Saturday, February 9, 2019

Bisti Wilderness, Part 2 (Hunter Wash)





                                                                  Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit,
                                                                  and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.  A civilization
                                                                  which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original,
                                                                  is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of
                                                                  civilization itself.
                                                                                                       -- Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire


This is Part 2 of a two-part post.  Part 1 was posted on February 7.

The two most accessible areas at the western end of the Bisti Wilderness are the Alamo Wash and the Hunter Wash.




Hunter Wash is the less-visited area, in part because its access road is not well-marked, and in part because its formations are not as weird and accessible as those in the Alamo Wash area.

In addition, the topography of the Hunter Wash area is different from that of Alamo Wash.  Whereas the features in Alamo wash are relatively small, uncluttered, and primarily at ground level, most features in Hunter Wash are large, high, and surrounded by debris . . .















Of course Hunter Wash has its hoodoos, but compared to those in the Alamo Wash, they are bigger . . .





taller . . .





higher above ground level . . .






and in some cases, simply gigantic:





One of the iconic hoodoos of the Hunter Wash area is called "Wings" -- indeed, there are many hoodoos in the Bisti so named.  We visited the Hunter Wash area specifically to find and photograph this amazing hoodoo, which National Georgraphic used to represent Bisti in its "Best Trips of 2019" promotion - click here to see it (#13 on the list).




It's deep into Hunter Wash, and perched with a couple of other, similar hoodoos on top of a 40-foot high hill:











Having reached our goal, we headed back to the car, encountering more hoodoos and weird formations along the way.











. . . including more petrified wood . . .




and some lonely limestone caps waiting for their hoodoo columns to emerge beneath them . . .




Finally, as we returned to the car, we noticed some clever person had created their own rock formation:




If you would like to see these images and more in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.

Enjoy!




Thursday, February 7, 2019

Bisti Wilderness, Part 1 (Alamo Wash)



                                                                  Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit,
                                                                  and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.  A civilization
                                                                  which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original,
                                                                  is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of
                                                                  civilization itself.
                                                                                                       -- Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire





Northwest New Mexico contains some of the most unusual landscapes in the world.  The Bisti Wilderness (pronounced "BISS-tie") is one of them.

National Geographic recently proclaimed Bisti one of 28 "Best Destinations" for travel in 2019 (click here for the list; Bisti is #13) . . . but not if your idea of travel is a hotel with all the amenities.  It's about 180 miles from my house, and about 40 miles from the nearest hotel.

Seventy million years ago, the 45,000-acre area was a riverine delta of streams, swamps, and ponds on the western edge of the Western Interior Seaway which stretched from Canada to the current Gulf of Mexico and covered most of what we now call the Great Plains in the middle of the United States.  Here's a map of how it looked back then:



Over millions of years, mud, clay, plants, sand, and volcanic ash piled up, each covering the previous layer.  These layers were lifted up about 25 million years ago with the formation of the Colorado Plateau, which is now home to the amazing geological formations featured in dozens of national parks and monuments, including the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Arches, Monument Valley, Capitol Reef, and more.


Colorado Plateau area

But the area we now know as Bisti remained covered until about 10,000 years ago, when the last Ice Age ended and flows of water from melting glaciers exposed the layers and eroded them into the fantastic shapes we see today.

The Bisti Wilderness is not far from the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, which I wrote about in my previous blog entry.




With a photo buddy I visited the western (Bisti) section of the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness in November and December of 2018.  The western section consists of two primary areas:  the Alamo/Gateway Wash and the Hunter Wash (further north).  This post is about the Alamo Wash area.





A "wash" is a water drainage area, usually with a large arroyo fed by many smaller tributaries.  In the desert, washes are dry most of the time.  But over thousands of years the intermittent water flows are enough to erode the layers and create amazing shapes and formations.


Here are images of the arroyos in the Alamo and Hunter washes:


Alamo Wash Arroyo













Hunter Wash Arroyo
(still wet from recent rain)














Parking for both wash areas is at the downstream end, so to get to the most interesting features you have to walk a couple of miles upstream across an empty plain.  There are no marked trails in Bisti, so you have to use landmarks to navigate.  (GPS comes in handy here!)





On the south side of the Alamo Wash are hills of colorful dried mud and small watercourses typical of New Mexico badlands.




But about a mile further east, things start to get weird:







Hoodoos -- mud pedestals topped with harder (and, thus, more erosion-resistant) limestone or sandstone caprock -- pop up out of the ground like mushrooms:































We crossed a debris-strewn plain that reminded me of lines from Shelley's sonnet, "Ozymandias":




                                          "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
                                          Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
                                          Nothing beside remains.  Round the decay
                                          Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
                                          The lone and level sands stretch far away.



Continuing east, we encountered a small arch . . . 





or maybe it's really more of a window . . .





Further to the south and east, there's a valley that appears to be a nursery of petrified alien eggs:
































The "eggs" are actually the remnants of limestone tubes created by limestone-laden water cutting through volcanic ash.  The softer ash has been eroded away, leaving the limestone eggs.


Continuing our eastward journey, we see miniature hoodoo cities . . .




and petrified tree trunks . . .




including this one on the top of a mud column:





Around the end of a line of hills, we turn into another valley filled with hoodoo villages emerging out of the hills:









By this time we were about 3 miles from our car and the sun was dropping fast, so we headed back.

The shadows grew longer and the setting sun highlighted what little vegetation there was:







Twilight . . .








If you would like to see these images and more in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.

Next post will feature the Hunter Wash area of the Bisti Wilderness.

Enjoy!






  Now

Monday, January 28, 2019

Chaco Culture National Historical Park




                                                                                  Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
                                                                                  Are removed, destroyed, restored . . .

                                                                                            -- T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets, "East Coker"


Over a thousand years ago, around 950 CE, in a remote valley of what is now northwest New Mexico, indigenous people began building some amazing structures that served as a cultural center for their civilization for 300 years -- longer than the United States has been an independent nation.  The buildings were the largest in North America until the 19th century, but were abandoned around 1250 CE, most likely due to a prolonged drought.  

The area is now called Chaco Canyon, and it's not only a national historical park, but is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It constitutes the largest collection of pre-Columbian ruins north of Mexico.  The sites are considered sacred ancestral homelands by the Navajo and Hopi people.  You can read more about the geography, architecture, archaeology, and history of the area here and here.

There are also fascinating theories about the alignment of the structures for astronomical events such as equinoxes and the transit of the moon.  For an interesting video on this topic, click here.

I visited Chaco for the first time in early November last year with my wife, and was so impressed that I made a second trip six days later with a photo buddy.  The site is very remote -- about 140 miles from our house, with the last 14 miles a rough dirt road.  As a result, we were there in the middle of the day on both trips, so the light for photographic purposes wasn't ideal.  But for sheer amazement the visits were well worth the effort.

The main area of the park includes the largest of the Chaco "great houses" -- stone and timber complexes consisting of hundreds of rooms, sometimes four or five stories high, built near 100-foot sandstone cliffs on the north side of the canyon.  




Besides the erosion of the structures themselves, the sandstone cliffs behind the structures have crumbled over the centuries, crushing portions of the structure.  




Here's a view of a portion of Pueblo Bonito from above, showing the Chaco Canyon valley and the debris from the cliffs (behind the camera position).




Each great house had multiple kivas -- large, circular, underground rooms believed to have been used for religious ceremonies or political meetings.  The Chaco great houses have kivas of varying sizes, from 12 feet to over 60 feet in diameter.

Kivas at Chetro Ketl:








Kivas at Pueblo Bonito:








Kiva at Pueblo del Arroyo:




Most interior rooms in the great houses are off-limits, but at Pueblo Bonito you can explore some of them.  You enter through a narrow passageway . . .




and emerge into a series of rooms connected by doors and windows:



In the image above, you can see the timbers that remain embedded in the wall to support a second story room.

Photographically, the doors and windows of Chaco are iconic images:



















The other beautiful aspect of these buildings is the masonry.  You have probably already noticed the amazingly smooth surfaces of the walls, the sharp corners, and the intricate arrangement of millions of pieces of finished sandstone.





The walls are constructed in the "core and veneer" style, where two parallel walls were built with finished stone, and then the space between the walls was filled with rubble and consolidated with mortar or cement.  You can see this technique in the exposed cross-section of the wall below:




If you would like to see these images and more in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.

In the meantime, we'll let the raven have the last word:




Enjoy!