Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Bisti Badlands


Recently we hiked the Bisti Badlands. The occasion was a tour with the New Mexico Outdoor Photography Meetup.

Bisti (pronounced Bis-tie) is a Navajo word, which translates as “a large area of shale hills.” It is part of the 41,170 acre area known as the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In 1996, Congress combined the former Bisti and De-Na-Zin Wilderness Areas. De-Na-Zin (pronounced Deh-nah-zin) takes its name from the Navajo words for “cranes.” The Bisti Badlands lie about 30 miles south of Farmington, New Mexico, about three-and-a-half hours from Albuquerque.

We left Albuquerque on an unseasonably warm, sunny, winter morning. There were ten of us caravanning in five personal vehicles. We drove for almost two hours heading west on I40, until we reached Thoreau where we turned off and headed north on NM371. After another hour of driving, we turned off onto a well maintained gravel road, which took us to the parking lot. We had beautiful blue skies, without a cloud in sight. The winds were gentle and the temperature was in the 60s. A perfect day for a hike across the badlands!

Our guide, Paul McClure, led us on a long, twisting track through the badlands with plenty of stops for photography. The colors and formations were amazing. Everywhere we looked there was something else to see. We hiked for hours. We explored hoodoos and arches. We climbed ridges and mesas. We saw petrified logs up to 50 feet long. We saw the famous Egg Factory! The only thing we missed was the well-known Stone Wings.

As usual, there were no trails so it’s easy to get confused or lost. A GPS or compass is helpful and it is important to pay close attention to your surroundings. We did encounter several other small groups of people and a field trip from Farmington High School, but most of the time we might have been the only people for miles. This is a land to be hiked only in moderate conditions. The dried footprints of those who had ventured out after the last rain were mute testimony to how difficult it would be to hike this area when it’s wet. And although the temperatures were only in the 60s, it was hot. The cloudless sky and lack of shade were compounded by the reflection of the bright sun from the ground around us. We would not want to hike this area in the heat of summer or the depths of winter.

This was our first outing with the New Mexico Outdoor Photography Meetup, but it won’t be our last! Our group was an eclectic mix of backgrounds and experiences joined by a love of photography.

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

Posted in New Mexico

The Story of New Mexico: Las Ventanitas Ridge (El Malpais)

Sandstone Bluffs #1The Eagle #2The Courtyard

A couple of weekends ago, we hiked the Las Ventanitas Ridge in the El Malpais National Conservation Area. 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).

El Malpais (pronounced el-mal-pie-EES) means “the badlands” in Spanish. It lies south and west of Grants, New Mexico, about an hour-and-a-half from Albuquerque. El Malpais consists of a National Monument, managed by the National Park Service (NPS), and a National Conservation Area, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Las Ventanitas Ridge lies in the northeastern portion of the El Malpais National Conservation Area. Las Ventanitas means “little windows” in Spanish.

We left Albuquerque on a cold, sunny, winter morning. We drove for almost an hour heading west on I40, until we reached the turn-off onto a well-maintained secondary road. After another 30 minutes of driving, we pulled over at the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook and left our vehicle. Although we had beautiful skies, the weather was in the 30s: both temperature and wind speed!

We hiked along the top of the sandstone bluffs heading generally north, until we reached a point where we could scramble several hundred feet down to the base of the bluffs. As usual, there were no trails and very little evidence of human passage. The only sound was the whistling of the wind. We hiked for several hours on the relatively flat land between the bluffs and lava flows, which the monument is best known for. We enjoyed exploring the beautiful geology so typical of New Mexican badlands.

Around every turn was a new marvel. In the course of our hike, we explored soaring sandstone towers and saw several of the natural arches or “windows,” which give the area its name. We saw ancient petroglyphs, which provide mute testimony the area’s long human history. We saw ancient petroglyphs, which provide mute testimony the area’s long human history. We visited the ruins of a small Anasazi “outlier pueblo,” which sits on the mesa top above a 50-foot long natural arch with views across the contorted black lava fields, where we saw abundant Anasazi pottery shards. For the first time ever on one of our hikes, we encountered not one, but two other groups who were exploring the area. Eventually, we returned to the top of the bluffs and worked our way back to our vehicle.

The combination of rough terrain, cold temperatures, and gusty winds made this hike one of the most strenuous we have been on. This was our first hike of 2012, but it won’t be our last!

We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: Las Ventanitas Ridge (El Malpais). Enjoy!

Posted in The Story of New Mexico

Only in New Mexico

No matter where we live, we encounter oddities and eccentricities unique to our culture. We shake our heads, smile or shudder, and think to ourselves “only in [place name].” Here is something I witnessed recently, which definitely fits the bill.

It was a sunny, Friday afternoon. I was on my way home from work and had stopped to get gas. As I stood beside my truck waiting for the fill-up to finish, I was looking around at the other patrons. Now I should point out that although the day was fairly warm, it had snowed the Wednesday before. Vehicles, mine included, were filthy from the melting snow and ice. It was perfectly reasonable that a person would want to clean their windshield.

One particular gentleman was washing his windshield with the gas station-provided squeegee. You know the type: a foam pad on one side and a squeegee on the other. You dunk the squeegee in the bucket of cleaning solution, scrub your windshield with the foam side, and use the squeegee side to dry it. Personally, I rarely use the gas station-provided squeegees. Not only are they almost always in sorry condition, but the cleaning solution is usually filthy.

Anyway, this gentleman was washing the windshield of his car. He finished the passenger side of the windshield and returned to the bucket to re-wet the squeegee. Ah, he’s going to do the driver side of the windshield next, I thought to myself. Instead, he walks back to the passenger side of his car and sticks the dripping squeegee through the open passenger window to the inside of the car where he proceeds to clean the windshield: the inside of the windshield! He was totally oblivious to the fact that the dirty water was dripping onto his seats and onto the dashboard. He finished, returned the squeegee to its holder, hopped into his car, and drove off.

In all my years, I have never seen anyone clean the inside of their windshield with a squeegee, let alone a filthy one! As he drove off, I shuddered and thought to myself, “only in New Mexico.”

Posted in New Mexico