Wandering in the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah WSA

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Last month after visiting Chaco Canyon (click here to read an earlier blog post on Chaco Canyon), a neighbor asked me if I had visited the badland area just north of Chaco. I had been to the Bisti Badlands in northwestern New Mexico (click here to read a blog post about Bisti) but had never been to any badlands immediately north of Chaco.

Obviously I was very curious and checked the Internet for information on badlands near Chaco Canyon. There I found information on Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah, a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wilderness Study Area less than seven miles from Pueblo Bonito in the heart of Chaco Canyon.

On Saturday the dogs and I finally got the chance to drive out to Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah. The temperature was around 60, it was sunny, and there was no wind. To make the day even better the dirt roads leading out to the area were in excellent shape. You couldn’t ask for a better day to go wandering.

Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah is in the heart of Navajo Country. There were only a few homes scattered in the area, and we saw only one car as we drove in. There was no sign along the road welcoming us to the area or an official place to park the car. And we couldn’t see the badlands from the road. The only indication that there might be something worth checking out was a narrow Wilderness Area boundary marker near the side of the road.

As you can see there's not much traffic. Chaco Canyon is beyond the ridge you can see in the distance.

As you can see there’s not much traffic. Chaco Canyon is beyond the ridge you can see in the distance.

This was the only indicator that something wonderful was waiting for us!

This was the only indicator that something wonderful was waiting for us!

We parked the car near the boundary marker and started walking through the sagebrush. Within a third of a mile we reached the edge of the badlands. What an amazing sight. It was an unending view of eroded land with amazing shapes. The textures were right out of a Georgia O’Keefe painting.

This photo doesn't do justice as to how spectacular the would be.

This photo doesn’t do justice as to how spectacular the area would be.

We had the entire area to ourselves. The only sign of another person was a set of faded boot prints.  So if you’re looking for a quiet place to go on a perfect Saturday, this is it.

There were no trails. There was only an open and varied landscape for us to explore. You couldn’t find a better place to define the gentle art of wandering; that is, allowing yourself to see what is already here and then letting what you see guide you on where to go. And that is what we did!

As we walked into the badlands, we saw pieces of petrified wood.

As we walked into the badlands, we saw pieces of petrified wood. The light colored pieces are petrified wood.

We then saw logs of petrified wood!

We then saw logs of petrified wood! This log is about two or three feet long.

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We then walked through amazing textures!

We then walked through amazing textures!

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As we walked along we passed many areas where petrified logs were eroding out of the soft mudstone.

As we walked along we passed many areas where petrified logs were eroding out of the soft mudstone.

After spending time walking on the floor, we started to look for a place to reach the top.

After spending time walking on the floor, we started looking for a place to reach the top.

On the way to the top, we found part of a coyote leg.

On the way to the top, we found part of a coyote leg.

We continued working our way to the top.

We continued working our way to the top.

We finally made it to the top.

We finally made it to the top.

And had tremendous views in all directions!

And had tremendous views in all directions!

As we walked along the top, we went through a layer with selenite crystals (gypsum). each level had its own characteristics and treasures.

As we walked along the top, we went through a layer with selenite crystals (gypsum). Each level had its own characteristics and treasures.

Much of the top was covered with a gray / green lichen.

Much of the top was covered with a gray / green lichen.

We continued to run into petrified wood.

We continued to run into petrified wood.

This petrified wood had a different color of lichen.

This petrified wood had a different color of lichen.

The scenery kept changing as we walked along.

The scenery kept changing as we walked along. All of it was good!

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We even walked through a layer with a fossil bone. If you are fortunate enough to something like this, leave it in place! It's not yours to take! In fact don't collect anything.

We even walked through a layer with a fossil bone. If you are fortunate enough to see something like this, please leave it in place! It’s not yours to take! In fact, don’t collect anything.

No matter where we went, the scenery was fantastic.

No matter where we went, the scenery was fantastic.

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I kept thinking that we would run into the clay people from an old Flash Gordon movie.

I kept thinking that we would run into the clay people from an old Flash Gordon movie.

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As we approached the edge of the badlands, we could see future formations being eroded out of the rock.

As we approached the edge of the badlands, we could see future formations being eroded out of the rock.

We also ran into a couple of pieces of chert near the edge. They would have been used for making tools. With the proximity of Chaco Canyon, it was no surprise to find archaeology artifacts. Again, if you see something like this, please leave it alone.

We also ran into a couple of pieces of chert near the edge. They are archaeological and were used for making tools. With the proximity of Chaco Canyon, it was no surprise to find archaeology artifacts. Again, if you see something like this, please leave it alone.

Once we reached the edge, we were back in the sagebrush and headed back to the car.

Once we reached the edge, we were back in the sagebrush and headed back to the car.

Our five-mile walk on Saturday only pricked the surface. I am sure that there is much more to discover, and I can’t wait to get back. I hope you enjoy your trip to Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah as much as I enjoyed mine.

Thank you.

8 Comments

  1. What an awesome place to go. Reminds me of the Grand Canyon. Some of it looks like toadstools, I notice the dogs know how to find the shade. Kind of scary to go alone, but it looks pretty barren and
    not to many people around. How is New Mexico as far as Native American jewelry now? I love it. I’ve thought about going and finding some handmade things from the reservations there. Is it still possible?

  2. What a lovely area. Another place I never know about that I’ve now added to my list of places to visit!

  3. Wow!! I’m so happy (and not at all surprised!) that you took the lead from Marianne’s mention of this area and went to investigate it for yourself! What a great experience – and coming as a total surprise makes it all the more special. Please let me know if you make another trip and perhaps I would be able to join you….weather permitting. I know it’s getting late into the “wandering” season, but we may still get some decent exploring time.
    Thanks!
    Cynthia

  4. Awesome. Loved the pics of it, looked scary but cool at the same time. I was waiting for the giant teranchila to come out or the Guilla Monster. (Both spelt wrong) from the old 50 movies.

  5. Wow what a neat place to go. But I hate bugs. Beautiful scenery though but I love the North West more.

  6. This is an amazing post. I was just at Chaco last night and today. I was looking at your blog tonight since I want to do at least some of your Highway 60 wander tomorrow. I saw this one too late but it probably did not fit my window to do this and Chaco both. Have to lasso in the adventures somewhere. Some other time!

  7. Great post thank you!

  8. And you were able to safely wander back to your car. Whew!

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