Shiprock Peak
(Tsé Bita - Rock With Wings)

Shiprock Peak as seen from Shiprock Hospital.
Shiprock Peak as seen from I.H.S. Shiprock Northern Medical Center, at Shiprock (Naatáanii Nééz or Tóhní), New Mexico.


Sheep corral just east of Shiprock Peak, Ts Bit'a'.

Shiprock Peak is the "neck", or remains of a solidified lava core, of a dormant 40 million year old volcanic pinnacle. It is shaped somewhat like a 19th century Clipper Ship with high trap-dykes running north from Utah and south from the main spire and rising about 1,800 feet above the four-corners New Mexican plain. It's elevation is 7,178 feet above sea level. It lies about 13 miles southwest of the town of Shiprock, New Mexico, and 6 miles west of Highway 66. It is also visible from Dził Náoodiłii (Mountain Around Which Traveling was Done), which is about 40 to 50 miles east of Shiprock peak.

The pinnacle was called the Needle by Captain J.F. McComb in 1860. The name Shiprock apparently came into use in the 1870s as indicated by the U.S., Geological Survey Maps. The Anglo-Americans legend is that while they were in the area they noticed the similarity between the rock and the 19th century Clipper sailing ship of the time, giving it the name "Shiprock". Until October of 1939, its ragged and sheer sides had never been climbed. Climbers from the Sierra Club of California made the first ascent. Navajo beliefs resent such invasion of their sacred peak causing it to now to be illegal to climb. The following Navajo legend illustrates the reason why the Navajo (Diné) resent the climbing of their Tsé Bita:

A long time ago the Diné were hard pressed by their enemies. One night their medicine men prayed for their deliverance, having their prayers heard by the Gods. They caused the ground to rise, lifting the Diné, and moved the ground like a great wave into the east away from their enemies. It settled where Shiprock Peak now stands. These Navajos then lived on the top of this new mountain, only coming down to plant their fields and to get water.

For some time all went well. Then one day during a storm, and while the men were working in the fields, the trail up the rock was split off by lightning and only a sheer cliff was left. The women, children, and old men on the top slowly starved to death, leaving their bodies to settle there.

A Stamp of Shiprock Peak, Ts Bit'a', issued in 1962 for commemoration of 50 years of New Mexico Statehood (1912 to 1962).

Therefore, because of this legend, the Navajos do not want any one to climb Shiprock Peak for fear of stirring up the chiidii, or rob their corpses.

Shiprock Peak has a number of other myths and ceremonies associated with it, these being the Bead Chant, the Naayééee Ceremony, and the Enemy Side ceremony. The Naayééee ceremony has a story of a large bird called Tsénináhálééh (Picking Up Feathers), a bird that lived on top of Shiprock Peak and flew to Roof Butte (Dził Dah Neeztínii - Where the Mountain Went Out on Top) to get men, never women. The bird went to Roof Butte every day. He is not at Shiprock Peak any more, but lives in the Sun’s house. He was the child of the Sun and Changing Women. There are also stories told of Shiprock Peak in the Enemy Side ceremony.


Photo of Shiprock Peak, Tsé Bita, New Mexico on the Navajo Nation. Photo was taken in 1914.


Another photo of Shiprock Peak, Tsé Bita, New Mexico on the Navajo Nation.


Dondo (Harrison Lapahie Jr.), Lillie Todychini, mom of Dondo, and Julia Armstrong, grandma of Dondo, on New Mexico State Highway 666 (now 491), the road between Table Mesa (Hal Gai - Bare White or Desolate) and Shiprock (Naatáanii Nééz or Tóhní), going to Naatáanii Nééz. Photo was taken during the summer of 1969.


A painting of Shiprock Peak (Tsé Bita), done by Edward Carl, a Navajo younster who attended Shiprock Boarding School in the 1920's and 30's. Edward Carl died of tuberculosis in the 1930's while just turning a teenager. This picture was in dad's, Harrison Lapahie's, silversmith shop in the back of the Lapahie apartment in Los Angeles. From 1974 to 1979, dad (and sometimes mom, Lille Lapahie) would use some of their free time making Navajo bracelets, rings, and bolo ties. The reason this picture was added was because of the rememberance of dad in his silversmith shop, playing the cassettes and vinyl records of old Navajo songs while singing along with them.


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URL: /Shiprock_Peak.cfm
Creator(s): Harrison Lapahie Jr.
Dated Created: 08/27/2001
Version: 3.1
Updated: 05/18/2014
Curator(s): Harrison Lapahie Jr.
Resource(s): Home photos, Dondo's stamp collection
Questions/Comments: Curator

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