Friday, February 12, 2016

Bisti Wilderness

Bisti/ De-Na-Zin Wilderness in northwestern New Mexico is an unusual landscape of hoodoos, spires, balanced rocks, and petrified logs.  What is unique about this place is there are no designated trails in through the maze-like terrain.
Rocks exposed here were deposited around the time of the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary.  This was when the dinosaurs went extinct and the age of mammals began.  Imagine this tree growing when duck-billed dinosaurs roamed around.
Naturally occurring coal beds caught fire due to lightning.  Bright red “clinker” is formed when nearby shale is baked in these fires.
These wild formations happen because sandstone “caps” are more resistant to erosion than the soft shales underneath.
What happens when you have to find your own way through such unfamiliar terrain? 
What is this?
At first it’s a bit scary not following a path.  How will you know where to go?  How will you be sure that you’re seeing the right stuff?  What if you’re missing out on what everyone else sees?

Eventually, because there is nothing else you can do, you figure out what suits you.  Only then can you experience the sense of freedom that comes from following your intuition and your instincts. 

Not to get too philosophical, but sometimes I think that this is sort of the point.  To feel free to make your own way.  To stop feeling uneasy when all the other tracks are going the other way, and then when the other tracks disappear altogether.
Which way to go?
When you stop to look around there is no sign of life anywhere nearby, but it seems like you are in a pretty cool place, except for maybe the ground is kinda squishy and it looks like it's going to be steep any way you go.  Maybe it doesn’t work out and you end up on a cliff and have to do some backtracking or butt scooting to get down.  But that’s OK.
How'd I get up here?
A stillness compliments the starkness. No chirping birds, no growing green photosythesizers.  Not even wind.  A flying insect buzzes by and it’s so freaking exciting— LIFE!— but then it’s gone and the quiet is even louder. 
In the last half mile, being on the wrong side of a barbed wire fence provides another exciting wildlife encounter.
I’m glad there are still wilderness places like this that are just so… wild feeling.  Does anyone else know of places like this that make you feel so free?

More Information:

Call the BLM Farmington Field Office to check about road conditions before you go.  The Bisti parking area is three miles down gravel roads from the highway.  The road was rough but doable in a small car, but I’d imagine it gets impassible after snow.

The information board at the trailhead offers a few suggestions to get you started.  A map shows locations of geological features like an arch and some of the large petrified logs. 

Pay attention and use your route-finding skills. Start by following the wash eastward.  It gives a sense of security to know you can always find your way back by following the water/mud/place where water had been back down to the parking area.
Follow the wash.
The harsh sunlight reflects off the rocks and there is no shade.  This is a great place to use a sun umbrella, and to apply copious layers of sunscreen.  It can also be extremely cold, even on the same day when you were baking in the midday sun.  Be ready for anything.

The most important thing to remember when you visit is that it’s our responsibility to preserve this unique place for the future.  Leave all fossils and petrified wood where you find them so they can be enjoyed by other visitors and by future generations.
Lichen on petrified wood.
Read more:

Hunt, A. P. “Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness.” In: The Geology of Northern New Mexico’s Parks, Monuments, and Public Lands, ed. L. Greer Price, New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, 2010.

Also this week I read Craig Child’s The Secret Knowledge of Water, which seemed particularly relevant in this landscape, and may be of interest.

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