Legend of The Shiprock

Shiprock, or the Winged Rock, is located on Navajo Nation lands in the northwestern corner of New Mexico. Millions of years ago, a volcano stood in this place. As its activity decreased, the magma feeding the volcano hardened into solid rock, crystallizing part of the volcano’s “circulatory system.” Over eons, the softer overlying rock eroded, exposing the hidden workings of the ancient volcano. The Shiprock and the surrounding land have religious and historical significance to the Navajo people. It is mentioned in many of their myths and legends. Foremost is the peak's role as the agent that brought the Navajo to the southwest. 

According to one legend, the structure is called Tsé Bitʼaʼí or “the rock with wings,” myth says that the Shiprock was a piece of land that became a bird, carrying the ancestral people of the Navajo on its back. After being transported from another place, the Navajos lived on the monolith, "coming down only to plant their fields and get water." One day, the peak was struck by lightning, obliterating the trail and leaving only a sheer cliff, and stranding the women and children on top to starve. The presence of people on the peak is forbidden "for fear they might stir up the chį́įdii (ghosts), or rob their corpses."

Navajo legend also places the rock in the context of the entire landscape. Shiprock is said to be the medicine bag or bow carried by a giant, mythical, man-like being, whose body is made up of various mountain ranges and peaks. There's also another legend that says that flesh-eating Bird Monsters lived atop the Shiprock. One of the two Warrior Twins, Monstery Slayer, killed two of the Bird Monsters and turned one baby Bird Monster into an eagle, and another into an owl. The rock is even mentioned in various chants and ceremonies.

In late March 1970 based on American Alpine Journal 1971 accident report, an injury to a climber  caused the Navajo Nation to ban rock climbing not only on Shiprock but all over the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation announced that the ban was "absolute, final and unconditional", and was due to "the Navajo's traditional fear of death and its aftermath, such accidents and especially fatalities often render the area where they occur as taboo, and the location is sometimes henceforth regarded as contaminated by evil spirits and is considered a place to be avoided." The pinnacle is located on private property areas from the Navajo grazing holders and is currently monitored and overseen by Shiprock tribal community advocates. There are two Navajo chapter tribal government organizations that claim jurisdiction over the formation. The Navajo tribal parks and recreation does not have jurisdiction over the formation due to its not presently being a tribal park. The formation is highly considered a sacred and religious site to the Navajo people.


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