Wednesday, March 22
After a noisy night next to busy Highway 160, we spent a boring couple of days at the Mom & Pop RV Park in Farmington. It’s the only RV place in town as per our various directories. The city is a sprawling conglomeration of typical neighborhoods and businesses. Because the Animas and San Juan Rivers run through it, it’s a farming town (who would have guessed?) and there are many businesses related to that.
When we arrived at Mom & Pop’s place, there was another couple waiting to check in to the run-down “park”. Like them, we went up to the door of the office and rang the doorbell. Peering inside, we saw a totally empty room. It seems there was nobody around. They called the parks phone number and managed to dig up “Pop”. He said that apparently, the doorbell wasn’t working, unlocked the office door and checked us in.
We did our chores. My first was doing 4 loads of laundry in the largest, nicest laundromat I’ve ever been to. The next day, more chores. I went to the BLM office to get more info about Bisti. (pronounced “Biss-tie”). They didn’t know much, but did give me a very general map and said the gravel roads to the place were kept in pretty good shape because school buses used them. Then I did the grocery shopping to keep us going for 4 or 5 days. By the time I got back, it had started to rain, but not too heavily. The weather report wasn’t looking too good for the weekend, but we hoped for the best.
Friday, March 24
We needed propane before we left on Friday and I spent a lot of time in the Rav, trying to find a gas station with propane. Most of the gas stations in town are affiliated with convenience stores (e.g. 7-2-11) and did not have propane. One Conoco I stopped at had propane, but the woman working there said “Well………..I guess I could try to give you propane. I’ve done it once before.” That is not what I wanted to hear. Finally, one gas station told me about a Sinclair station on Main Street that had propane. I collected Dave and the LD, we got our propane and headed south on NM-371.
It was an easy 40 miles down the road, then 3 miles east on a good gravel road till we reached the parking lot. There were quite a few vehicles there, but we found a nice level spot where we could watch people entering and leaving through the narrow, barbed-wire gate.
Bisti is wilderness. There are no real trails. All the resources we found warned that you should know how to use a compass and keep careful track of your bearings. I was practicing with my compass, but couldn’t really make any sense out of it. Then I found our other compass. I laid them next to each other and was dumbfounded. The two of them declared north as being in opposite directions. As the sun descended into the west, it was obvious which one was incorrect. How does a compass get north wrong? At least I wasn’t crazy.
We took our first walk around 3 p.m. Because various topo maps, books and online trail guides have different names for the washes, we weren’t sure which wash we were in. We only knew it was huge. Dave climbed up some mud hills and found an area with interesting formations, but they didn’t do much for me. We were harassed by a constant, miserable high wind, probably 20 or 25 miles an hour. It made walking miserable.
We continued down the wash passing some of the orange-iest hills I’ve even seen. The landscape was typical desert wash but every so often, weird formations would show up. The erosion process here does things differently.
I was tired after about a mile and a half and it was around 6 p.m. so we turned around and trudged home. I hope the weather improves.
Saturday, March 25
The weather report for Saturday was high winds and possible showers arriving in the afternoon. So we woke up early and prepared for a 6-mile hike. We departed at 8:10 a.m. Dave had found AllTrails.com, a website where people can track their hikes and record them. When you call up an existing trail, you can keep track and record your movement against the trail. You can even add pictures that will have the GPS location and appear where on the trail you took it. It’s great! I still did bring my compass and I had identified a couple of tall landmarks yesterday. It never hurts to have a backup system.
We revisited the areas we had liked yesterday. Now we had morning light so things looked different. The light was a little harsher.
A little past where we had gotten Friday, we found the “Egg Factory”. From a distance, it’s just another discrete group of rocks like others, but when you get close – oh my gosh! They are simply amazing. I couldn’t even guess what make them erode into their shapes.
We eventually continued on, trying to follow the online trail since there was no physical one. When it led us into a group of mud hills, we’d trudge up and down to stay on the trail. We would veer off as we saw something interesting and then try to connect again. We found some great formations.
“Stonehenge” was a great formation and we spent a lot of time there. I was beginning to get tired, having already hiked around 4 miles. Then the online path got us scrambling up and down some high hills and we still couldn’t quite get “on” the trail. And both of our iPhones were running out of juice; Dave’s at 30% and mine at 20%. I didn’t want to be in a bevy of unfamiliar hills with nothing but our compass to move on.
So we cut across a chunk of the online trail and eventually caught up with it in a broad wash north of the wash we took off in. All this time, we were occasionally seeing people hiking at a distance away. The Bisti wilderness area is very large. We reached the gate at 1 p.m., five hours later. I think we hiked around 7 miles.
We were happy to get back to our little home and shower. A group of about 12 boy scouts, supervised by 4 adults, had set up a tent camp across from where we were. There were about 7 or 8 tents of various size and shape. There was a dark green, skinny, 6- or 7-foot-high tent set up that Dave thought was the porta-potty. There was a “kitchen” on legs and a barbecue. They looked set for a weekend of fun.
As the afternoon progressed, clouds were moving in from the west. We could see virga and rain in the distance. It looked like it might miss us, moving northeast. It did not. The wind picked up just like yesterday, only kept getting stronger. Our mobile solar panel blew over. Some wind gusts produced short-lived sandstorms. People began flocking back from their hikes. One girl wearing short shorts had to have sore legs from the stinging sand.
We watched as the scout tents started to flap and pull up their stakes. Everyone ran around, trying to batten down everything. By this time it was around 6:30 or so. It did not look like the scouts were going to have a fun night. There was no cooking. The “porta-potty” had collapsed. The wind gusts were so strong, I was worried that the tents could blow away with their occupants. Then it started to sprinkle. Another bout of wind and rain started around 8 p.m. and was still going when we went to sleep. What a miserable night for the scouts.
Sunday, March 26
Sometime during the night, the scouts decamped. They were gone. We woke up to a windless morning with a pure blue sky above. The rain had left small puddles in the parking lot. There were puffy clouds way off to the west. There were puffy clouds to the east. Quite a few people drove in to hike, but most came back fairly quickly and departed. We decided it would be quite messy traversing wet mud hills and washes, so we stayed in. By 11 a.m., all the puffy clouds reached us and the wind was picking up.
After lunch, Dave decided he wanted to drive over to the De-Na-Zin area, east of Bisti. I decided to stay in the rig and off he went. I had a pleasant 3 hours or so until he returned. He had no trouble reaching it via 12 miles of dirt road. He didn’t see a lot of formations but the hills had nice color in them.
It was quite nice out so we decided to try for sunset at the Egg Factory. Easy, since we had found it on Saturday, right? Not right. We pretty much bee-lined to where we believed the eggs to be. We didn’t find them. We wandered around, finding many groups of rocks in the nice light, but not the Egg Factory. I had recorded part of my Saturday trail on the AllTrails app but the few pix I tacked on the trail didn’t look like the distinctive rocks. We could have reviewed Saturday’s pix to see when we found the eggs, but we had both deleted our downloaded pix. Oh well.
A little later, I looked again at the pictures I recorded on my alltrails map the day before and realized I had taken a picture of the Egg Factory and we just hadn’t gone far enough east. But it was too late to go there; we would have been finding our way back in the dark. Oh well. If you can’t photograph the site you love, love the site you’re in. (Or something like that.)
We found a very extensive rock formation area and avoiding a couple who was erecting a tent in the middle of it, enjoyed the low light.
The sunset was nice and we got to enjoy most of it as we walked back to the LD.
Monday, March 27
We awoke to a sky crowded with puffies. While variable weather isn’t so desirable, variable clouds have been a great addition to our photography. We set off early to explore the northern side of whatever wash we’re camped by. This time, I started recording our trail on Alltrails.com and it worked perfectly for me. When we found spots we wanted to return to, I just took a picture, titled it and in the future we can follow the recorded trail to get back to it. This changes the whole face of hiking for me. There is no way to get lost now. Furthermore, the pictures include the GPS coordinates.
The hike was based on a photography book description and the first thing described in it was a boulder field that “looked like you were on the moon”. Maybe it was the soft light but I was not impressed.
Tall hoodoos were the next thing and they were nice. I was still not particularly excited. The hills we were traversing were interesting shades of olive green and browns and then, Boom! We found a nook that had white mushroom-shaped rocks along with mudhills of pale green. Much better. The way to find neat-looking areas in this country is to investigate anything that looks interesting. Much of the best stuff is concealed among the hills or is high up, out of sight or is far off, in the distance. A lot of it isn’t that great but you never know.
From there, we spotted another area that looked like it had many “winged” formations, where erosion has eaten away the lower part of a formation, leaving a long, slender piece of hard cap rock “flying”. The area was made more interesting by the fact that the mud hills were shaded from pale gray to dark charcoal. We climbed up into it and it was chock full of fascinating shapes.
It was about 11 a.m. when we moved on from that area and wandered east a bit and found a protected spot for an early lunch.
We saw one hill with some large caves and took a look. I don’t know what type of rock allows caves to exist – they weren’t the usual mud. Eventually, we looped back to the boulder field and back to the wash. The wind was picking up as the next storm moved in and the clouds were no longer pretty little puffies. We were in for the rest of the day.