Bisti Wilderness Wanderings

A couple of years ago our friends Dave Cooper and Ginni Greer headed to the Bisti Badlands Wilderness in New Mexico for a photo shoot. Dave, a professional photographer known for capturing outstanding scenic photography, returned with images of unique rock formations. We decided to check it out in person.

We arrived late morning at a very dry, dusty, not-very-impressive landscape. Could we be in the wrong place? This certainly didn’t look anything like those images Cooper presented on his website. Oh well, we’re here so why not make the best of things. Wait, there’s someone else about to start their hike. Perhaps they can help us with some directions since we don’t have a decent trail map of the area. Luckily, they had a BLM map which they had cleverly picked up at the BLM office in Durango. The one we drove past without stopping (we don’t need no stinkin’ map).

Nice folks that they were, they graciously offered us the use of their map, which we accepted amid many thanks and wishes that their first born would turn out to be a well paid professional athlete.

Out came the GPS. Charlie set a waypoint for our car. Of course we know where we’re going, but if all else fails then a night sleeping in the Subaru complete with ProBars and potato chips might just become a reality. Finally, we’re off and walking, on the prowl for those phantom formations which Cooper had photographed. Within ten minutes, we’re firmly entrenched among hoodoos, gargoyles, subterranean tunnel-like features, and mysterious deep black holes. Up, down, and around we went enjoying our exploration without the foggiest notion of exactly where we were or where we were going.

We eventually did what all good mountaineers and explorers do; we climbed up out of the abyss and back into daylight to get a look around. Perhaps it would be prudent to follow the footprints where many others have gone — and it’s not as creepy. We pulled out the borrowed map and made a plan (now there’s a novel idea). Charlie entered several waypoints into the GPS, then went to the rear as Diane became the intrepid leaderwoman (I think that’s a valid word).

Our first destination was a feature called “Cracked Eggs.” Thanks to the skillful route-finding of leaderwoman, we arrived at an array of various oval shaped objects. Cracked Eggs? These formations more closely resembled dinosaur droppings than cracked eggs, but then what do we know?

Next up, an area of petrified wood which reminded us of how temporary we are in the geologic scheme of things. Based on the number of petrified tree trunks we saw, this must have been a very large, verdant forest ages ago.

Charlie surreptitiously regained the leaderman role and led the way toward our next point, Eagle’s Nest. Time passed, the pressure was on. No eagle’s nest. There were plenty of formations around which look like eagles but it would be a stretch to picture an eagle’s nest. Leaderwoman stepped forward, raised her arm in a semi-salute skyward. Either she had to go to the bathroom or she was attempting to get Charlie’s attention directed upward. Oh, that eagle nest. leaderman: 0, leaderwoman: 1.

We passed so many hoodoos and strange formations that we could go on forever but a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Before heading to the car, we had one last feature to locate, Stone Wings. There’s probably a story here about “Wings (Charlie’s nickname) Stoned” but we won’t go there. We encountered several features which we declared to be the dreaded Stone Wings but, alas, they were sad examples. Not to be defeated, we continued on our quest, wandering up and down, around and through the various formations. Finally, using dead reckoning and a superior sense of direction (yeah, right) we managed to stumble onto the Wings and they were well worth the effort.

The afternoon was quickly slipping away and we needed to return to our car, a mere one mile away as the crow flies and the GPS points. As the reptile crawls and the hiker walks, it turned out to be much more due to dead end washes and various other features which needed to be surmounted, including crawling under two fences (we must have wandered onto a spur of private property somehow). Hey, no one’s perfect.

We arrived back at the car, tired and with plenty of great photos. We had hiked about eight miles in a loop with only a few hundred feet of elevation gain. This was a cool place to visit, but for the best photographic opportunities we recommend sunrise and sunset. No toilets, water sources, or other amenities are available, so bring plenty of water. We would strongly advise using a GPS and marking the location of your car as you never know where your meanders will take you.

For more photos of this amazing place, visit Dave Cooper’s photo gallery

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