Photographing Shiprock

New Mexico 2015-14Shiprock (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 flat dirt road that runs parallel to the dike. I drove a 4×4 Jeep Cherokee and the ground was frozen and 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.

New Mexico 2015-12The 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.

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 enjoy the unique, rugged beauty of the area.

2 thoughts on “Photographing Shiprock

  1. Hello Mario, I would like to thank you for the details about photographing Shiprock at sunrise and sunset. I am looking to make a trip at the end of April (2018). My aim is to capture the rock somehow with the moonrise or moonset within the frame. I use the Photographer’s Ephemeris to plot where it will be in the sky. Do you have any more information that you can share? Your blog post is several years old, so I don’t know if any road restrictions have been put in place. I will be coming down from Denver, via Santa Fe. Thanks! Rosanne Juergens,

    1. Hi Rosanne–sending you an email with an attached map that might be helpful. I’m not aware of any road or access restrictions to the base of the rock itself. In the event there are, you can park at the beginning of the access road and walk–it’s probably 2-1/2 miles one-way, but flat. I’d watch for snakes in warm weather, but otherwise you’re more likely to see rabbits and some ponies.

      I recommend shooting sunrise from the southeast and sunset from the southwest. That will light up the rock with good color, clouds permitting. You can get very close to the rock and park southeast of it. The road branches off to the west and climbs over the dyke, which is low at that spot. (You might be able to drive over it, but it’s a short walk and I wouldn’t take the chance.) You can find good sunset spots to the southwest.

      Beyond that, TPE should give you a good idea where the moon will be. You may catch some ambient light from Shiprock and Farmington at night, so shooting from the southeast or east would probably be best.

      Hope this helps–


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