Life on the Navajo Nation is hard and as a rule the people who live here are poor. But they have a strong culture and are surrounded by some of the prettiest desert scenery anywhere.
When I was a younger man, I enjoyed reading the fiction novels of Tony Hillerman, which featured Navajo detective Jim Chee, a member of the Navajo Tribal Police. The settings in Hillerman's novels captured my imagination and I was happy to finally see this territory some 30 years ago for the first time.
I'm happy to report that the area has not lost its appeal. Recently my wife and I traveled north from Gallup to the town of Shiprock in New Mexico, then on to Colorado and Utah. The stark desert landscape is dotted with massive rock monuments, the largest of which is Shiprock itself, near the Four Corners region.
(Views from Navajo Nation)
Shiprock is a dramatic peak which is about 20 miles from the town of Shiprock. It's 1,583 feet (482 meters) above the surrounding ground and its peak reaches 7,177 feet (2,188 meters). The mountain is the plug of an extinct volcano, the outer layers having been eroded away by the elements over time. White folks gave it the name Shiprock because of its resemblance to a clipper with full sails. Its Navajo name is Tsé Bitʼaʼí, which means "rock with wings" or "winged rock", because at certain angles the rock resembles a bird sitting on a nest. It's important in Navajo mythology as it is believed that this bird once carried the Navajo people to safety here in northern New Mexico.
It is now illegal to climb Shiprock, although it was first summited in the 1930s by a climbing team from California. Shiprock has been designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.
(Photo of Shiprock, courtesy of Bowie Snodgrass and Wikimedia)