Sunrise at Shiprock (Tsé Bitʼaʼ)

Shiprock is a sacred mountain to the Navajo people and if you are able to visit this location at sunrise, it is easy to see why.

Shiprock ( Navajo: Tsé Bitʼaʼ, “Rock with Wings”) is a towering rock formation that stands alone on the vast high-desert plain within the Navajo Nation in San Juan County of Northwestern New Mexico, only a few miles outside of its namesake town of Shiprock, NM.

With the peak of Shiprock at 1,500 feet above the desert and nothing else around, Shiprock is the most prominent feature in Northern New Mexico. The formation can be seen from up to 50 miles away. This was apparent to us as it took us an hour to arrive at the location after it first came into view.

Why is it here? There are two explications.

Upon our arrival, my first impression was that the formation looks like it just fell out of the sky. It seems I am not the first to have that impression. The Navajo people have creation stories to explain the diverse landscape of their land. Their name for Shiprock is Tsé Bitʼaʼ or “rock with wings” this refers to one such story of a large bird that transported the Navajo people from the north to their current lands.

The geologists will tell you that Shiprock is the remnants of an ancient volcano. The formation you see today is the volcano’s throat as the rest of the volcano structure errored away long ago.

Getting the shots

We arrived in the afternoon and scouted around to decide on the right angle to photograph the formation. Once we had the angle, we liked we waited for the afternoon sun and took some shots. However, the angle and the lighting were not coming together to showcase this unique location. So we decided that the early morning would be better suited to get the look we desired.

Morning Sunrise at Shiprock New Mexico.
Sunrise At Shiprock New Mexico – Buy Now

Arriving before sunrise, we positioned ourselves on the east side of the rock to pick up the early morning light. As highlighted in the top photograph, you can see that the desert to the right is still in darkness. I like the contrasts in this shot. We have some dark clouds behind the rock and the desert still in shadow, but the formation is fully lit by the sun, while highlighting how Shiprock stands alone

The photograph below is a close-up of the rock showing off the sheer grandeur of this formation.

Early Morning Sunrise - Shiprock New Mexico
Early Morning sunrise Shiprock New Mexico – Buy Now

Leave a Reply