For the 50+ Traveler

Alien Throne sure looks alien. Its columns, their connections, don’t quite make sense. Its openings are irregular, its presence imposing and odd even among several odd, imposing sights. There appears to be a plan to it, but not our plan.

It’s a couple degrees off from looking natural, a couple degrees off from looking man made. But it’s something, that’s for sure.

Alien Throne and other hoodoos in New Mexico's Valley of Dreams.

What is Alien Throne?

Alien Throne is a hoodoo. They’re formed by erosive forces like wind, rain, and flowing water beating away at stacked layers of soft and hard rock. The softer layers wear down relatively quickly, but the harder layers resist for longer -- eventually, we’re left with impossible shapes. Hoodoos tend to have hard “cap rocks” on top, which protect the soft layers, and alien features, below.

Due to their unique upbringings and mineral makeups, all hoodoos look different. Alien Throne looks like a pile of tan Nesquik wind-whipped into sturdy, impossible permanence. Yet its permanence arises from respect; it also looks like a careless giant could squeeze it into a puff of dust. It hasn’t, though, so why would we?

Alien Throne, a prominent hoodoo in the Valley of Dreams in New Mexico.

The Earth, unfortunately, is already aggressive enough. Erosive forces don't stop when the structures look satisfactorily alien -- hoodoos aren't finished until they're finished. Wind and water take feet of size from them every century. To avoid expediting their return to dust, experts recommend staying away from hoodoos' bases, as that can prevent unnecessary erosion. And if one looks precarious (as the best hoodoos tend to) stay away from it rather than testing its strength. That's good for everybody.

Where is Alien Throne?

Alien Throne stands in the Valley of Dreams, a remote field of hoodoos on Navajo Nation land in the northwestern New Mexico badlands. It's filled with petrified wood -- even petrified trunks and branches -- and is rich with fossils. It’s just outside the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness, where paleontologists discovered not the Triceratops, but the Pentaceratops. Five horns instead of three. Again, just a couple degrees off.

Alien Throne standing tall in the Valley of Dreams in New Mexico.

It’s near Chaco Culture National Historical Park, which hosts an ancient, immense Pueblo village with a strikingly well-preserved ceremonial center. A nine-mile driving loop will take you past most of the notable sights, and guided tours are also available.

Albuquerque is two and a half hours to the southeast. To get to Valley of Dreams from there, you need to take US-550 north, then dirt roads.

The Valley of Dreams in New Mexico.

What should I know about going to Alien Throne?

Getting to the Valley of Dreams, and thus Alien Throne, is not easy. It’s in a remote area with no roads (or signs, or official trails) leading directly to it. The dusty, rocky terrain can be difficult for travelers with mobility limitations, and there are no bathrooms nearby.

If you do want to make the 3.7-mile roundtrip hike, known as the Valley of Dreams Loop, it’s best to do it during the daytime (with plenty of water) during summer or fall. If you’re an experienced hiker and plan to go at night for some astrophotography, bring a powerful flashlight and download a GPS app like AllTrails that can bring you back to your starting point.

Most importantly, be respectful of the land and the structures. The giant hasn’t crushed it into dust, and we shouldn’t either. You also might see cows and horses grazing the area -- they’re owned by Navajo farmers and should be admired from afar but not disturbed. Take nothing, and leave nothing.