Into The Badlands

I took Monday off from the job hunt and headed out for the Badlands. I was there last fall and fell in love with the place. If you’re in to sheer desolate beauty, you won’t find a better place to spend a day. The Bisti Wilderness area is about 30 miles south of Farmington, New Mexico or 60 miles north of I-40 out of Thoreau, New Mexico, along Route 371. Either way you choose to get there, you need to keep your eyes peeled for the turnoff as the sign is small and faded. Bisti is not what you might call a huge tourist attraction. I spent about 5 hours wandering this time around and at least that much my last trip and saw not another human being. Or much of anything else on 2 or 4 legs.

Between the Bisti and the De-Na-Zin Wilderness to the east, the Badlands (Bisti means Badlands in Navajo) occupy 38,381 acres of some of the most bizarre country you can imagine. Sloping hills of red, gray and black, windswept passages, hoodoos and weird rock formation abound. Once the bed of an ancient sea, when the water receded, prehistoric animals made Bisti their home. When the last of the water disappeared, a 1,400-foot-thick layer of jumbled sandstone, mudstone, shale, and coal lay undisturbed for 50 million years. The receding of the last ice age left behind exposed fossils and eroded the rock into fantastic hoodoos. Today, the ground is soft and yielding, covered in multi-colored rocks, petrified wood and the bone and tooth fragments of the enormous beasts that once roamed this land.

Here is something you don’t see too often, or for too long, in the Badlands: Water. Precipitation in the Bisti area averages a mere eight inches a year, and usually comes in July and August when temperatures rise to melting highs. When a downpour does occur, the soil, typically baked to ceramic hardness by the sun, softens into a slippery, yielding substance. The last time I was here in late fall, the ground was as hard and dry as the bones you find scattered about. New Mexico saw some heavy spring rain the week before I made this latest trip and the water had cut deep channels and turned the ground into shoe sucking mush.

If you’re not into serious quiet, the Bisti might get on your nerves. There ain’t a whole lot of life here beyond some plants and a handful of lizards, snakes, tarantulas, and scorpions. There aren’t even birds flying overhead most time. About the only tracks you ever see are those of other humans and the occasional dog or horse.

The wind blows almost constantly across the Badlands resulting in some bizarre twisting of plants and strange rock formations.

Sometimes the wind can get quite creative.

And, after a long day of hiking, there’s nothing like a comfy chair to relax in.

EJ at Bisti Wilderness

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