Ah Shi Sle Pah Wash is a place of silence, solitude, and visual overload. It is located northwest of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin. There are no paved roads within twenty miles and in all the times I’ve been there, I have not seen another person.
Much like it’s bigger cousin, the Bisti Wilderness, Ah Shi Sle Pah Wash is a carnival of geologic attractions. There is eroded sandstone, shale, bentonite and petrified wood. There are hoodoos which defy description, and there are fossilized bones of creatures that roamed the earth millions of years ago
Because of the varying density and hardness of the stone which makes up the structure of the wash, there are variations in the degree of erosion. The result is that harder rock emerges from the side of the wash like some pre-historic dinner plate which was buried over 70 million years ago.
At the end of the Cretaceous period, this entire area, like the nearby Bisti Wilderness was part of a river delta. The deposits of sand, silt, and mud are what we now see emerging in their hardened state. Some of the more exposed sandstone has eroded to such a degree that it looks as though its bones are poking through its tough hide.
On the eastern edge of the wash is a small side canyon which contains an incredible hoodoo forest. It is the first sight that greets you when you start down into the wash. It has been etched into my memory, and is a reminder of the timeless yet fragile quality of our world.
Ah Shi Sle Pah Wash is currently a Wilderness Study Area. The old parking lot is closed to vehicle traffic. Visitors must park on the main road and walk a half mile to the place where the trail starts down into the wash. It is well worth the walk. If you do visit, please leave it as you found it.
It had been a couple of years since I last made the trip to the Bisti Wilderness. The Bisti is located in northwestern New Mexico between Farmington and nowhere; getting there is an adventure in itself. Last Sunday morning we began driving up US 550 past Cuba with the intention of going to Chaco Canyon, but the weather grew increasingly worse. The overcast spread until it formed an impenetrable curtain, which blotted out the sun. The wind began to gust, lifting the sand from the great expanse of the San Juan Basin, carrying it high into the air, adding to the dome of the darkening sky.
So, we just drove on past the turn off to Chaco. I guess I knew I was heading for the Bisti all along. When we arrived, the wind was blowing even harder, and the air was filled with swirling sand. We never went more than a couple of hundred yards from the car, but we were intrigued by the possibilities nonetheless. Every so often the sun would make an appearance through an opening in the clouds; we continued to make our short sorties into the landscape, and then back to the car for a respite from the wind and sand.
I made this image not fifty feet from the road. Just north of the small parking area at the foot of Alamo Wash there is a large deposit of eroded bentonite (minerals dissolved in a clay matrix). They are formed into small hills and many of them have these small stones on top of them; they look like offerings to some unnamed god.
At one point we pulled into a small parking area on the west side of the road, across from the main section of the wilderness area. The wind continued to howl, but we decided to venture into a draw that looked promising. Behind a large dome shaped hill, we discovered a garden of unearthly delights: sandstone and mudstone forms that seemed to go on endlessly. We were somewhat protected by the hill and the strange geology around us, so we stayed a while, exploring and making images.
I was hoping that the storm would abate. I wanted to hike out to the Egg Garden, but it’s more than a mile and a half from the parking area, the route is totally exposed, and the darkest part of the storm was centered over its location. The garden is an iconic location in the world of landscape photography. I made this image the last time I was there in 2009.
So, we continued to explore our newly discovered garden, taking shelter, when necessary, behind the strange monoliths. We spent a total of a little more than an hour dodging the sand and taking photographs.
But, the weather steadily deteriorated; the wind blew harder and the sand was stinging our eyes. I took these last two photos about five minutes apart. The sky was threatening rain. We made our way back to the car to leave, but only a few scattered drops fell as we drove out on the dirt road that is the only access to this incredible wilderness area.
I used to go to Ricketts Glen regularly when I lived in northeastern Pennsylvania. That was thirty-five years ago. I hadn’t been there since, until I made a recent trip back east with my oldest daughter, Lauren, to visit family. We set one day aside to hike and photograph the waterfalls in the park. Actually, there are two glens which make up the Glens Natural Area. They contain most of the twenty-two named waterfalls, numerous smaller unnamed falls and cascades for which the park is famous.
Adams Falls, the first waterfall we visited, is a big attraction even though it is quite a distance downstream from the main section of the park. When we pulled into the small parking area at 7:30 in the morning, there were already several cars parked there, all from out of state. A short walk on a well–maintained trail brought us to the falls. As soon as I saw them, I knew it was going to be a good day.
We spent about forty-five minutes at Adams scrambling around and taking photographs before we packed up and headed north into the Glens Area.
We began our seven mile “stroll” from the small parking area at the top of Ganoga Glen at about 8:30. The trail quickly descends into a world of dense green, and roaring water, but as we became accustomed to the sound, it quickly diminished to a pleasant sibilant whisper. After passing several small falls that are no more than 15–20 feet high, we sensed a sudden change in the timbre of the sound. We were approaching Ganoga Falls; at ninety-seven feet, it is the highest of the numerous waterfalls in the park.
Ganoga Falls is a classic “wedding cake ” waterfall. The stream drops and flows over the ledges and crevasses that form the increasingly wider layers of the “cake”. From the edge of the pool at the bottom of the falls, I made what I consider to be my best image of the day.
Not far downstream from Ganoga Falls, a small flow enters the main stream from the west. I followed it upstream a short distance to find this beautiful little cascade murmuring its way through a fern covered glade. The scene reminded me of an animated movie I watched with my daughters when they were young. Hence the name: “Ferngully”.
We continued down Ganoga Glen past several more waterfalls with names like Mohican and Tuscarora, and on to Sheldon Reynolds Falls, which was as far downstream as we would go. Sheldon Reynolds certainly isn’t as grand as Ganoga Falls, nor did it have the intimate, verdant feel of the small Ferngully cascade. It stands out, nonetheless, with its deep inviting pool and its singular profile.
We lingered for a while, enjoying the solitude and the scenery before heading back upstream to Waters Meet. It is here that the streams that course through Ganoga Glen and Glen Leigh come together. I set my camera on the timer function and took this photo of Lauren and me on the bridge at the confluence. We then enjoyed a picnic of fruit and trail-mix before beginning the climb up through Glen Leigh.