The Valley of Dreams: Hiking to The Alien Throne

Last Updated on: 23rd January 2024, 10:14 am

Northwestern New Mexico is home to some of the most bizarre yet strikingly beautiful rock formations on the planet. Under ordinary circumstances, such unique landscapes would attract hordes of visitors year-round. But the remote locations of the Valley of Dreams and nearby Bisti Badlands, which can only be accessed by traversing poorly-maintained dirt roads, keep most visitors away.

The aptly-named Valley of Dreams is one of several hiking areas within the larger Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Area, which covers over 6,500 acres in total. Like nearby Bisti, these lands are managed by the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, which means they’re free to enter and even camp at if you so desire. 

In the following guide, we’ll be covering what it’s like to hike in the Valley of Dreams and how to make it to its most iconic landmark, the ominous-looking Alien Throne. Also so be sure to check the end of the guide for details on the complicated process of reaching the Valley of Dreams by vehicle.

Hiking Valley of Dreams

About These Hikes

Valley of Dreams Map
The Valley of Dreams Loop as seen on AllTrails

THE BASICS: There are no official trails at the Valley of Dreams, and rather than a regular hike, think of your visit more as free exploration.

The Valley of Dreams consists of two main sections of badlands that are separated by a large flat area, making it relatively easy to navigate and retrace your steps.

The biggest challenge will likely be finding the starting point of the AllTrails route (more below).

RECOMMENDED APPS: While there may not be any proper trails, it’s highly recommended that you download the AllTrails app and pay for a subscription which allows you to view the app offline, as there’s no service in the area.

Once you reach the final loop, don’t worry so much about following the route marked on the app. The app will, however, will help you find some of the most impressive geological oddities. The locations may not be perfectly exact, but they are indeed pretty close.

As you can learn more about below, reaching the Valley of Dreams is quite a challenge, so also be sure to download the free app for navigation. It has much more accurate outlines of the local dirt roads than Google Maps does.

WHAT TO BRING: Bringing your own water and snacks is a must. There is no shade in the region either, so be sure to bring a hat and sunscreen.

Hiking boots would be helpful, but a good pair of tennis shoes should suffice. Trekking poles aren’t necessary and would probably be more of a hindrance.

STAY SAFE: Even though hiking the Valley of Dreams doesn’t involve walking up particularly steep terrain, you will occasionally encounter tricky areas. If you were to fall and hurt yourself while hiking solo, there’s a chance that nobody would find you for a long time. And even then, help could be a long way away.

While those who are reasonably fit and are extra careful shouldn’t have any problems, it’s best to consider the risks before hiking in these badlands.

Hiking in the Valley of Dreams

The Valley of Dreams can be a pain to reach. But perhaps that’s for the best. Its remote location, lack of signs and absence of clear directions are what’s keeping such a stunning and unique place from becoming just another ‘Instagramable’ destination. 

While you can learn more about the route to get there below, here’s what to expect once you’re in the area:

Hiking Valley of Dreams
Driving down Road 7870

Road 7870 is the nearest marked road to the Valley of Dreams. Looking at on the ride over, there appeared to be multiple northbound unnamed roads that would take one to the start of the trail. 

In fact, the map even contains a marker labeled ‘Valley of Dreams Parking.’ But this is misleading.

Driving down 7870 and seeing nowhere to turn, I did at least see a faint outline near the last turnoff marked on the app. But it was quite rough and overgrown. And not wanting to risk potentially getting stuck in the sand, I decided to walk much of the way.

Hiking Valley of Dreams
The unnamed 'road' to the Valley of Dreams
Hiking Valley of Dreams
Hiking Valley of Dreams
The supposed 'parking lot'

After about twenty minutes of walking, I finally arrived at the marked ‘parking lot’ on the app, though I didn’t see anything resembling a parking area at all – just more grass and a faint, sandy trail. 

I began having doubts, but I came so far and decided to just keep walking in the direction indicated by the apps. And to my relief, a view of the badlands eventually appeared in the distance.

Hiking Valley of Dreams

Having visited two sections of Bisti Badlands earlier in the day, it was already late afternoon by the time I made it to the Valley of Dreams. But from a photographer’s perspective, arriving right at golden hour couldn’t have been more ideal.

Nevertheless, I still had to carefully time my hike to make it back to the car before sunset. While one could easily spend an entire day here snapping photos, I only had a couple of hours to spare and wanted to be sure to find the mysterious Alien Throne before leaving.

The 1st Section

As mentioned above, the Valley of Dreams consists of two main sections of badlands which are separated by a large field. Most of the famous landmarks – including the Alien Throne – are located in the more distant section. 

But that’s not to say there isn’t plenty to explore near the beginning as well.

But what, exactly, are badlands?

Badlands are a type of dry terrain comprised of clay soil that’s been heavily eroded. What results are a myriad of unique – and in this case rather bizarre – formations. 

Specifically, the land here is comprised of a mix of mudstone, sandstone and shale, which take on their current form thanks to millions of years of erosion.

The most common type of formation here is known as a hoodoo, which is basically any tall and thin spire of rock that was formed by erosion. The iconic formations of Bryce Canyon in Utah are famous examples of hoodoos, and so are the ‘fairy chimneys’ of Cappadocia, Turkey.

But given the unique geological conditions at Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah, you’ll encounter numerous strange hoodoos that are probably unlike anything else in the world.

Hiking Valley of Dreams
Hiking Valley of Dreams

The magic of exploring badlands like these is that just taking a few steps in any direction can offer a brand new perspective of your surroundings. The time of day and position of the sun can play a major role as well.

Hiking Valley of Dreams

Walking through the Valley of Dreams is one of the closest experiences one can have to stepping inside of an abstract art painting. And being completely alone out here makes the experience all the more surreal.

Exploring the area, I found some rocks that were relatively easy to climb up, allowing me to enjoy the views from above.


Hiking Valley of Dreams
Hiking Valley of Dreams

In the distance, I could see the second section of the Valley of Dreams, which is where I’d be heading next. But first, I wanted to find one of the landmarks marked on this section of the AllTrails map: the Three Wise Men.

Sure enough, I’d been looking at one of the hoodoos from behind. But it wasn’t until walking along the other side that I saw three large hoodoos, or ‘wise men,’ lined up in a row.

Hiking Valley of Dreams
Hiking Valley of Dreams

The 2nd Section

As mentioned, the two main areas are separated by a long open area that’s largely covered in sagebrush. The walk between the two scenic areas takes roughly fifteen minutes or so.

And it’s the second section that’s home to many of the Valley of Dreams’ most iconic geological oddities, including the Alien Throne. This area, however, is much larger and trickier to navigate than it first appears.

Hiking Valley of Dreams
Looking back at the first section

The main landmarks – at least as indicated by the AllTrails map – are located on the opposite side of the ‘loop.’ But as you’ll soon learn, just because a particular formation hasn’t been named doesn’t mean it isn’t fascinating to look at.

Near the entrance to the 2nd section, I spotted rocks that resembled mushrooms, globs of ice cream and even a camel.

But with time running out, I couldn’t linger for too long and needed to figure out a way to the other side.

Hiking Valley of Dreams
Hiking Valley of Dreams
Hiking Valley of Dreams

As mentioned above, there are no official trails here, and the AllTrails map is merely a rough suggestion – not something to be followed exactly. Even if you wanted to, staying on the line isn’t really possible in some cases.

As there didn’t appear to be any easy way to get to the opposite side of the large butte, I was left with no choice but to improvise and climb over the rocks.

Hiking Valley of Dreams
Hiking Valley of Dreams

It can be easy to lose your bearing with so many strange formations surrounding you on all sides. Eventually, though, I found a little wash to walk through, which I hoped would take me somewhere near the Alien Throne.

Hiking Valley of Dreams
Hiking Valley of Dreams
Hiking Valley of Dreams

While I did encounter plenty of footprints, there were still no other visitors in sight. And aside from the sound of my own footsteps, the badlands were enveloped in complete silence. That is, until, I heard some rustling in the distance.

Hiking Valley of Dreams

It turned out to be a cottontail rabbit – or so I believe. These mammals are one of the few animals that inhabit these arid lands, along with the occasional coyote, porcupine, and various species of lizards and birds.

Hiking Valley of Dreams
Hiking Valley of Dreams

While my main mission was to find the Alien Throne, I also attempted to find some of the other landmarks featured on the AllTrails map – but with varying degrees of success. 

I may or may not have found the ‘Red Dinosaur Egg,’ the ‘Petrified Wood Turtle’ or the humorously-titled ‘Chocolate Penguin King.’ Oftentimes, you have to be standing at just the right angle and at just the right time of day to really know for sure.

And with all the towering hoodoos in the area, I started having doubts if I’d really be able to find the Alien Throne. In the center of the area, I spotted a tall and narrow hoodoo that appeared rather ordinary (by Valley of Dreams standards, at first glance) at first glance.

I didn’t think much of it until I walked around and saw it from the front, at which point I knew I had indeed made it to the bizarre throne-like hoodoo.

Hiking Valley of Dreams

While I’m not sure who gave it or any of the other local landmarks their names, the moniker is indeed fitting. It may lack a distinct seat, but the wide hoodoo does really look like the back of a throne one might encounter on an alien planet.

Hiking Valley of Dreams

The reason why the hoodoos here take on such a wide variety of shapes is that their rocks are made up of slightly different combinations of minerals. As such, despite having been exposed to similar water and wind erosion, some turn out more remarkable than others.

Having finally accomplished my mission, I waited around for a while to take in the views. When it was clear that the alien king would not be returning to his palace that day, I decided to make my way back, as time was running out.

Hiking Valley of Dreams

Finding my way back was a lot trickier than expected, as I was now returning via the opposite side of the ‘loop.’ Walking across some relatively flat terrain, I soon realized I was still on a higher plateau. I then had to figure out a way back to the lowest level. 

But the smoothest and safest method was far from obvious.

Hiking Valley of Dreams
Hiking Valley of Dreams

Trying my best not to slip, I slowly and gradually made my descent. But I’d occasionally encounter steep drops before having to backtrack to find a safer alternative. As mentioned, this is the last place you’d want to get injured!

On the bright side, I did encounter a few more unique landmarks, such as a huge, long monolith balancing at a 45-degree angle. It looked like it had carefully been placed there by a giant.

Hiking Valley of Dreams

And I even found a perfectly-formed smiley face. I had to touch the ground to convince myself that it was indeed natural and not something left by a mischievous visitor.

Eventually, I managed to make it to the bottom level, from which I could see the 1st section of the Valley of Dreams off in the distance. I could now begin my long walk back to the car, making it there just in time before dark. 

Back near the start of the AllTrails map, I spotted more badlands much further east in the distance. While I’m not an expert on Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah, the area is simply labeled on the apps as ‘Valley of Dreams East.’

Additional hiking areas of Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah, meanwhile, include the King of Wings Trail (not to be confused with the Bisti Wings Trail) and what’s simply referred to as the ‘Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Trail.’

Passing by that area just before sundown, I observed that the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Trail does indeed have a proper sign and parking lot. So it might be a better option for those looking for something a bit more straightforward.

Hiking Valley of Dreams
A distant view of Valley of Dreams East

Additional Info

*Note: Weather conditions can easily wash out certain sections of the unpaved roads around these parts. It’s always a good idea to check for the latest information online first, such as by reading the most recent reviews on AllTrails.

While some people make it to the Valley of Dreams in a sedan, it would be wise to rent a high-clearance SUV for this journey, as there are indeed some rough and bumpy sections.

In general, once you’re off the main highways, Google Maps won’t be of much help around here. Be sure to download which is helpful during road navigation. As mentioned, AllTrails is the best app to use while hiking.

Getting to the Valley of Dreams from Bisti Badlands

Many people visiting the Valley of Dreams will be coming straight from Bisti Badlands. Learn more about how to get to Bisti from Farmington in our dedicated Bisti Badlands guide

When finished with Bisti Badlands, first return to Highway 371 and head south. Next, turn left (east) onto Road 7650 (completely unpaved). While there are a couple of different hiking areas at Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah, if you want to visit the Valley of Dreams specifically, turn right onto 7870. The road will take you south for a while before looping around east.

At the time of my visit, 7650 was decent, but 7870 was quite rough, so it would be wise to rent a 4×4.

Road 7870 is the nearest marked road to the Valley of Dreams. And if you look at, you’ll notice multiple unnamed trails that would appear to take one to the start of the Valley of Dreams Loop Trail. In fact, the map even contains a marker labeled ‘Valley of Dreams Parking.’ But this is misleading.

After passing by a few of the supposed trails/roads marked on the app and seeing nothing at all, I had no choice but to turn down the last of them, where I at least saw some sort of faint outline. As mentioned above, it was quite rough and very overgrown, and there were no signs whatsoever indicating that the Valley of Dreams was nearby.

Not wanting to risk potentially getting stuck, I decided to walk most of the way. Wherever it is that you end up leaving your car, it would be wise to leave a marker on before setting off on your journey.

Arriving at the supposed ‘parking lot’ on foot, I didn’t see anything resembling a parking area at all – just more grass and a faint, sandy trail. Nevertheless, I kept walking and eventually did encounter the badlands.

Moving Onward

After the Valley of Dreams, my next destination would be Cortez, Colorado, where I’d spend the night before visiting Mesa Verde National Park. But those staying in Farmington will also be heading in the same direction: north.

From the Valley of Dreams, you have two options: return the way you came back to Highway 371, and then proceed north toward Farmington.

As mentioned, during my visit, Road 7870 was quite rough, and I wasn’t into the idea of going back on it. And when looking at, I saw that not far away to the east was State Highway 57, which I could take all the way to Highway 550, and then proceed north from there.

Not being a local, I presumed that in contrast to the local dirt roads managed by the various Indian reservations, ‘State Highway’ 57 would surely be paved. But this turned out NOT to be the case. In fact, as far as I can tell, there are NO paved roads in the area in between Highways 371 and 550! (Not counting the paved portion of nearby Chaco Canyon, of course.)

And the so-called State Highway 57 was, all in all, just as bumpy as some of the roads over. Needless to say, it certainly wasn’t fun to traverse in the dark. While I survived the journey, I didn’t even make it to Cortez until after 10pm. Therefore, I’d recommend most people go back toward Highway 371 instead.

The nearest towns to the Valley of Dreams and Bisti Badlands are Farmington and Bloomfield.

During my trip, I spent the previous night in Bloomfield following a visit to Chaco Canyon. The next morning, I visited the Aztec Ruins National Monument and the Salmon Ruins before proceeding to hike in the Bisti Badlands and the Valley of Dreams. After that, I headed toward Cortez, Colorado.

In Bloomfield, I had a good experience at the Super 8. You’ll find many more options in Farmington, however.

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