Shiprock, New Mexico

Shiprock (Navajo: Naatʼáanii Nééz) is a census-designated place (CDP) in San Juan County, New Mexico, United States, on the Navajo reservation. The population was 8,156 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Farmington Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Shiprock, New Mexico
Naat’áanii Nééz
Location of Shiprock, New Mexico
Shiprock, New Mexico
Location in the United States
Coordinates: 36°47′34″N 108°41′14″W
CountryUnited States
StateNew Mexico
CountySan Juan
  Total16.2 sq mi (42.0 km2)
  Land15.9 sq mi (41.1 km2)
  Water0.3 sq mi (0.9 km2)
4,892 ft (1,491 m)
  Density513.6/sq mi (198.3/km2)
Time zoneUTC-7 (Mountain (MST))
  Summer (DST)UTC-6 (MDT)
ZIP codes
87420, 87461
Area code(s)505
FIPS code35-72770
GNIS feature ID0902354

Shiprock is named after the nearby Shiprock rock formation. Since 1903, the town has been called Naat’áanii Nééz (meaning “tall leader” in the Navajo language) in reference to the San Juan Indian Agency superintendent William T. Shelton who settled Shiprock for the United States government.

It is home to the annual Northern Navajo Fair, held every October. Since 1984, the community has been the host of the Shiprock Marathon and Relay. It is also home to a campus of Diné College (formerly Navajo Community College), a tribally controlled community college with seven other campuses across the Navajo Nation. It is the site of a Chapter House for the Navajo, a Bureau of Indian Affairs agency and the Northern Navajo Medical Center (an Indian Health Service hospital).[1]

Shiprock is a key road junction for truck traffic and tourists visiting the Four Corners, Mesa Verde, Shiprock and the Grand Canyon. The town lies at the intersection of U.S. Route 64 and U.S. Route 491 (formerly U.S. Route 666).


Shiprock was founded on September 11, 1903 by San Juan Agency superintendent William Taylor Shelton after being assigned to the northern Navajo by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A former U.S. government instructor in agriculture at the Cherokee School in Yellow Hill, North Carolina (now Cherokee, NC), Shelton had moved up through BIA ranks to be given the appointment to open an Indian agency and boarding school. He founded Shiprock Indian School and administrative agency with a staff of three white and three Navajo employees. Shiprock Indian Boarding School remained until the American Indian boarding school system was phased out in the early 1980s.[2]

The settlement encompassed land originally belonging to Tséheya Begay. According to one of Shelton's early reports, Navajo had been irrigating the land for many years, with 275 farms drawing water from approximately 25 ditches between the Shiprock area and Farmington. Under Shelton, the agency expanded the irrigation system and developed a dairy herd as part of its agricultural progra; a sawmill near Sanostee and coal mine in the Hogback area were also developed. Early buildings in Shiprock were constructed of log and adobe, but brick replaced these materials after the disastrous flood of 1912.

The superintendent was known as a disciplinarian who was ruthless in his prosecution of “moral lapses,” but is said to have been generally respected throughout the region, particularly for his efforts in adding the Utah-Colorado extension to the main Navajo Reservation.[3]


The Shiprock Chapter government is a branch of the Navajo Nation government which exercise varied delegated powers and governmental authority in accordance with Navajo statutory, regulatory, and common law. The basis of local government for the Navajo Reservation, the Chapter was initiated in 1922 as a means of improving agricultural conditions at a local level. Later the Chapter became the basic political subdivision of Navajo Tribal Government. The Chapters elect representatives to the Navajo Tribal Council, the legislative branch of Navajo government.[4]


Shiprock is located at 36°47′34″N 108°41′14″W (36.792789, −108.687294).[5]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 16.2 square miles (42 km2), of which 15.9 square miles (41 km2) is land and 0.3 square miles (0.78 km2) (2.10%) is water.

The Navajo Tribal Utility in December 2018 announced it planned to begin construction on a new water treatment plant in 2020 or 2021. The existing plant is 50 years old and currently adequate, but a water rights settlement between the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico will bring an additional 7000 acre feet of water into the area from the Animas, La Plata and San Juan rivers.[6]


As of the census[7] of 2000, there were 8,156 people, 2,184 households, and 1,847 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 513.6 people per square mile (198.3/km²). There were 2,594 housing units at an average density of 163.3 per square mile (63.1/km²). The racial makeup of the CDP was 96.74% Native American, 2.17% White, 0.16% African American, 0.12% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.10% from other races, and 0.70% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.29% of the population. In 2010, the population of Shiprock was 8,295, which is an increase of +1.7% since 2000.

There were 2,184 households out of which 52.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.0% were married couples living together, 28.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 15.4% were non-families. 13.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 3.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.73 and the average family size was 4.06.

In the CDP, the population was spread out with 38.6% under the age of 18, 11.6% from 18 to 24, 28.4% from 25 to 44, 16.5% from 45 to 64, and 4.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 25 years. For every 100 females, there were 92.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.3 males.

The median income for a household in the CDP was $24,523, and the median income for a family was $24,951. Males had a median income of $24,032 versus $17,328 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $7,967. About 38.3% of families and 39.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 43.2% of those under age 18 and 47.5% of those age 65 or over. In 2010, estimated median household income was $31,805, which is 29.7% above the value in 2000 (it was $24,523 in 2000).


The Central Consolidated School District serves Shiprock as well as other communities in western San Juan County. Shiprock is home to Shiprock High School, Northwest High School (7th to 12th grade), Career Prep High School, Tsé Bit'a'í Middle School, Mesa Elementary School, Nizhoni Elementary School, Eva B. Stokely Elementary School[8] and Atsá Biyáázh Community School.

In film

The 1987 film Made in U.S.A. directed by Ken Friedman and starring Adrian Pasdar, Chris Penn and Lori Singer is partially referred to Shiprock.[9]

Paramount's 1994 film Pontiac Moon starring Ted Danson was partially shot here.

In 1996 the location was the focus of the film ‘The Sunchaser’ starring Woody Harrelson, a fictional story of a surgeon who helps a Navajo teen reach the mountain.

It was one of the filming locations for the 1994 crime film Natural Born Killers.

The 2002 film Rocks With Wings, directed by Rick Derby, follows the Navajo members of the Lady Chieftains, the girls' basketball team from Shiprock High School, as they struggle with a new (black) coach, their own expectations, and those of their community and the "Anglo" world around them.

The 2017 documentary Mayors of Shiprock focuses on the group of native youths who are making a positive change in their community.[10]


  4. David E. Wilkins (1999) The Navajo Political Experience. Chapter 9. Diné College Press. ISBN 9780912586809
  5. "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  6. James Preminger (December 26, 2018). "More water for Shiprock means new wastewater treatment plant". Navajo Nation Messenger. The Independent. p. A1.
  7. "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  8. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-09-09. Retrieved 2013-08-29.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. "FILM In Farmington".
  10. Noel Lynn Smith (7 April 2017). "'Mayors of Shiprock' to premiere Friday". The Daily Times (Farmington). Retrieved 7 November 2017.

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