The Story of New Mexico: The Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Badlands


Last September, we visited the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pa Badlands. The occasion was a tour with the Story of New Mexico, a program offered by the Department of Continuing Education at the University of New Mexico (UNM).

The Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Badlands are located approximately two-and-a-half hours from Albuquerque in northwestern New Mexico (in San Juan County between Chaco Canyon and the De-Na-Zin Wilderness). According to Michael Richie, our guide, Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah is “the hoodoo king of the nine San Juan Basin badlands.”

We left Albuquerque on a beautiful, crisp fall morning. We drove for almost one-and-a-half hours, until we reached the turn-off onto a rough (washboarded and rutted), dirt road. After another hour of bone-jarring  bouncing and swaying, we pulled to a stop in a well-used makeshift parking area. As we disembarked, we wondered just where the badlands could be; there was nothing to indicate that we were mere yards from an amazing sight!

As we approached the rim, the badlands appeared below us. Our first view of Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah was a panorama of tangled, sandy canyons walled with hoodoos stretching to a distant horizon. I was reminded of the old computer game called Colossal Cave (or Adventure) and its memorable “you are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike.” It would be very easy to become disoriented and lost in this landscape. Fortunately, our guide, Michael Richie, knew the area well.

We descended from the rim down into the badlands. The descent was steep and challenging, but manageable. Once in the badlands, we hiked for several miles exploring the “sinuous labyrinth of flat-bottomed, sandy washes lined with an endless array of hoodoos.” It seemed that every turn revealed something new and stunning. As always, badlands are nature at its most creative. It is almost impossible to believe that simple erosion by wind and water could create such fantastical shapes, but the proof was everywhere around us.

As the day progressed, the temperatures warmed rapidly. Thankfully, a gentle breeze kept us cool. After lunch, the skies were graced with puffy white clouds and dust devils played across the plain.

After several hours, we returned to our vehicles tired, but satisfied. As we made the long drive back to Albuquerque, we thought of the marvels we had seen and looked forward to our next tour: the Mesa de Cuba Badlands.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: The Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Badlands. Enjoy!

This entry was posted in The Story of New Mexico.