Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Story of New Mexico: The Ojito Badlands

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Last November, we visited the Ojito Badlands. The occasion was another tour with the Story of New Mexico, a program offered by the Department of Continuing Education at the University of New Mexico (UNM).

The Ojito Badlands are located approximately one-and-a-half hours from Albuquerque in northwestern New Mexico (in Sandoval County) southwest of the village of San Ysidro. They are often considered one of the nine San Juan Basin Badlands and were designated as an Official Wilderness in 2005.

We left Albuquerque on a cold, sunny fall morning. We drove for almost an hour, until we reached the turn-off onto a well-maintained dirt road. After another 30 minutes of driving, we pulled off and left our vehicles.  It was another perfect day for a hike: beautiful skies, a gentle breeze, and moderate temperatures.

As we set off to explore the badlands, we passed through typical New Mexican range lands with cow pies lurking everywhere. We were in a broad valley between two high ridges with limited sight lines. As we rounded a ridge, we saw a mesa towering in the distance. It became the landmark for our explorations.

As usual, our guide, Michael Richie, set a quick pace, but on this, our third hike of the season, we were used to it and to the need to “shoot on the run.” As we approached the mesa, the terrain changed markedly. Instead of range land, we were now in rough, rock-strewn country with lots of up and down scrambles. Like our previous hike to the Mesa de Cuba Badlands, there was lots of vegetation; primarily pinon and juniper. As we hiked up and down across the rocky terrain, every peak revealed new wonders for the eyes. From majestic pines to glorious panoramas to natural sculpture gardens, Ojito has a little bit of everything. As is typical of New Mexican badlands, Ojito has amazing hoodoos and an abundance of petrified wood. Of the three hikes we made this fall, this was certainly the most strenuous.

After several hours and many miles, we returned to our vehicles with the sun sinking toward the western horizon. We were tired, but satisfied. As we made the long drive back to Albuquerque, we were rewarded with an amazing sunset. Ojito was the last hike of 2011, but we have more hikes planned for the spring of 2012.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: The Ojito Badlands. Enjoy!

Posted in The Story of New Mexico

The Story of New Mexico: The Mesa de Cuba Badlands

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Last November, we visited the Mesa de Cuba Badlands. The occasion was another tour with the Story of New Mexico, a program offered by the Department of Continuing Education at the University of New Mexico (UNM).

The Mesa de Cuba Badlands are located approximately two hours from Albuquerque in northwestern New Mexico (in Sandoval County) southwest of the village of Cuba. They are often considered one of the nine San Juan Basin Badlands. These badlands lie along the base of the Mesa de Cuba, which stretches for 10 miles north to south.

We left Albuquerque on a cold, cloudy fall morning. We drove for almost two hours, until we reached the turn-off onto an unmaintained, but passable, dirt road. A short distance and mere minutes later, we had arrived.  Fortunately, the weather had improved during our drive and we were graced with beautiful skies, a gentle breeze, and moderate temperatures.

We set off to explore the badlands, which wind along the eroded wall of the Mesa de Cuba. In some places, the mesa towered hundreds of feet above us. The washes (canyons) twisted and turned leading from the plain deep into the mesa. The terrain varied from easy walking on sandy soils at the bottoms of the washes to scrambles over tumbled rock. The route was lined with petrified wood and car-sized to house-sized boulders. Unlike the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah badlands, there was lots of vegetation; primarily pinon and juniper. Every canyon seemed to contain some new, exotic formation. Our guide, Michael Richie, set a quick pace forcing us to “shoot on the run.”

After several hours and many miles, we returned to our vehicles tired, but satisfied. As we made the long drive back to Albuquerque, we looked forward to our next and final tour of the year: the Ojito Badlands.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: The Mesa de Cuba Badlands. Enjoy!

Posted in The Story of New Mexico

Badlands and Hoodoos

After our last post on the Ah-She-Sli-Pah Badlands, it occurred to us that many people may not know what the terms badlands and hoodoos mean. They are common terms here in the Southwestern US, but may not be common elsewhere.

Badlands are a type of terrain which is typically unusable due to aridness, barrenness, and erosion. They are quite literally “bad lands.” They are often characterized by amazing colors and shapes formed from layered sedimentary rocks extensively eroded by wind and water. Each badland is visually unique and they frequently look like something from a Dr. Seuss book. Canyons and hoodoos are common in badlands. Badlands can be difficult to traverse due to steep (sometimes unstable) slopes, sandy or rocky canyon bottoms, arid conditions, lack of shade, temperature extremes, remoteness, etc. It is extremely easy to get lost in the badlands. Badlands often contain fossil beds and visible coal seams. The extreme erosion found in badlands tends to expose fossils in the sedimentary layers while the lack of vegetation makes them easier to spot. Movie and film crews often utilize badlands for westerns or sci-fi shows (as they resemble Martian or lunar terrains).

Hoodoos are spires of rock that rise from the bottom of a badland. They are also known as tent rocks. Hoodoos consist of relatively soft (i.e., easily eroded) rock topped by a harder (i.e., less easily eroded) stone called a caprock. The harder caprock shields and protects the underlying softer rock from the elements. Hoodoos can range in height from mere inches to hundreds of feet. The layering of sediments causes many hoodoos to have different colors throughout their structure.

New Mexico is home to a number of badlands and their accompanying hoodoos. You can see examples of badlands and hoodoos in our Ah-She-Sli-Pah Badlands  gallery and upcoming galleries of the Mesa de Cuba Badlands, the Ojito Badlands, and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

Posted in New Mexico