Shiprock is a 7,177-foot-high rock mountain (monadnock) located in Navajo Nation, San Juan County, New Mexico.
Geologists indicate that the rock was formed 12 million years ago and that it is the exposed throat or neck of an ancient volcano that erupted over 30 million years ago. It is composed of fractured volcanic breccia and black dikes of igneous rock called minette. It was originally formed 2,500–3000 feet below the Earth's surface, but it was exposed after millions of years of erosion.
The name “Shiprock” is only it’s recent title. In the 1870s, Europeans gave the mountain it’s name due to the peak's resemblance to an enormous 19th-century ship. It’s more longstanding name comes from the Navajo nation whereupon the mountain resides. The Navajo call the mountain Tsé Bitʼaʼí or "Rock with Wings”. This mountain isn’t just a “big cool rock” to the Navajos, it is a sacred place that is paramount to their very existence in this region.
"This name comes from an ancient folk myth that tells how the rock was once a great bird that transported the ancestral people of the Navajos to their lands in what is now northwestern New Mexico. The Navajo ancestors had crossed a narrow sea far to the northwest and were fleeing from a warlike tribe. Tribal shamans prayed to the Great Spirit for help. Suddenly the ground rose from beneath their feet to become an enormous bird. For an entire day and night the bird flew south, finally settling at sundown where ‘Shiprock’ now stands." Source
There are a number of other legends regarding what the Shiprock pinnacle might be. Some Navajo traditionalists argue that it is a geological anomaly that it may have originated as a work of the 'star people’. Source
A death in 1970 caused the Navajo Nation to cease all rock climbing on Shiprock (as well as all over the Navajo Nation). This ban was deemed "absolute, final and unconditional.” This was due to the Navajo’s traditional beliefs that deaths can render an area contaminated by evil spirits and leave it as a place that would then need to be avoided.
Because of deaths, littering, and vandalism, the Navajo Nation encourages the public to not drive around the formation as an open access. Hiking, filming, and driving is all prohibited to the public due to its sacred nature and its sacred space. “According to the Navajo traditionalists, there is an ecosystem of living and non-living matter that needs to be protected and unharmed. In the Navajo traditional way, people are to respect the ecosystem and not disrupt its processes.” Source
All areas near the formation are closed off to the public. It is recommended that the public stay near the paved road and at least three miles away from the formation and 20 feet from the lava dikes or wall.