Photographing Shiprock

Shiprock at sunset.

Shiprock at sunset.

Shiprock (in Navajo Tsé Bitʼaʼí, "rock with wings" or "winged rock") is a huge rock that rises almost 1,600' above the  desert in the northwest corner of New Mexico. I arranged my schedule to shoot a sunset and a sunrise in December 2015. Getting there is easy, up to a point. From Highway 491, about 7 miles south of Shiprock, NM, turn west on Indian Service Road 13 (Red Rock Highway.) Drive about 7 miles and turn onto the dirt road just before the dike that leads to Shiprock. You can't miss it.

While you can photograph Shiprock from the turn-off, if you have the right kind of vehicle and weather, I encourage you to consider (at your own risk) driving at least two miles up the dirt road that runs parallel to the dike. Be aware: the road is deeply rutted and uneven. I drove a 4x4 Jeep Cherokee and the ground was frozen and dry; no problems. (I drove it a second time in the fall in a small pickup and it was dry; no problems.) I drove no faster than 5 miles an hour and carefully picked my way through the ruts and across the washboard. I would not recommend this if the ground is soaked or in a regular passenger car. If the weather is decent, you can also walk this without difficulty if you're up to a 4-mile round trip hike. It was very cold and windy when I shot, so walking was not an appealing option.

Recommended sunrise & sunset spots. (click to enlarge)

The sunset opportunity was marred somewhat by low overcast; however, it began to clear out by sunset. The weather was very cold, about 35°, but the windchill was 14°. Not knowing how long it might take me to get to a good vantage point, I arrived in early afternoon and waited three hours for the sun to set and the clouds to clear. A nap helped fill the time. (Note: the cell coverage here is excellent.)

Sunrise posed another challenge: navigating the dirt road in the dark. Fortunately, I could see my tracks from the night before and with the GPS, I was able to get back to my original spot without difficulty. The wind had not abated and it was even colder.

I returned the next day before sunrise. As the sun rises it first lights the peak of Shiprock and then spreads gradually down the rest of the rock. The rock takes on a reddish hue as the sky begins to turn blue. Eventually, the rock's color shifts again to a more tan color and the drama begins to fade.

I used a tripod to capture some images before heading back to civilization. Note: this is Navajo land and I saw no signs prohibiting access. Be respectful and responsible and enjoy the unique, rugged beauty of the area.

Shiprock, late afternoon.

Shiprock, late afternoon.