Saturday, June 25, 2011

Shiprock and Buffalo Pass-Navajo Route 13-Scenic Drive

Navajo Route 13 makes a junction with Highway 491 a short distance south of the community of Shiprock in northwest New Mexico. Route 13 provides close views of the Shiprock formation and continues over Buffalo Pass in the Lukachukai Mountains 46 miles to Navajo Route 12 and the community of Lukachukai.

Route 13 is not a designated scenic route in the Navajo Nation but it is very scenic and paved all the way. The only difficulty is that in the mountain segment the road is steep and has sharp curves.

The Shiprock formation is a volcanic neck, the remnants of an eruption about 30 or 40 million years ago. For Navajos, Shiprock is “the winged rock” and a character in traditional stories. The height is about 1800 feet and it is visible from many view points in the Four Corners, including Park Point at Mesa Verde National Park. Originally, there was a volcanic cone around the volcanic neck, but this has eroded away leaving what we see now.

Besides the Shiprock Peak, the other noticeable feature is the volcanic dikes that form the wings. Route 13 passes through a gap on one of these wings. These wings formed as the magma filled cracks in the ground during an eruption.

Close to the road, there is a close up view of a section of one of the wings. The Navajo story involves the Gods lifting the ground to deliver the people from enemies. For a while, the people lived on top, descending to work the fields. All was well until one day during a storm, the trail up was split by lightning, preventing some of the people from descending and they slowly died of starvation.

From this legend, the Navajo do not want anyone to climb Shiprock. The name “Shiprock” appeared in the 1870s and is associated with the USGS survey maps.

Route 13 continues past Red Valley and starts to climb into mountains. The terrain changes from grassland to Pinon Juniper forest to Ponderosa Pine forest. Roof Butte seems to be the best known peak along the way. This area is a summer camp for herders. There are side roads leading into the forest with signs advising not to poach the wildlife.

At the top of the mountains there is a picnic area at Buffalo Pass. There are some marked off parking spaces and several picnic tables.

From the picnic area, there are good views back to the east toward Shiprock and Red Valley. Somewhere in the Red Valley and Cove area, there is a large arch known as the Cove Arch or Royal Arch. If it is visible from Route 13 I missed it.

Descending down toward the Lukachukai community there are spruce trees visible in the shady side canyons. There is a wide pullover area on the way down with views toward some sandstone formations. I think this view includes “Butt Rock.” In Navajo mythology, many of the formations in this area were named by Changing Woman as she traveled from the sacred peak known as Mt. Hesperus toward this area. I traveled Route 13 in late June.

528614_Cool Camo Russell Outdoors

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