Only in New Mexico — Take 2

As I have noted previously, every place has its oddities and eccentricities unique to its culture. New Mexico is no exception. Here is something I witnessed last week, at a gas station no less (a trend perhaps?), which definitely fits the bill.

It was a hot, sunny, Friday afternoon. The temperature was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the air was dead calm (did I mention it was hot?); I had stopped to get gas. As I stood beside my truck waiting for the fill-up to finish, I was engaged in my usual game of people watching.

Business was light and only a few lanes had customers. Just a couple of lanes away, there was a gentleman in a business suit. His tie was missing, so maybe he was done for the day. He started the fill-up and walked over to the island, where he removed the squeegee from the bucket. Ah, I thought, he’s going to wash his windshield. But, as I have learned over the last 26 years, this is New Mexico: anything can happen. And it did! He bent over and proceeded to wash his shoes with the squeegee. First, he washed his left shoe; then, he washed his right shoe. He stood up and looked over his handiwork, lifting each foot and twisting it around to get a good look. He must have been satisfied because he returned the squeegee to the bucket and walked back to the gas pump.

Yes, you read it here: a gentleman in a business suit washed his dress shoes with the filthy, dirty water and squeegee provided by the gas station. It is impossible to make up stuff like this! Now, I should be charitable and give the guy the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he had been out hiking the back-country all day (in a business suit and dress shoes) and his shoes were really, really dirty. Or, maybe he was in sales and had been out pounding the pavement all day and he just needed to rinse the dust off. Yeah, that’s it! Surely a gas station squeegee is the perfect solution in those cases. Nah!

As I climbed back into my truck, cranked the AC to full blast, and drove away, I couldn’t help but shake my head and think to myself, “Only in New Mexico.”

Posted in New Mexico

The Eye of the Sandias

The Eye (Detail) #1The Eye from the Trail

Easter weekend, we decided to hike to the Eye of the Sandias. After living here for 26 years, it was about time to see a local legend. We had rough directions and a GPS waypoint for our destination. A couple of miles each way, it would be a piece of cake.

The Eye of the Sandias is located at the southwest end of the Sandia Mountains approximately two miles east of and 1500 feet above Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It is a local mystery. Originally painted in the 1960s, it was defaced in 2008, and repainted some time later; in all three cases by unknown persons. Local legend has it that the “crying eye,” as it is sometimes called, is weeping over the encroachment of the city on this beautiful open space.

We arrived at the trail head early, so we could hike in the cool morning air. The temperature was in the low 50s and the winds were generally light. The skies were hazy and, as the day progressed, would become a featureless, grey blanket. We headed out at quick pace on a well-worn trail. Before long, the trail began to branch and each branch became fainter than the one before. After an hour of hiking, we ran out of trail.

Now, we weren’t lost; we knew where we were. We were west of the city and north of I-40. In fact, we had a GPS, so we knew exactly where we were and where we wanted to go. We were still a mile (as the crow flies) away from and 800 feet below our destination. Unfortunately, we hadn’t packed our wings; it was going to be a piece of cake, remember? There were a few game trails, but nothing meant for people.

So, we bushwhacked through cactus, over boulders, up and up some more. We were huffing and puffing and dripping with sweat, but we were determined to reach the Eye. Finally, we topped a ridge and what should appear to our aching eyes? A trail! And it was going in the right direction, too. Re-energized we set off and made quick progress to our destination. As we crested the final hill, the Eye appeared before us. It had only taken us two-and-a-half hours!

We took a break and admired the views to the west and south. It was hard to believe we were so close to the city and yet, looking to the north or east, we might as well have been in the wilderness.

A short time later, it was time to return to the city below. Thankfully, our descent was much faster than our ascent. An hour later, we were back in the car and headed to a well-earned lunch. The Eye was much harder to reach than we expected, but the views of the city were spectacular. All in all, it was a very satisfying outing and one we plan to repeat when the skies are more photogenic.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the hike: The Eye of the Sandias. Enjoy!

Posted in New Mexico

The Story of New Mexico: The San Jose Badlands

The MadonnaThe MadonnaSan Jose Vista #15

A couple of weekends ago, we hiked the San Jose Badlands. The occasion was our seventh tour with the Story of New Mexico, a program offered by the Department of Continuing Education at the University of New Mexico (UNM).

The San Jose Badlands are located approximately two hours from Albuquerque in northwestern New Mexico (in Rio Arriba County) north of Cuba. One of the nine San Juan Basin Badlands, they lie in the youngest of the San Juan Basin’s 18 sedimentary layers. Approximately 54 million years old, the area is composed of softer siltstone and shale. Hoodoos are less numerous than in other San Juan Basin Badlands, however, the erosion patterns and color palette of the layered sedimentary rock provides plenty of visual interest.

We left Albuquerque on a cool, sunny, winter morning and drove for almost an hour-and-a-half, until we reached Cuba and turned north. After another 20 minutes of driving, we turned onto a rutted dirt road and drove another 15 minutes to a parking area near a natural gas well. Although we had beautiful skies and moderate temperatures, the forecast was for increasing clouds and high winds. We could see high cirrus clouds streaming into the area and the breeze was already noticeable.

From the parking area, we could see beautifully colored ridges and formations north and west of us. We scrambled over a steep, high ridge and the true scope of the San Jose Badlands was revealed to us. We hiked for hours along the base of the towering mountains and ridges, weaving in and out of the eroded face. Each turn revealed new vistas. Although our path was over relatively level ground, it was strewn with jagged fist-sized chunks of lava, which made it necessary to constantly watch our footing. After a couple of hours we broke for lunch in a small sheltered canyon.

We continued our hike until we reached a vantage point where we could look out over the valley to the Continental Divide in the distance. After a few more hours, the weather had changed for the worse. The winds had increased and the skies were almost totally socked in by featureless gray clouds. It was time to return to our vehicle.

Rather than reverse the winding path that had brought us to our current position, we decided to take a more-or-less straight line path back to the parking area. We hiked up and down through rough terrain covered in sage, chamisa, and pinon trees. Viewed from above our path would look like a drunkard’s walk: ahead a few steps and turn to right or left; ahead a few more steps and make another turn; repeat. Our route crossed innumerable streams and many low (i.e., wet) spots. Some could be jumped; some we could go around; others had to be forded. Our boots got heavier and heavier as they became caked with mud. Finally, we reached the parking area. We had learned a very important lesson: Due to bushwhacking, our straight-line path was anything but and undoubtedly saved very little distance or time compared to our original route. Nevertheless, it was a great hike!

We have now visited five of the nine San Juan Badlands. The San Jose Badlands were probably the most colorful one to date. We hope to visit the remaining four badlands later this year.

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

Posted in The Story of New Mexico

The Bisti Badlands

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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

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

The Story of New Mexico: The Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Badlands

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Last September, we visited the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pa Badlands. The occasion was a tour with the Story of New Mexico, a program offered by the Department of Continuing Education at the University of New Mexico (UNM).

The Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Badlands are located approximately two-and-a-half hours from Albuquerque in northwestern New Mexico (in San Juan County between Chaco Canyon and the De-Na-Zin Wilderness). According to Michael Richie, our guide, Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah is “the hoodoo king of the nine San Juan Basin badlands.”

We left Albuquerque on a beautiful, crisp fall morning. We drove for almost one-and-a-half hours, until we reached the turn-off onto a rough (washboarded and rutted), dirt road. After another hour of bone-jarring  bouncing and swaying, we pulled to a stop in a well-used makeshift parking area. As we disembarked, we wondered just where the badlands could be; there was nothing to indicate that we were mere yards from an amazing sight!

As we approached the rim, the badlands appeared below us. Our first view of Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah was a panorama of tangled, sandy canyons walled with hoodoos stretching to a distant horizon. I was reminded of the old computer game called Colossal Cave (or Adventure) and its memorable “you are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike.” It would be very easy to become disoriented and lost in this landscape. Fortunately, our guide, Michael Richie, knew the area well.

We descended from the rim down into the badlands. The descent was steep and challenging, but manageable. Once in the badlands, we hiked for several miles exploring the “sinuous labyrinth of flat-bottomed, sandy washes lined with an endless array of hoodoos.” It seemed that every turn revealed something new and stunning. As always, badlands are nature at its most creative. It is almost impossible to believe that simple erosion by wind and water could create such fantastical shapes, but the proof was everywhere around us.

As the day progressed, the temperatures warmed rapidly. Thankfully, a gentle breeze kept us cool. After lunch, the skies were graced with puffy white clouds and dust devils played across the plain.

After several hours, we returned to our vehicles tired, but satisfied. As we made the long drive back to Albuquerque, we thought of the marvels we had seen and looked forward to our next tour: the Mesa de Cuba Badlands.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: The Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Badlands. Enjoy!

Posted in The Story of New Mexico