Impreza do things it probably shouldn’t do, not getting stranded. I’m glad we didn’t have a plan to stick to.

We took the long way home.