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Scenic USA - New Mexico

Ship Rock Peak

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Ship Rock Peak - Shiprock, New Mexico

Photo by Bob Christopher
Bob Christopher Photography

     New Mexico, often called the Land of Enchantment, is best known for its scenic beauty and rich cultural heritage. One of the lesser known facts of the state is based on much older history, i.e. the area's tectonic activity and large variety of volcanic rock, cinder cones and volcanoes. This Land of Volcanoes holds one of the greatest concentrations of young, exposed and uneroded volcanoes in North America.
     One of the many remnants of New Mexico's volcanic activity is located in the Four Corners Region, where the common borders of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona meet. Ship Rock Peak is about 20 miles southwest of the town of Shiprock in the northwest corner of the state. Standing nearly 1600 feet above the surrounding plains, the sacred Ship Rock Peak is the most prominent landmark in the area. Called Tse Bit'a'i by the Navajo, the name simply means rock with wings to the Tribe. To the rest of us not fluent in Navajo, its resemblance of a 19th-century clipper ship gave it the name Ship Rock Peak and has been charted on maps since the 1870s.
     Explaining it in geological terms, Ship Rock Peak is all that remains of a large volcanic cinder cone. This eroded volcanic neck, or plug, is mostly crystallized magma, formed during one of the area's early magmatic events. Over time, the entire surrounding volcano has been eroded away leaving this impressive core. Although you may read how people drive up to and around the peak, it should be recognized that Ship Rock is on Navajo land and the west side of the peak is private land. Permits are issued by the Navajo to camp and hike in some areas, but not for sacred monuments such as Ship Rock.
     Volcanoes and volcanic rock are what make a large portion of the New Mexico landscape unique. Surprisingly, there are more National Parks in New Mexico based on volcanic themes than any other state in the West. Another startling fact, most of the cities of New Mexico are situated nearby extinct volcanoes. There are more inactive volcanoes surrounding Albuquerque than any other city in the United States. The Rio Grande Rift, or fault, runs the entire length of New Mexico. Today, there is no volcanic activity in the state, but molten rock lurks just 12 miles below the earth's surface near the towns of Socorro and Belen. The last eruptions occurred here in the El Malpais area about three thousand years ago.

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