Shiprock and Royal Arch

If you're traveling between the Farmington area (Bisti Badlands, King of Wings) and Canyon de Chelly think about visiting these two destinations on the way. While Shiprock is often photographed, Royal Arch is rarely visited and is one of the most photogenic arches in Arizona.


Shiprock is a black volcanic neck (aka volcanic plug) in northeast New Mexico. Shiprock rises 1,700 feet above the surrounding plains and can be seen from fifty miles away. It was formed when cooling lava plugged a vent on a volcano that erupted thirty million years ago. Over time the surrounding sandstone eroded away exposing only the harder volcanic plug.

Shiprock is sacred to the Navajo people and climbing it is strictly forbidden. Shiprock was climbed for the first time in 1939. This climb was the first time a climb was done using expansion bolts in addition to the then usual pitons. The climb took four days, with only twelve feet of progress being made on one day. The Shiprock climb is still considered difficult.

There are several volcanic dykes (dikes) radiating from Shiprock with the largest running due south. A volcanic dyke is formed when lava enters a crack in the surrounding rock and solidifies. Over time the surrounding rock erodes away exposing only the dyke.

Shiprock photographs best near sunrise from the south. Sunset is also possible but the volcanic dyke will not be lit. Include the volcanic dyke radiating to the south as a leading line. The dyke can be climbed in a few areas, the easiest of which is shown on the map below. Chartering an airplane and shooting aerials of the volcanic dyke and Shiprock will produce great images as well.

The winter months generally bring better light than the summer, though wildflowers are present throughout June and provide good foreground.

Route to Shiprock

Shiprock is best early morning so I suggest you stay in Farmington which is the nearest town with good lodging. Camping near Shiprock itself is forbidden. Allow at least one hour to get from Farmington to Shiprock. From Farmington take US 64 west to Shiprock and bear left at the intersection with US 491. Continue 7.1 miles on US 64, 491 and turn right (west) onto the paved Indian Service Route 13. Continue 7.6 miles on IR 13 and turn right (north) onto IR 5010, a good dirt road. Follow IR 5010 north to Shiprock, which is about 3.5 miles away.

Google map of Shiprock, Royal Arch

The Palouse

To view the map in Google Maps please click anywhere on the map above.

Shiprock is covered by the Ship Rock USGS 24K map. Caution - there are two USGS 24K maps with similar names, Shiprock is covered by the "Ship Rock" map, and the town of Shiprock by the "Shiprock" map. The "Ship Rock" map can be downloaded in a variety of formats below:

Geo Tiff/Avenza KMZ Oruxmaps KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Ship Rock KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared

Royal Arch

Royal Arch, also known as Cove Arch, is a superb rarely visited destination in the four corners area. This free standing arch sits at 7,100 feet, well above the surrounding terrain. Shiprock, 25 miles away, can be easily seen in the distance. Royal Arch is a free standing arch with a span of 76 feet, and a height of 170 feet.

Royal arch is most easily photographed at a distance from the east. It is a good sunrise destination. Royal Arch gets very early light and can be photographed at dawn. You will need to camp near the arch if you wish to shoot at dawn as the road to the arch is strictly high clearance 4WD, is five slow miles long, and is heavily rutted. Royal Arch is in the Navajo Nation and a hiking / camping permit is required to visit it. Information on permits can be found here.

Royal Arch can also be shot from close-up with an ultra wide-angle lens or panorama head. Shooting from the arches southwest corner from mid-afternoon on would work well. The arch could also be shot at a distance from its west side. This would require a long hike around the formation the arch sits on.

USGS 24K Topo Maps

Royal Arch is covered by the Cove USGS 24K map. If you wish to visit the area to the west below the arch you'll also need the Mexican Cry Mesa topo map. Both maps and a merge of the two can be downloaded below:

Geo Tiff/Avenza KMZ Oruxmaps KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Cove KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Mexican Cry Mesa KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Merge of both maps NA NA KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared


The Bow of Shiprock in New Mexico

The Bow of Shiprock

Shiprock and Volcanic Dyke

Shiprock and Volcanic Dyke

Royal Arch, also known as Cove Arch, in New Mexico

Royal Arch

Royal Arch, also known as Cove Arch, in New Mexico

Royal Arch seen from its southwest corner