Ah-shi-sle-pah

Ah-shi-sle-pah is a wash in the northwest part of New Mexico. The nearest major town is Farmington, NM, over fifty miles away. There are three areas of photographic interest in the wash: the Wilderness Study Area (WSA) on the south side of the the wash, the King of Wings (KOW) area on the north side, and Valley of Dreams (VOD) also on the south side but outside the WSA. On my last trip I tried to reach VOD by memory which proved faulty. I ended up about a mile east of VOD. Here I found a fourth group of mudstone hoodoos which I'll call Valley of Dreams East. This area should be just as productive as VOD. It has a great many hoodoos and capped mudstone formations all in a small area. You can drive all the way to VOD East on sandy roads, and start your explorations right from your car! This is very convenient for sunrise and sunset shots.

All three areas of Ah-shi-sle-pah are within hiking distance of each other. It would be a very long day to go to all three, and you would miss the golden hour at some of them. I suggest you spend a day at each to explore the areas and to get the good light of both sunrise and sunset. In addition to these three areas the remainder of Ah-shi-sle-pah is worth exploring, I an sure there are many other formations yet to be "discovered".

Where to stay

Farmington has many hotels and good restaurants. Farmington is within an hour of Shiprock and Aztec National Monument. These are both well worth shooting. You will need to leave Farmington about two hours before sunrise to arrive at the WSA / KOW/ VOD in time for sunrise. For both KOW and the WSA you will need to hike about one mile one-way to get to the formations. You may want to scout out these locations the day before if you plan to shoot sunrise. The formations of VOD East are very close to parking so there is no need to scout the location earlier.

Car and backcountry camping is permitted on BLM land in the area. Land ownership is shown in the following map:

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The numbered areas above are called sections and are one square mile (640 acres). The blocks of 36 sections are called townships. A township is 6 miles square (36 square miles). Sections are often used on maps showing land ownership. Western land rights were often granted by the section, quarter section, sixteenth of a section, etc. Some western USGS 24K topo maps show sections and townships as well as latitude and longitude. This allows you to relate land ownership to latitude and longitude. Most of Ah-shi-sle-pah is on the Pueblo Bonita NW 24K map. This map show section boundaries. Combining the land ownership map above with the Pueblo Bonita NW 24K topo map land implies land is owned as follows:

  • WSA : Both the parking area and the entire WSA is on BLM land. You can car camp near the parking area or can backpack into the WSA and camp there.
  • KOW: The King of Wings is on BLM land as is the wash below it. You can backcountry camp at either. Please do not camp right at the KOW, camp at least 100 yards away, or in the wash. The trailhead to the KOW is on Native American land. Car camping there is not advised though people often do it.
  • VOD and VOD East: Both the parking area and formations are largely on tribal lands. I recommend you do not camp there.

Note - to access KOW or VOD you must either drive or hike on Native American land. Please respect it. Do not walk on crops, approach animals, tear up roads by driving on them in poor weather, or drive offroad. Leave gates as you find them, closed if closed, open if open. Leave no trace. The Native Americans living near Ah-shi-sle-pah practice subsistence farming/ranching with small herds of cows, horses, goats and sheep common. Do not disturb their traditional way of life or we will lose the ability to visit these areas. Closures have happened in other areas such as the land owned by the Kaibeto chapter in Arizona.

When to Go

At 6,000 feet plus winters are cold at Ah-shi-sle-pah, and summers very warm. The Four Corners area can be very windy and dust storms are common in the Spring. June is dry and winds have largely subsided. It is a good month to visit if you do not mind clear skies. If it rains much during the summer roads will be impassable and you will not be able to hike on the clay based soils. The best season is Autumn, temperatures and winds are moderate, and the monsoon season has largely passed.

Getting There

King of Wings

  • From Farmington take NM 371 45.5 miles south of the intersection of NM 371 and the San Juan River to the intersection of NM 371 and CR 7650.
  • CR 7650 is a gravel road for the first few miles and then turns to packed dirt/clay. The road is suitable for passenger cars when dry. When wet it is very easy to get stuck no matter what vehicle you have. Take CR 7650 10.1 miles and turn right onto a sandy Jeep road,. There is a cattle guard just before the turn.
  • Take the jeep road 2.1 miles to where it turns east. There is a barbed wire fence along the south edge of the road. Park anywhere here.
  • The hike to the KOW is 0.9 miles almost due south from where you park. There are no trails. I suggest you route yourself to the KOW in your GPS and carefully follow the heading, or follow the track in the map below. By Following the heading carefully or the track you will avoid some dead ends and backtracking. To start your hike go under the barbed wire fence and cross the grassy field following the southerly heading in your GPS. After about 1600 feet you will reach an area of Chinle (Bentonite) badlands. The badlands will be difficult to cross if wet and there are many small washes crisscrossing them. The washes range from an annoyance to impossible to cross so I suggest you spend as little time on the Chinle as possible. On entering the Chinle rolling hills you will see another grassy knoll about 1000 feet to the south, aim for it and hike across the knoll. After leaving the knoll proceed south again across the Chinle for another 1000 feet to reach the King of Wings. The KOW cannot be seen until you are quite close to it. There are some other good photo ops near the KOW in the wash below and to the northeast.

Valley of Dreams / East

  • From Farmington proceed to CR 7650 as above. Take CR 76560 7.8 miles and turn right onto CR 7870. CR 7870 is a good dirt road.
  • Take 7870 to GPS location 36.12427 N, 107.98073 W and turn left on a dirt road. After 0.4 miles bear left. At 1.1 miles a road comes in from the left. To get to Valley of Dream parking take the left for about 0.6 miles and park anywhere to begin your hike north.
  • For VOD East instead of turning left at the above intersection bear right. It is also possible to continue straight at this intersection but the road straight shortly becomes very sandy so avoid it.
  • After bearing right continue 0 .2 miles and turn sharply left . The road continues for another 0.9 miles to your destination.
  • Valley of Dreams can be easily reached from VOD East, just hike in a WNW direction for a bit over a mile staying in the wash.

Ah-shi-sle-pah WSA

  • Thus area is best approached from the east using US Highway 550 from Bloomfield.
  • From the intersection of US 64 and US 550 in Bloomfield proceed south 28.3 miles to the intersection of US 550 and SR 57.
  • Turn right on SR 57 and continue 18.3 miles and park on SR 57 near the closed road heading north.
  • On foot follow the old road 0.6 miles to an overlook of the WSA.
  • You're on your own from here!

Shooting Tips

All three areas get good light at both sunrise and sunset. In my opinion KOW is slightly better at sunset than sunrise but see the pictures in the gallery and judge for yourself. You'll need a wide angle lens to best shoot KOW from the south side of the blade, 14-24 mm works well. Remember wide angles emphasize the foreground, if you want a long blade, shoot at 14mm from close up. All three locations work in the blue hour. KOW is an excellent location for star circles, shoot with a wide angle below the blade and a few feet from it to the south. Place the north star to the left of the blade.

Maps

Here is an overview map showing all three areas and additionally, routes into Chaco Canyon:


Ah Shi Sle Pah map

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

USGS 24K Topo Maps

Two topo maps cover the entire area of interest: Pueblo Bonita NW covers Ah-shi-sle-pah wash, and Pueblo Bonita covers Chaco Canyon. They can be downloaded in a variety of formats by clicking or right-clicking below:

Geo Tiff/Avenza KMZ Oruxmaps KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Pueblo Bonito NW KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Pueblo Bonito KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Merge of both maps NA NA KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared