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 area (WA) on the south side of the wash, the King of Wings (KOW) area on the north side, and the Valley of Dreams (VOD) also on the south side but outside the WA. 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 called Valley of Dreams East. This area has many hoodoos and capped mudstone formations, all in a small area. You can drive 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. Going to all three would make for a very long day, and you would miss the golden hour at some of them. You should spend a day at each to explore the area and get the good light of sunrise and sunset. In addition to these three areas, the remainder of Ah-shi-sle-pah is worth exploring, and I am 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 worth shooting. You should leave Farmington about two hours before sunrise to arrive at the WA / KOW/ VOD in time for sunrise. You must hike about one mile to get to the formations for the KOW and the wilderness area. If you plan to shoot sunrise, you may want to scout these locations the day before. The formations of VOD East are very close to parking, so there is no need to scout the location earlier.

Backcountry camping is permitted on BLM land in the area. Car camping is allowed on BLM land outside the wilderness area. Land ownership is shown in the following map:

Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Land Ownership Map

The BLM graciously provides a geopdf version of the map on their website. Mapc2mapc can be used to convert it to a variety of other formats such as a kmz file viewable in Google Earth.

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 used on maps showing land ownership. Western land rights were frequently granted by the section, quarter section, sixteenth of a section, etc. Some western USGS 24K topo maps show sections, townships, latitude, and longitude. Maps with sections allow you to relate land ownership to latitude and longitude. The BLM and the Navajo Nation own most of the land in Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah wash. Most of Ah-shi-sle-pah is on the Pueblo Bonita NW 24K map. This map shows section boundaries. Combining the land ownership map above with the Pueblo Bonita NW 24K topo map land implies land is owned as follows:

  • WA: The parking area and the entire WA are on BLM land. You can car camp near the parking area or backpack into the WA and camp there. You cannot fly a drone in the wilderness area.
  • KOW: The King of Wings is on BLM land, as is the wash below it. You can backcountry camp at either. The King of Wings lies outside the wilderness area. You can fly a drone there. 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 BLM land just outside of tribal lands. Car camping there is allowed but not advised.
  • VOD and VOD East: 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 drive or hike on Native American land. Please respect it. Please 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. Small herds of cows, horses, goats, and sheep are common. Refrain from disturbing their traditional way of life, or we will lose the ability to visit these areas. Closures have happened in other areas, such as Grand Falls (closed 3/1/23) and 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. If you are okay with clear skies or want to shoot the Milky Way, it is a good month to visit. If it rains much during the summer, roads will be impassable, and you cannot hike on the clay-based soils. The best season is autumn; temperatures and winds are moderate, and the monsoon season has largely passed.

Average High and Low Temperature in Farmington, NM

Average High and Low Temperature in Farmington, NM - © Weatherspark.com

Average Cloud Cover in Farmington, NM

Average Cloud Cover in Farmington, NM - © Weatherspark.com

Average Monthly Rainfall  in Farmington, NM

Average Monthly Rainfall in Farmington, NM - © Weatherspark.com

Average Wind Speed in Farmington, NM

Average Wind Speed in Farmington, NM - © Weatherspark.com

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 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 due south from where you park. There are no trails. Please route yourself to the KOW using 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 can only be seen once you are quite close to it. Some other good photo ops are 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 reached from VOD East; hike in a WNW direction for a bit over a mile staying in the wash. Valley of Dreams contains two spectacular rock formations, the Alien Throne, and the Alien Hatchery.

Ah-shi-sle-pah Wilderness Area

  • 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 WA.
  • You're on your own from here!

Shooting Tips

All three areas get good light at 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 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 and Milky Way photography. The Alien Throne is also good for Milky Way shoots.


Here is an overview map showing all three areas and routes into Chaco Canyon. The wilderness boundary is also shown, as is the boundary of Chach Canyon National Historical Monument; remember, no drones or cars in the wilderness or on NPS lands:

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


The Alien Thone in the Valley of Dreams framed by the Milky Way

The Alien Throne

Long Exposure of the King of Wings in Ah-shi-sle-pah Wash, New Mexico

The King of Wings

The Camel in the Valley of Dreams, Ah-shi-sle-pah wash, New Mexico

The Camel

The Yellow Hoodoo in the Ah-shi-sle-pah Wilderness Area, New Mexico

The Yellow Hoodoo