Mountains are mighty, magnificent, monumental but Badlands are . . . experiential.
Standing on the edge of an ancient sea, gazing across a windswept, battered, and stacked landscape, one perceives the ebb and flow of space and time. Somehow, the intense cerulean sky above feels tangible as the brightest titanium white clouds form shapes that honor the surrounding terrain. Where waters once swirled and surged sculpting canyons and depositing sediment, life clutches to the ever-changing shores for survival against winds and lack of rain.
Angel Peak and the Kutz Canyon Badlands in Northwestern New Mexico
Ephedra or Mormon Tea creatively surviving the semi-arid terrain of the Badlands.
The formation of Badlands is the result of the deposition of sediments over time by rivers, seas, or tropical zones. Once the layers have solidified (over eons), the exposed mineral layers become subject to erosion creating stunning canyons, colorful sedimentary striations, and otherworldly landscapes.
Entering nearby Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area (above) was etched by natural elements creating a fantasy world of bizarre rock formations, also called hoodoos (below).
Photo by John Fowler
Cody and I spent four days exploring the Badlands. The heat was tolerable for early July, low 90's. We were the only people. Every afternoon the clouds gathered forming thunderheads releasing a soft rain and cooling breeze. In the evenings we were treated to a lightning show.
The term "badlands" refers to the difficulty traversing such landscapes, but we were quite capable on foot and by mountain bike. Due to the abundance of rattlesnakes, we traversed the terrain in the midday heat when snakes take to the shade to regulate their body temperature.
Angel Peak rises to 7000 feet and is a visible landmark for miles in every direction. We spotted the peak from the nearby town of Bloomfield, New Mexico, 21 miles away. The colorful canyon is concealed by the high plains and only revealed to those who make the journey.
On our final day, we drove 27 miles across the plains to Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness. Rain clouds filled the desert sky. The water droplets evaporated before reaching the ground. The heat was intense. Again, we were the only people. The parking area was in the middle of a high plains wilderness with a small sign hinting at the surrounding magical landscape.
We began our hike across the high mesa sage scrub. About three-quarters of a mile later, the terrain descended into a gently sloping ravine that promptly dropped into an arroyo-like canyon that was reminiscent of walking along a seashore at low tide with reef-like stones and water-carved rocks. Further into the canyon, revealed the fungal shaped hoodoos and colorful sedimentary layers associated with Badlands terrain.
Photo by John Fowler
"Bisti" is a Navajo term referring to"adobe formations." Seventy million years ago the area was a river delta of an ancient sea. At some point, a volcanic blast covered the region with ash. When the waters receded, prehistoric animals survived on the lush fertile landscape. More recently during the last ice age, glaciers covered the solidifying rock. When the glaciers receded about 6000 years ago, ice, water, and wind sculpted the sedimentary stones into the fascinating shapes seen today.
Angel Peak and Bisti Wilderness areas are open year-round and can be accessed by the nearest town of Farmington, New Mexico. There are no amenities at the parking area or anywhere around. You must come completely prepared to be on your own. Bring plenty of water as it can get very hot at any time of year. There are no trail markers and cell phone coverage is poor. Do not rely on your Maps app. Pay attention!
While we were hiking the canyon, a loud noise filled the terrain like a rock slide and we stopped to see from where it was coming. The sound continued in intensity until a dust devil was only 10 yards away and it overtook me blowing off my hat and whipping sand and rock against my skin and face. I ran about 20 feet away and then stood there watching it in awe until Cody shouted, “Go Jennifer. You said you always wanted to jump into one!”
So I ran back into it.
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