In late October, we hiked the Mesa Chijuilla Badlands on another tour sponsored by the Story of New Mexico, a program offered by the Department of Continuing Education at the University of New Mexico (UNM).
The Mesa Chijuilla Badlands are located approximately two hours from Albuquerque in northwestern New Mexico (in Sandoval County) west of Cuba near the Mesa de Cuba Badlands. Although they lie in the San Juan Basin, they are not considered one of the primary San Juan Basin Badlands.
We left Albuquerque on a cold, sunny fall morning. We drove northwest on NM 550 towards Cuba and turned south on NM 197. A short time later, we turned onto an unmaintained, but passable, dirt road. After several minutes of bumping and swaying, we had arrived. We donned our gear and set off to explore the badlands. It wasn’t long before we shed our jackets; although it was chilly, the lack of wind and our exertions made us plenty warm. Our guide, Michael Richie, set a slow easy pace to accommodate some of the participants, which gave us more time for independent side explorations.
The badlands wind along the eroded base of the Mesa Chijuilla. In some places, the mesa towers hundreds of feet above. The terrain was rough, but passable with only a few scrambles over tumbled rock or traverses across steep slopes. The area is littered with boulders, large and small, creating boulder mazes to navigate. Although not as plentiful as at some other badlands, hoodoos are present; finding them becomes a matter of exploration. There is lots of vegetation, primarily sage, pinon, juniper, and bonsai ponderosa. The occasional petrified log adds a bit of time travel to the badlands.
After several hours and many miles, we returned to our vehicle tired, but anxious to see more. Due to their close proximity, we decided to head for the Mesa de Cuba Badlands. Unfortunately, the road was badly washed out and impassible in our non-four wheel drive van. We decided to forgo the Mesa de Cuba Badlands and instead returned to Albuquerque.
We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: The Mesa Chijuilla Badlands. Enjoy!