Tsé Bitʼaʼí, the rock with wings Like the sails of a ship…

Tsé Bitʼaʼí, the rock with wings

Like the sails of a ship against the horizon, the rugged and craggy volcanic plug of Tsé Bitʼaʼí rises 482 meters from the dusty high-desert plain of New Mexico. The steep rock is all what remains of a plug in the vent of an active volcano. The feeding conduit of the volcano was buried about a kilometer below ground when it formed during a violent volcanic eruption 30 million years ago. Over eons the soft rock of the surrounding volcano eroded away leaving behind only a hard neck of breccia (a typical fractured type of rock). Long narrow ridges called dikes seem to radiate away from the volcanic crag. As with the volcanic plug, these dikes were buried deep below the ground and as time went by became exposed to the elements.

In Navajo language Tsé Bitʼaʼí translates as the rock with wings. Legend goes that the ancestral Navajo had to cross a narrow sea fleeing a warlike tribe. The people pleaded for help from the Great Spirit when suddenly an giant bird appeared. The bird took them on its wings and flew away to what is now New Mexico. At sundown the bird opened its wings and turned to stone. Thus the people settled on the rugged rock where they lived for a long time. Then the isolated rock was struck by lightning killing many tribe members. Thus, to this day the funnel-shaped peak is off limits for visitors as they might disturb the spirits of the ones left behind.

Other legends claim that an enormous bird of prey, also known as Man-eating Bird nested on top of the rugged plug. This horrendous bird was one of the final monsters the Hero Twins, two of the most important characters in Navajo mythology, had to slay. When they finally did, human beings could finally roam the earth.


Image 1: Courtesy of Bowie Snodgrass. Image 2: The dikes radiating away from the volcanic plug are clearly visible in this image. Copyright Doc Searls.