Category Archives: The Story of New Mexico

The Story of New Mexico: The Movie Ranches

The SaloonThe Church

In October 2010, we were fortunate to visit two of New Mexico’s “movie ranches” 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). It was the first and only time they have offered the tour.

The Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch

The Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch is located in the foothills eight miles south of Santa Fe and about an hour from Albuquerque. With over 12,000 acres, it’s also a working cattle ranch, raising primarily Longhorns. The first movie filmed at the ranch was The Man from Laramie (1955). Since then, more than 60 movies have been filmed at the ranch, which has five sets: the Movie Town, the Mountain Homestead, the Pond House, the Prairie Homestead, and the Fort. Unlike most sets, which are merely facades, all buildings have four sides and many of them have usable interiors. We visited all of the sets, except the Fort.

The Movie Town location is set in the 1800 to 1900s era and features views of plains, mesas, and rolling hills with mountains on three sides. It has 24 utility type buildings, four streets, a saloon, bank, hotel, blacksmith shop, train station, large barn, and connecting shops. The last movie filmed at this location was Cowboys & Aliens (2010).

The Mountain Homestead location features an 1800 to 1900s house, log cabin, small barn and outhouse situated at the base of a mountain. In the rear of the house, thick forests border on two sides. The last movie filmed at this location was Appaloosa (2008).

The Pond House location features a 1920s two-story house with a fresh spring-fed pond at its back door. The site also features two barns, an adobe house, a large church, and two smaller houses. Two-hundred-year-old cottonwood trees surround the site and make for a fabulous backdrop of gold as summer gives way to fall. The last movie filmed at this location was Astronaut Farmer (2006).

The Prairie Homestead location features a stucco house with its own fireplace. The site also features a log cabin, two corrals, a cellar, and outhouse. Plains surround this homestead to allow for 360 degree shoots. The last movie filmed at this location was 3:10 to Yuma (2007).

The J. W. Eaves Movie Ranch

The J.W. Eaves Movie Ranch is located near Santa Fe about an hour from Albuquerque. In 1958, Eaves bought “Rancho Alegre.” The first production filmed at the ranch was the CBS television series Empire (1962).

In 1969, Gene Kelly, the famous dancer, showed up.  He wanted to make a move called The Cheyenne Social Club with James Stewart and Henry Fonda.  (It was the only western that Gene Kelly directed and produced.)  Eaves and Kelly made a deal that they would split the costs for the movie set.  It was agreed that the buildings would be built full-scale and that the replica of the 1800’s western town would remain on the J.W. Eaves Ranch. Over the years, the ranch grew to more than three dozen buildings, including a church used for weddings.

Since the early 1960s, over 250 other productions have filmed here, including Chisum (1970), Silverado (1985), Lonesome Dove (1989), and Wyatt Earp (1994).

We have posted two galleries of photos from the tour: The Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch and The J.W. Eaves Movie Ranch. Enjoy!

The Story of New Mexico: The Ceja Pelon Badlands

Cleopatra's Needle #1Mesa Top Vista #3The Two Towers #2

Last April, we hiked the Ceja Pelon 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 Ceja Pelon Badlands are located approximately two-and-a-half hours from Albuquerque in northwestern New Mexico (in Sandoval County) west of Cuba. One of the nine San Juan Basin Badlands, they lie in the Nacimiento sedimentary layer, which is approximately 65 to 55 million years old (the Paleocene Period). The area is composed of sandstone alternating with siltstone and shale.  The badlands have a stair-step topology with three distinct layers: the base, the bench, and the mesa top. The layers are connected by a pair of 100-feet-high winding cliff faces. Each layer has a landscape of its own.

The base layer is a true badlands: a barren landscape with very little vegetation; mazes of ridges, narrow washes, and wide-open expanses; and quite a bit of petrified wood scattered about.  The bench layer has spectacular orange-red petrified wood with one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the southwestern United States.   Some of the largest logs are over 30 feet in length with fractured sections still in alignment. Volcanic ash from massive eruptions in the San Juan Mountains enriched the coloration and details during petrification. Upon reaching the mesa top, one can see why Ceja Pelon is so aptly named. Ceja literally means “eyebrow” but is often used to describe a mesa edge, while Pelon means “bald”. This “bald mesa edge” is twisted and fractured into all sorts of winding ramparts with lots of interesting sandstone formations. Bonsai ponderosa with exposed roots seem to grow magically out of bare rock. The mesa top has a lighter colored, more subdued petrified wood in addition to superb vistas of the high mesa desert.

We left Albuquerque on an overcast, blustery, spring morning.  We drove northwest on NM 550 towards Cuba and turned south on NM 197. A short time later, we turned onto an unmaintained, rough, but passable, dirt road. After thirty minutes or more of bumping and swaying, we had arrived. With the clouds and wind, it was definitely chilly. We donned our gear and set off to explore the badlands. Since our party was composed of experienced hikers, our guide, Michael Richie, set a fast pace, which forced us to shoot on the run.

We explored the base layer and took a break for lunch. Then, we scrambled up to the next layer, the bench. We explored the bench layer thoroughly and then scrambled up to the mesa top for more exploration. As the hours passed, the overcast began to break and we were rewarded with patches of blue sky. Our hike totaled a bit over 6 miles with a total elevation change of more than 2000 feet. It was one of our most strenuous hikes, but the spectacular views made it worthwhile.

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

The Story of New Mexico: The Lybrook Badlands

The LandmarkThe Gray HillsThe Sock Puppet

Last June, we hiked the Lybrook 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 Lybrook Badlands are located approximately two-and-a-half hours from Albuquerque in northwestern New Mexico (in Sandoval County) northwest of Cuba. One of the nine San Juan Basin Badlands, they lie in the Nacimiento sedimentary layer, which is approximately 65 to 55 million years old (the Paleocene Period). The area is composed of sandstone alternating with siltstone and shale.  The Lybrook Badlands are the largest of the Nacimiento formation badlands. Its box canyon-riddled mesas drop over 700 feet in four distinct, multi-colored, intricately eroded stair steps. The cliffs separating the steps complicate long-distance hiking. Easy routes between the levels are limited and difficult to find.

We left Albuquerque on a clear, sunny morning.  We drove northwest on NM 550 towards Cuba and crossed the Continental Divide. A short time later, we turned onto a dirt road. In just a few minutes, we had arrived. It was already warming and we had the lightest of breezes. We donned our gear and set off to explore the badlands. Since our party was contained a mix of experienced and novice hikers, our guide, Michael Richie, set a slow pace.

We explored the top layer winding in and out along the edge. We scrambled down to the lower layers when we could and explored them in turn. As the hours passed, the heat began to take a toll on our novice hikers. With temperatures in the low 90s and virtually no breeze in the canyons, it was hot! We left the novices in the shade of a towering pine tree and set out on a fast, shoot-on-the-run, side hike. We were rewarded with spectacular scenery and a herd of wild horses. Our hike totaled a bit over 3 miles with a total elevation change of more than 1800 feet. Due to the heat, it was a strenuous hike, but the spectacular landscape made it worthwhile.

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

The Story of New Mexico: The Mesa Chijuilla Badlands

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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!

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!

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!

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!

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!

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!

Introducing the Story of New Mexico

New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment for a reason. It has spectacular scenery, amazing history, and a fascinating blend of cultures. We are also blessed with a reasonable climate, extremely low humidity, and amazing skies. Together these attributes provide photographic opportunities that have to be seen to be believed. Our family has lived in New Mexico since 1986. One of our favorite ways to explore and photograph New Mexico is through the Story of New Mexico.

The Story of New Mexico is a program offered by the Department of Continuing Education (DCE) at the University of New Mexico (UNM). The program offers classes on a variety of subjects and inexpensive tours to interesting scenic, historic, and cultural locations in New Mexico. Over the last few years, we have taken tours to a number of amazing locations: Ghost Ranch, the Bonanza Creek and J.W. Eaves movie ranches, and several badlands (Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah, Mesa de Cuba, and Ojito). In the weeks to come, we will be posting photographs we have taken while on those tours.

This year we will be taking more tours with the Story of New Mexico. We will be going to Chaco Canyon and several more badlands (Las Ventanitas, Mesa Chijuilla, San Jose, and Ceja Pelon). We will post photographs from these tours, too.

The Story of New Mexico is open to everyone: residents and visitors alike. If you live in New Mexico or even if you plan to visit, we encourage you to check out the program’s offerings. For more information about the program and a list of current offerings, visit the Story of New Mexico.

We hope you will enjoy the continuing series of posts which will make up our Story of New Mexico.

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