photography from the ground up

Archive for April 15, 2011

Ah Shi Sle Pah Wash

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.