25 Oct 2014

US Road-trip - Bisti Badlands

Although we left Mesa Verde quite late, we still thought we could make it to Bisti in time for a quick sunset hike, so headed past Ship Rock to Farmington and then south towards the badlands. To the south and east of the road was an enormous storm, with that visible rain falling to the ground that I love to see; for a while the sky was almost black. The sun would suddenly streak through the clouds to the west, resulting in stunning crepuscular rays; I was very glad my husband was driving, as I snapped away out of the window!

We got to the main Bisti turn-off, not having seen the road to the northern car-park (which would have been a shorter route to any of the interesting formations there). We drove on to the southern car-park, relieved that the storm was now safely to the north and east of us (hiking in badlands in a big storm not being a sensible idea).

It also wan't very sensible heading into the badlands as the sun was about to set, armed only with torches, storm or no storm. There was a signing-in sheet in a covered box, so if anything happened at least someone would know where and when we'd started out. We set out, regardless of the danger, at 6.30pm, hoping that I'd be able to navigate my way to a formation called the "Eggs", about half an hour in.

We had headed due east (so we thought) from the car-park into the badlands, past a few cows and bulls that were fortunately not interested in us. Unfortunately, in spite of poring over blogs and maps of the place to familiarise myself with its lay-out, I couldn't see two large black hills on the horizon (that supposedly looked like boobs!) that I was hoping to navigate by. We must have veered slightly to the south, as we ended up clambering over soft black nobbly hillocks, in search of the bigger black ones. We were quickly lost. Realising that we weren't going to find the eggs and the light was fading fast, we meandered our way through the maze of black hills looking for a way down to a wider wash. Finally we found it and from there we followed the glowing horizon where the sun had set, leading us back to the car.


It was a relief to get back safely, and we drove back into Farmington to our motel, where we had an average Mexican meal with weak margaritas. At least we'd got to witness some pretty skies, which we would have missed if we'd gone straight to the hotel when we reached Farmington on our way in. Before bed I spent a good hour researching the route again and taking photos of each stage of the trail, marking the sights to see (the "eggs" and the "wings"), as we planned to head out early the next morning to try again (thanks to the roadslesstraveled blog and thewave.info which both contained invaluable information for trying to find these places).

The next morning's trip to Bisti was a little more successful. We set off before it got light and arrived at the southern car-park just before sunrise and quickly headed off. It was pretty chilly, but we had fleece and thermals, hat and gloves, and I had a light down coat, so we were well-prepared. My husband carried a lot of water, and I carried a lot of camera gear, as usual!

The directions made more sense in daylight, and we headed inland along the wash, being careful not to steer to the hillocks in the south. Before the black boobs, about 10-15 minutes in, there was a pair of red boob-like hills, which we had to keep to the left of. Once we'd passed these, the black ones came into view, and from then on it was easy to find the eggs (keep to the left of the black boobs and once past them head to the white hills - the eggs are in front of them). 

The sun was rising from behind the hoodoos and hillocks as we walked and soon we were warm. As we arrived at the eggs, the sun was still behind the hills, but soon broke free, illuminating the strange eroded rocks. My husband went off to explore as I set about photographing the bizarre formations. 


As well as these incredible "eggs" the area was scattered with pieces of petrified wood, now as hard as rock, although easily shattered, judging by the pieces everywhere.


I was absolutely smitten with the place! I'd had high expectations from others' photos and blogs, and they had been met! We were the only people there, the sun was casting golden light and everywhere we looked were more weird and wonderful desert shapes. There was a lot to see, so we left the southern area containing the eggs and headed back along the wash for a little while before turning off between some red hills on the north side of the wash, which led up to the "wings" area of the badlands. We meandered through a narrow wash, with pointy hills on each side. Eventually the wings area came into view. The wings are hoodoos with flat rock remaining on the top, the result of millennia of erosion leaving the hardest bits appearing to balance precariously. Some of them have toppled, with their tops lying in pieces at the base of the hoodoo. We wandered around for ages, in search of the "King of Hoodoos" - one that sticks out hugely, that I'd seen pictures of on Flickr. We didn't find it, but saw some amazing ones anyway. We met one other couple while we were there.

The walk back to the car was long and hot (I was now carrying all of the warm layers, not wearing them), past more strange desert, with the red boobs on the far side of the wash. The ground was crunchy dried sand that formed in amazing patterns. We had to drive to Monument Valley and wanted to be there by 4pm (check-in time) to get a cabin with a unobstructed view of the Mittens, so we had to drag ourselves away; otherwise I could've spent days exploring! It was definitely one of the most incredible, unique places I've ever visited.

Next stop: Monument Valley

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