Late September, 2012 – One of the great things about hanging out with the photography pros at Nasim Mansurov’s Colorado Landscape Photography Workshop was that they knew where the cool places were to take pictures. Nasim suggested we check out the Bisti Badlands in New Mexico where there are all kinds of rock formations, hoodoos and some mysterious alien looking “eggs.”
This is a very remote place, 36 miles south of Farmington, New Mexico, and when you get here after miles and miles of boring flat land, it is a wonder to behold. Even more startling for us, though, was having an Indian on a spotted Appaloosa horse ride up to our campsite to chat with us. His name was Nelson, and I suspect his first language was Navajo, as he spoke English with an unusual accent. He had been out rounding up a miscreant brahma bull that had wandered away when his nephew accidentally left the paddock gate open.
Tourists from all over the world make their way to Bisti Badlands, and Nelson has met folks from Europe, Asia, and all the states. It is a wilderness area, so there are no signs and no trail markers, and too often hese tourists wind up on his ranch, quite lost. The rather baffling maps from the BLM office make it look easy to find your way, but they quickly prove almost useless once you start hiking.
Just last week Nelson had rescued a Japanese family that saw the light on in his house near midnight. They knocked on his door seeking refuge from the cold, scary desert night. He brought them back to their car in the morning. “Don’t they see the movement of the sun, or watch the moon?” He asked us, shaking his head in disbelief. Then he spurred his horse and cantered down the road in a cloud of dust, his faithful dogs following.
Wow. That was right out of the movies!!
We ventured into the badlands armed with a compass, binoculars, a good sense of the sun’s path, a bunch of food and water, and our cameras. The “egg factory” is a collection of rocks that look like aliens hatching out of their eggs, and finding it was our ultimate goal (as it is for most travelers here). But the rock formations and desert colors we saw on the way were just as inspiring.
We hiked for hours, following first one wash and then another, climbing up and over tall pyramid shaped rocks and skirting around the bottoms. Over the years visitors have given the different groups of rock formations names: The Wings, Alice in Wonderland, The Teepees, etc. Spread out over several square miles, you only know you’ve arrived in a particular neighborhood when the rock formations look like the names they’ve been granted.
We came across a group of rock formations that looked like furniture. A perfect little table and a podium were fun to pose with.
But where in the world were those crazy eggs? They were supposed to be about two miles into the badlands area, along a wash that branched southeast. Well, there were lots of washes, and they branched all over the place. We saw lizards scampering along the desert floor. Surely they knew exactly how things were laid out in this vast barren place.
We found ourselves in another area of formations that had flat roofs, or wings. These hoodoos were otherworldly. One even looked like a flying saucer. Some of the flat tops were detachable and could be lifted off.
Continuing on, we wandered between tall pyramid shaped formations that were decorated with fantastic horizontal stripes. They stood just a hundred feet or so high, and were easy to scramble up onto for a birds-eye view.
The landscape changed from shades of white and yellow to shades of red and black. It was all quite beautiful and exotic. But the eggs were nowhere to be found.
We returned to our campsite and studied the BLM map once again. Maybe they would turn up on a second day’s quest. We headed out again the next day and this time recognized many of the landmarks and had a much better sense of where we were. “North is that way,” Mark said at one point. He had a photo of the eggs from the BLM and now we knew what they would look like if we found them: small egg-like rocks backed by white eroded cliffs.
Finally we found them and whooped and hollered in triumph.
In the end, they are actually very easy to find. There are GPS coordinates available on the web, but here is an easy landmark-based way to get there:
Follow the fence on the left side of the parking lot into the badlands. When the fence takes its second sharp 90 degree turn to the left, look straight ahead in the direction you’ve been walking, and look for two black “boobs.”
Walk towards them. As you approach them, walk around the leftmost one (the further one), leaving it on your right, and continue on to the black topped white cliffs in the distance. The little collection of eggs is right there in front of the cliffs.
We had arrived at the eggs in the glare of midday, but who cares?
We felt like successful Explorers! The following afternoon we returned to the eggs a second time to capture them in the softer light of sunset.
There were a few other photographers with us, and we all had very a funny moment when we suddenly noticed the full moon rising opposite the setting sun. All the cameras and tripods turned around in one motion!
We hung out as the sky darkened, and we played with a new photography technique Mark had learned: light painting. Using a flashlight, we “painted” the eggs with light and used long exposures to get a wonderfully eerie effect.
This was the last of our RV travels before we returned to Phoenix to visit friends and family. Then it was time to store the trailer and board a plane to Mexico where our sailboat Groovy waited for us in a slip down south in Marina Chiapas.