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a The ominous looking Shiprock, located on the Navajo lands of northwestern New Mexico. Shiprock would become the focal point for desert climbing in the early-mid 1900s. Shiprock is deeply revered in Navajo mythology—a dark, ghostly, and disturbing rock—and today it is illegal to climb within the Navajo Nation without special permission. Eric Bjornstad collection/AAC Library


Before there were climbers in the Southwest, there were explorers. Just traveling through this remote, dry, wilderness was challenging enough. On their travels, they saw amazing sights: vast labyrinths of silent canyons; thundering rivers that arrived from unknown sources and flowed who-knows-where; never-seen-before mountain ranges. The few plucky individuals who began the mountaineering tradition in the Western U.S. started with easy pickings either in the Rockies or the Sierra. Pikes Peak was first ascended in 1820, Mt. Shasta in 1854, Longs Peak in 1868 and Mt. Whitney in 1873. The vast space between the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies was too forbidding, too alien.