Day 1: Driving to Moriarty, New Mexico via West Texas A&M University
Early in my drive I spotted a “peace park” sculpture garden near the rest stops at mile marker 87 on I-40 in the Texas panhandle. There were no signs explaining what it was or who created it, but it made decent pictures.
I timed my drive from Oklahoma so I would be in Canyon, Texas for The Unholy Trinity Tour, an atheist lecture event. It went well, and I made just a few images with my point-and-shoot.
I was back on the road by 4 p.m. Near the New Mexico border I saw a semi fully engulfed in flames in the eastbound lane, but the traffic situation prevented me from photographing it. Traffic behind it appeared to be stopped for at least five miles.
It was oddly thought-provoking that in the lobby at my motel in Moriarty, I overheard a woman say, “This country is based on God. In God we trust.” After the atheist confab hours earlier, I was tempted to challenge her, but thought better of it.
Day 2: Moriarty, New Mexico to Farmington, New Mexico
I was out the door full of breakfast at 6:30 a.m. It was very cold and cloudy. I drove west then north via New Mexico 14, which is part of the Turquoise Trail. My first stop was at a roadside business with side-by-side signs that read “Come in…” and “No Trespassing.” I photographed it from the road.
My next stop was Madrid, which I visited in 2001 and in 1990. The town is nestled in a narrow valley like a lot of mining or skiing towns. The entirety of the center street is shops, galleries and attractions. I was there quite early in the morning, so nothing was open, but I made lots of images. The only other people I saw were two women walking their dogs.
Down the road in Cerillos, I photographed the same Mission steeple I photographed in 1990. The light was very different, and the church did a good job of taking care of it all these years.
By 10 a.m., I was at one of my goals for the day, Plaza Blanca. Situated on the private property of a mosque, it has been used for filming or several Hollywood movies over the years. In fact, I got the idea to find it and hike it after Abby and I saw it in a recent movie on Netflix. The formations were bigger that I expected, but the area was smaller than I expected. Blue sky, cold morning air.
At 12:20 I found Santa Rosa de Lima church ruins, which Abby and I had seen but not photographed in 2005. Excellent cross-against-the-sky image.
By 1:15 I was at the storied Ghost Ranch. I briefly took the Matrimonial Mesa hike. The Chimney Rock hike ended up being the best of the day. It is a three-mile round trip hike that ascends to one of the area’s signature formations, the Chimney Rock itself, with excellent views on the way. At the top, fierce wind fought my imaging efforts, but I ended up with something I liked.
I spent the night in Farmington.
Day 3: Bisti Wilderness
I got up before dawn and hit the road. I was at the Bisti Wilderness, which is about 35 miles south of Farmington on 371, just at sunrise. It was very cold and clear. I made my way up the wash to the east-northeast, marking spots on my GPS and photographing various formations as I went, including Hoodoo Field 1 and The Wall. I was looking for a famous formation in the area alternately called “The Cracked Eggs,” “The Alien Eggs,” “The Alien Hatchery,” and others. By about the four-mile mark, I decided that I had missed the formation, so I returned on a slightly more southern track and found it. It was smaller than I remembered from my short visit to it in 2009, but it made fairly decent images.
Continuing to move southwest toward the trailhead, I saw a plume of black smoke, and became slightly anxious that it might be my own car on fire, since there was nothing else there. Of course, it wasn’t my car, but I never found the source of the smoke.
It rained not long before my visit. There were puddles on the road to the trailhead, and the sand in the wash showed moisture just below the surface.
At midday, I used my JetBoil to make coffee and prepare some dehydrated pasta primavera, both of which were pretty good as camp food goes, and the JetBoil worked very well.
After lunch, I struck out again, this time to the north. I followed the boundary fence to a few interesting hoodoo fields, The Peak, The Boulder Wash, and a bottomless pit carved out of the wash. There were many tracks, both human and horse, in this section of Bisti.
The day stayed sunny and cool, and I accomplished my photographic and hiking goals.
Day 4: De Na Zin Wilderness, then North to Silverton, Colorado
Up early again, I found the trailhead at the De Na Zin Wilderness, which is the northeastern portion of the greater Bisti/De Na Zin Wilderness, after driving past it once, then doubling back. I missed it the first time because the sign is back from the road and faces it instead of facing traffic.
I hiked well, but found the area less interesting than Bisti. It was a beautiful day, though, and I very much enjoyed being far from the world. At one point I heard a coyote howl at me from his lair less than 50 yards from me.
Coming north from De-Na-Zin, I stopped and photographed an abandoned building at Blanco Trading Post which, as far as I know, was the trading post.
I was back at the trailhead by midday. Looking around, I saw the snow-capped San Juan Mountains in Colorado, which I’d been seeing from all over northwestern New Mexico thanks to the clear air. With uncharacteristic spontaneity, I decided to drive to Silverton, Colorado and photograph whatever inspired me on the way. That turned out to be a lot…
- Durango, Colorado overview
- Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train steaming past
- Pinkerton Hot Spring
- Skiers at Durango Mountain (when we skied there in 1990, it was called Purgatory)
- Engineer Mountain
- Coal Bank Pass
- Molas Pass
- Silverton, Colorado
I shot well, and thought often of the work of Ansel Adams in these same places years ago.
Day 5: Farmington to Gallup, New Mexico the Long Way
Up again at dawn, I decided to take the advice of my GPS and follow a different route from Farmington to Canyon de Chelly in Arizona. It took me past Shiprock just at dawn, and I decided that since I was in my Nissan Rouge with all-wheel-drive, I would drive the very-rough two-track “road” all the way up to the Shiprock Peak. I had it entirely to myself, and while the light wasn’t magical, I made some interesting images.
GPS continued to guide me through Buffalo Pass in the Chuska Mountains just across the border in Arizona. By then, 9 a.m., the wind began to pick up, and got worse as the day progressed. By 10 a.m., I was at Canyon de Chelly. I hadn’t hiked to the bottom to see the White House Ruin since the week I got married, and thought it looked like fun. It was clear and cool out, but the wind continued to be a factor. At the bottom of the canyon, there were several times I had to curl around my camera and wait for the sand and dust to stop blowing around me. Even so, I was there at the right time of day, and made decent images of the ruin and the handsome desert varnish.
With dust in my teeth, I hiked back to the top and drove to Spider Rock Overlook, which I had to myself. Fairly dry images due to the harsh midday light.
I considered hiring a Navajo guide to take me to other parts of the canyon like Antelope House, maybe even on horseback (which sounds like fun), but the wind deterred me.
By 1 p.m., I got a bite of lunch in nearby Chinle, Arizona, and the wind storm became a dust and sand storm.
I drove south and thought about where I wanted to go next. I don’t know why, but before I got to I-40, I remembered that a coworker told me on several occasions that he loved Meteor Crater, which was 99 miles away. I set off toward it, and drove through a nearly-historic windstorm, with Winslow, Arizona reporting 69 mph sustained winds around the time I was there. For most of the drive, sand and dust reduced visibility, and I was concerned that it would ruin the views at Meteor Crater, but about 10 miles from the location, the dust, but not the wind, disappeared.
Meteor Crater was interesting, and I’m glad I went to check it off my list, but it made only fair images. The wind complicated matters some, mostly by preventing me from holding my camera steady.
Day 6: Gallup Snow, Zuni Pueblo, and El Malpais National Monument
I wasn’t up as early as I had been, but I was on the road south of Gallup, New Mexico by 8:45 a.m. in time to shoot a dusting of snow on the high tablelands of the area. I also stopped and shot three horses, one of which was heterochromic.
I rolled into Zuni Pueblo a little after nine, not knowing what to expect, having read conflicting accounts on the web. A nice lady at the visitor’s center explained that it was a “preparation day” (though for what, she didn’t say, and I didn’t probe it), so no photography was allowed. I have no problem with native religious ceremony, other than it being just as fatuous as any other religion, because it is a private event on their private property. So I left without making any images.
At 10:30 a.m., I arrived at El Malpais (“The Badlands”) National Monument and hiked the El Calderon trail, which ascends a small cinder cone in the middle of a long chain of extinct volcanoes. After lunch, I made my way to the east side of the Monument, where I took time to prowl around the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook, which I hadn’t visited since 2000.
My final stop at El Malpais was the South Narrows Rim trail, which took me high above the vast fields of ancient lava flows into a lush, windswept forested area. I hiked up it to the two-mile marker and back, making nice high-country-light images, and losing myself in the sound of the wind in the trees, and the solitude.
By dinnertime I was in Albuquerque, where I hooked up with Greg Smith, Michael’s brother-in-law, and Greg’s wife Terry, where they took me to dinner, which was excellent.
Day 7: Hiking with Greg at Penistaja and Cabezon Peak
In accordance with conversations we had prior to my trip, Greg drove his truck north from Albuquerque to Cuba, New Mexico, then south on a paved highway, then west on an unpaved road, then finally on a faint two-track road to a badlands area he had visited some years earlier, called Penistaja. From there we hiked and talked as we made pictures of the area. Our rally point was a large cairn on a peak in the middle of the badlands he believes was built by shepherds many years ago. When we reached it, we nicknamed it “The Sarcophagus.”
We approached the high point from the south and departed to the north, allowing us to see more portions of the area.
It was very cold when we started, but the sun was out, and it warmed up nicely.
In addition to his interest in photography, Greg is a talented marksman and firearms collector, and is highly knowledgeable about the history of photography. Our conversation seldom ebbed.
In the afternoon, we took a bleak and desolate road to Cabezon Peak, a large remnant of a volcanic neck that I’ve seen for many years from U. S. 550, but never approached. It made some interesting images, as did the surrounding desert.
By evening, I headed east, ending up staying the night in Santa Rosa, New Mexico before driving home Saturday, March 29.
- The name of this trip, “My Two Cents,” refers to the two pennies I found while hiking in the Bisti Wilderness.
- I bought something for my wife Abby pretty much everywhere I went, with preference to native traders.
- Fleece = dinosaur fur.
- I saw a guy at Molas Pass with a Nikon D800 who clearly didn’t know how to use it.
- Motel breakfast has evolved in the last 15 years, and is now pretty good.
- On the trail with Greg, he carried his .45 caliber 1911 pistol, and I carried my Ruger LCP.
- I had most of my hikes entirely to myself.
- Starting on day three, I was “calfsore,” meaning that the muscles in my lower legs and feet were sore in the morning from long hikes on loose, rough or steep terrain, until I got back on the trail and loosened up. “Calfsore” is one of my favorite feelings.
- Observation that I am in reasonably good shape: after exertion, I recover very quickly upon resting.
- This tour was the trial-by-trail for my Nikon D7100 and the AF-S Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6, and both proved to be outstanding choices as lightweight, versatile equipment for travel and hiking.
- While I shot all images in color, many of the images posted in this trip report were better expressed in black-and-white.
- I experimented with in-camera high dynamic range (HDR), and some images rendered well using this technique.
Other titles considered for this entry:
- Hoodoo Child
- The Badlands
- Plaza Blanca
- A Dry and Waterless Place (U2 lyric)
- Mile Marker Zero
- No Words Spoken