Good Days in Badlands

Friday, March 24
We left Page on Page on Monday with the intention of stopping off for the night at a BLM campground we found on the Ultimate Campground Guide app. It’s been my experience that GPS coordinates can be off quite a bit on this app and sometimes the location no longer even exists. We drove right past the coordinates listed with nary a road to it to be seen. I’d found an arial image of the campground that showed it on the opposite side of 160 than did the app, but couldn’t match it to anything nearby. At a large turnout, we detached the vehicles and I set out to investigate all the roads nearby, but could not find anything that lead to the spot. The one road I found that might have lead to it was just too rough to take the LD on. Reluctantly, we stayed at the turnout for the night. There really was no other place to go and we didn’t want to drive another 100 miles to Farmington. We were well off the highway but it was still noisy from the more than occasional trucks and cars during the night.We were taking our time getting to the Bisti (pronounced Bis-tie) BLM Wilderness Area in New Mexico, because the 85-90 degree heat we’ve been experiencing was forecast to change to cold, wind and rain by Thursday. I wanted to be at Bisti by Wednesday afternoon, but decided sitting in a mud-soaked parking lot that is the BLM dispersed camping area wouldn’t be too keen. We’d go to Farmington, get our chores done and go in on Friday.

In Farmington, we found Mom & Pop’s RV Park – the only park in town listed in any of our info. It was run-down but neat and quiet – aside from the typical road noise these urban parks have. Mostly looked residential, but it had good Wifi and was close to everything. Over those days, we stocked up on food, water, propane and got our blogs updated. Mary has a bit more about Farmington on her blog. The wind and rain did show up on Thursday, but it was far less than I’d expected judging from what the weather people were saying.So Friday morning we drove the 40 miles south on highway 371 to the Bisti turnoff at CR 7297. Just 3 miles down the good gravel road (a a bit of washboard), bearing left at a T, we arrived at the parking /dispersed camping area. There is a smaller parking area about 100 yards north of this one, but the ground has no gravel and in a rain it will turn to slippery mud. Yes, there is more rain forecast for the entire period we are here, but we are hoping to get in some hikes.

It was very windy when we arrived. Even for a Friday, I was surprised at how many cars were here. Not crowded by any means, but I expected far fewer visitors because there are no services – not even port-a-potties or garbage cans and it is at least 40 miles from anywhere. It is basically a trailhead with a large parking area. I found a nice corner spot a little away from most of the cars that we fit into nicely. There was very little gravel over this part of the lot and that gave me pause, but I could always move if weather got wet.Rain showers were predicted for tonight, so we decided to get in an afternoon hike despite the wind at 15-20 mph. All of our information about Bisti warned of getting lost in the badlands while hiking. We researched well before arriving and had maps, apps and hiking descriptions to keep us oriented.

The Bisti Wilderness Area is a 45,000 acre reserve carved out of Navajo country and fenced all around. There are no trails here. All hiking is freeform, but most people just walk up the washes and branch off to any group of rocks or mud formation that look interesting. We used our AllTrails saved hikes maps as our main guide and backed up with paper topo maps and a compass for extra insurance.I was still a little nervous about hiking without trails and tried to stay as close to the saved hike we’d chosen to walk. It wasn’t long before we were hiking up washes and gullies, forgetting all about the saved route. But just a look at the app and we could get right back on track. An interesting aspect of the terrain here are these orange hills. The dirt of these hills is mostly brown, but is covered by a thin layer of bright orange shattered rock creating a stark contrast amongst the other less colorful hills. We used some of these hills as important landmarks.We walked out orly a mile or two, but in that time we found several great areas of unusually carved sandstone. Many of the winged sandstone formations we found conjured up familiar shapes like this Star Wars battle cruiser.Some were sedate while others wildly crazy in form. It is a very alien landscape – just the kind of place I like. The wind was relentless this whole time and wearing us out. Grit was stinging eyes and I was concerned that our whole stay would be like this. We headed back to camp for the evening.

South Bisti hike
Saturday, March 25A crystal clear sky and calm winds greeted us this morning. We were up predawn and out the door 45 minutes later. The forecast called for sunny weather till about mid-day when clouds would move in and rain late afternoon and evening. I wanted to get in a longer hike to take best advantage of this.I picked out the same route on AllTrails, and we more or less stayed with it. A loop of about 6.5 miles traveling through a couple of washes and over mud hill and sand formations would give us a good overview of what Bisti has to offer. We made a b-line past yesterdays stops looking for some specific formations about 2 miles out I’d read about in our Photographing the Southwest, guide. It is a better sunset spot, but I wanted to find it first and come back another time.
As we moved into new territory, I stopped occasionally because, well, I just couldn’t resist these strange shapes. Eventually we found the Egg Factory. They are also known as Cracked Eggs.I had a slightly vague description of where this spot was, but out there in landscape, things don’t always look familiar. It doesn’t look like much from a distance. Just another group of 2-5 ft rocks or boulders. But up close, their true beauty of became clear. Wind erosion had sculpted lovely grooved designs over their surface. We would probably have never come over to this edge of the wash if not for our guide book. Continuing on, we found lots of petrified wood fragments and several larger logs.  The mud hills eroded away leaving the harder petrified wood freestanding. About another mile after we’d starting hiking again, our chosen trail began taking us up onto some colorful mud hills. Soft in appearance, they are quite hard when dry.
While they were plenty dry to walk on, we were finding it difficult going. I wasn’t certain the app was functioning properly as our GPS location dot was jumping back and forth over our intended path. I didn’t feel comfortable with it’s accuracy and Mary was beginning to wear out, so we decided to walk down a drainage to the main wash and just follow it awhile as we returned to camp.Before that though, we found several more fascinating areas of formations where we spent more time exploring.Walking back, I really began to get a feel for navigating the landscape. One information source said that while it is easy to get disoriented and even lost in the badlands, if you just follow any mud hill drainage to a wash, follow that wash down, you will eventually run into the border fence that can be followed to the parking area. Also, climbing to any highpoint helps orient yourself. I’m not worried about getting lost at all now.It was around 2 pm when we got back. The wind had picked up significantly in the last hour and was blowing pretty good by now. While we were gone, a Boy Scout Troop of about a dozen had arrived and was setting up camp about 40 yards away. Their tents were already whipping in the wind and the rain clouds were just now beginning to approach.By 6 pm it was getting really windy. High sustained winds and occasional higher gusts were reeking havoc on their camp. Tents were beginning to uproot. Their port-a-pottie tent, a narrow 5’ tall tent was sideways and scouts were scurrying about trying to secure everything.

Eventually a light but wind driven rain began to fall. It lasted only a short time. We were just on the edge of the shower – mostly wind and one crack of lightning. It passed and the scouts regrouped and looked good for the evening. They should have packed up then. An hour later, just at sunset, another shower came through. This one more directly over us. High winds were buffeting the LD and it was dark now. Outside I could only imagine what they were going through.

Sunday, March 26
In the morning, looking outside, the scouts were gone. I guess they weren’t quite prepared enough. A look at the weather report would have told them everything. It was supposed to rain more today so we thought it best not to hike. The little rain we got was still enough to make the ground turn to a muddy mush in many places, too slippery to hike comfortably. Not so bad in the lot, but there were several very soft areas around our rig. It didn’t stop anyone else though. A steady stream of cars came and went all day long. Most folks coming back spent considerable time scraping boots and pant legs before leaving.I wanted to check out the other nearby section of Bisti, known as Da-Na-Zin. Mary decided to stay in camp after a bad encounter with a mud patch next to the rig. This section is reached by going back out to highway 371 then driving south another 12 miles to CR 7500, then 15 more miles of dirt road that travels through more Navajo land across wide plains of rabbit brush and grass. The road was in great shape with only one section of sand that worried me a bit but was no problem.At the trailhead I was surprised once again that anyone was here, but 2 other cars greeted me when I arrived. I couldn’t see any of the terrain from the lot so I went out for a short hike so the edge of the bluff. It was easy walking on real trails this time.At the high point before descending into the canyon wash, I could see wonderful color in the hills and canyon walls off in the distance. I walked down another half mile to a large wash. Another group passed me here and I watched as they crossed the wash and continued on.I turned around then and worked my way back up the hill. This spot looks to be another interesting area to explore. A return trip would be well worthwhile.It was quite clear no rain was going to happen today or tonight. What morning clouds we woke to had broken up to be wonderfully typical New Mexico fluff. To me the flat expanses and puffy clouds just scream New Mexico. Lots of wild horses roaming the plains too.When I got back, I suggested an afternoon hike back to the Egg Farm for a sunset visit. The ground had mostly dried up by now, but in some spots, only the top few inches of mud had dried. Stepping on it resulted on a thick coating coming away on the shoes. Those spots were usually easy to avoid. No wind this afternoon, perfect conditions.We set out after an early dinner. Sunset is about 7:30 and it is about a 45 minute walk out to the eggs. Again we retraced the direct route we have taken on each of our hikes so far.But we lost the Egg Farm. Try as we might, we could not find the area again. It wasn’t where either of us had remembered it to be. Mary had a partial recording of our earlier hike that included this portion, but somehow we both misread it.So our Egg Farm plan got scrambled. It got too late to keep hunting for it so we just explored some of the low “wing” formations we’d passed earlier. It would have been a perfect evening for the eggs.
We actually got low near sunset light before it was lost behind incoming clouds. Still it was worthwhile. Back in camp, we reconnoitered and discovered we hadn’t quite gone far enough to find them. Our map app did indeed have the spot highlighted, but out in the field we had a little trouble reading it. We still came away with some nice images and the evening walk was great. North Bisti Hike
Monday, March 27No rain last night and this morning we had a sky filled with puffy clouds. Today was to be similar to yesterday in that no rain or wind till late afternoon. Mary wanted to hike the north side of the wash and reserve that we’d skipped on Saturday. We were up predawn again and out hiking in the chilly morning air. Nights have been in the 30’s but it warms quick once the sun rises and after about an hour, the gloves and outer layers were off. A beautiful morning.This part of the wilderness area was well described in our photographer guidebook and it was easy to follow despite no established trails to follow. The route took us out of the main wash into the surrounding mud hills. Hidden in those hills was one area after another of sandstone formations and more colorful mud hills. After exploring a section of boulders, we hiked up some hills and found even more spectacular areas. Of course we dawdled at these spots. Hiking was easy and mostly level except when crossing hills. We could walk on level benches in many areas. The patchy clouds were perfect for softening the light and highlighting areas of the landscape. We enjoyed our lunch out of the now increasing wind and decided to head back just after lunch. Winds had increased once again as we got back and soon after, even higher winds arrived. Laterin the evening more sustained rain began. Because of tonights rain and the forecast for more tomorrow, we decided to cut our stay short. We’d be out of water in a couple of days anyway, but we may return if another extended dry period begins. For now, we are heading toward Albuquerque. We’ll play the next few days by ear, see what the weather does and make plans from there.

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2 Responses to Good Days in Badlands

  1. soberinvegas says:

    stunning pictures! 🙂

  2. jcgc50 says:

    Amazing rock formations. Great shots.

    Jim

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