NM – Bisti Badlands Wilderness . . . it’s a new day

My attempt to spend a few days exploring the Badlands a couple of weeks earlier was somewhat thwarted by wind storms followed by a drop in temperatures and snow storm. However, my abbreviated first visit gave me plenty of motivation for a return (link to related post). With no home for the night after departing Chaco Culture National Historical Park, I headed to Bisti in hopes of catching sunset colors. 

It wasn’t WOW but I was grateful to experience without gusty wind and blowing sand. 

The next morning I headed out early hoping to catch the golden hour of light. A little surprise caught my attention instead. 

YEP a cow. What the heck? This is a protected area with gates and fences. Imagine my disappointment when I saw this cow followed by bike tracks. What a bummer. 

While the lighting ended up being far less than ideal I was thrilled to find large pieces of petrified wood. 

Yes, that once was a tree!

Incredible to see two exposed long logs.

One of the cool things you can find in the area if you keep your eyes peeled are giant bird nests; I found three on this day. There’s a shelf on the tallest formation housing one. Second photo is zoomed. 

Can you see the nest off to the right? It appears to have been abandoned and is slowly returning to nature. 

Lots of cool features and acreage to wander. There aren’t any trails thus best LNT practice is to limit steps to water channels, hardpan and sandy areas. Plan to turn around frequently when channels run out. In general I found the area in surprisingly good shape.

On my Gaia app the dashed line represents a suggested trail. The red is my wanderings. I strongly recommend using a compass and GPS or app if you are navigationally challenged like me. It’s really easy to get turned around as the sandstone features make you feel as though you are in a mini mountain range. You can see the times I turned around when I ran out of LNT options. The thin red line was from my first outing (link to related post).

It’s a magical landscape.

THE balanced rock at Arches National Park has nothing on this one. 

At the trailhead, BLM provided an overview map which shows some named features such as this one called cracked eggs. 

Remember the first photo of the cow? Sadly I found this incredible damage. Who let the cows in? So much for LNT.

This gate was closed each time I visited but with plenty of fence around perimeter I’m sure opportunity exists. I didn’t notice any cows in the area surrounding the wilderness.

Maybe the sign should have included warning about non-aggressive cows. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 24-25, 2018


  • You don’t want to be in the area during time of heavy wind. My face was sand scrubbed and my eyes felt like sandpaper after getting caught in the wind.




NM – Valles Caldera National Preserve

After learning about volcanic tuff during my visit to Bandelier National Monument and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, how could I skip the place responsible for creating these geologic marvels?

“Valles Caldera began erupting 1.25 million years ago. Once the eruption ended, the massive pyroclastic flow material inside and outside the caldera began to cool and solidify, forming a rock geologists refer to as tuff. Solidified pyroclastic flow materials from the Valles Caldera and Toledo Caldera comprise the Upper and Lower Bandelier Tuffs. Much earlier, 7-6 million years ago, Bearhead Rhyolite erupted in the southern Jemez Mountains sending debris flows over the area now known as Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.” Source: Valles Caldera National Preserve Guide and Map by High Desert Field Guides

At the time of my visit, this park was touted as the “Nation’s Newest National Preserve.” The Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000 signed by President Bill Clinton on July 25, 2000, created 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve. By the way, valles is pronounced VIE-yays or va-yes.

Beware of restricted access hours. I found myself at the gates saying OPEN, OPEN, OPEN. 

Little did I know a reward for my timely arrival was a road filled with hundreds of crazed prairie dogs racing back and forth creating a death-wish obstacle course. I wish I would have thought to video this frenzy. The rangers said it was the first time they had witnessed such an event. When I left later in the day all was quiet. 

As I looked around I noticed these porta-potty looking buildings. I learned they are used by grad students studying prairie dogs as part of John Hoogland’s Prairie Dog Project, which he began in 1974.

It was funny to see the prairie dogs labeled like race car drivers. 

Their homes were also labeled. JB will you come home?

Many roads had not been opened for the season so my options for exploration were fairly limited. Experienced anglers brought bikes as a way to reach more distant water features. Adjacent to the Visitor Center is the 1.6 mile trail around Cerro La Jara, one of many hills left behind after the caldera collapse.

Be sure to pick up a free interpretive guide at the Visitor Center. 

Cerro La Jara was not much to look at. I’m guessing it’d be nicer during green grass and wildflower season.

To gain a view of the preserve, the rangers recommended I hike the trail up Rabbit Mountain. 

You know how much I enjoy hiking through burn areas. Sigh! 

Good reminder of LNT. I met some hikers collecting antlers on a nearby road, so this seems to be a thing in this area. I heard collectors are paid well.

The aspen trees are sure to put on a show in the fall. 

I hiked up to Rabbit Ridge, about 5.5 miles round trip with a little over 1,000 feet elevation gain.

For some reason I don’t think I’ll be visiting Bandelier National Monument from this trail. Just say no to bushwhacking.

The views from the ridge were less than stellar but I’m sure better than before the fire. 

Chasing butterflies in honor of Joan was a good distraction. 

The trail was well marked. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 23, 2018





NM – Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

I wasn’t sure I wanted to visit Tent Rocks, afterall the features are created by volcanic tuff which was also the focus at Bandelier National Monument (link to related post). Although it was a Sunday, I was nearby and it seemed silly to not take a look. Since it’s near Santa Fe and Albuquerque, I was prepared for busy trails.

This is a BLM managed National Monument. I’m still a bit confused as to how agency management is determined. Some are managed by National Park Service, other by BLM. 

I saw several people spending significant time collecting Apache Tears even though signage clearly said otherwise. I actually reported one guy to a ranger who was filling his pockets and telling everyone around him to do the same.

Looking down into the canyon. As you can see the formations are significantly different than Bandelier thus I was glad I’d made the jaunt.

First claret bloom of the season.


Adventure Date(s):

  • April 15, 2018


  • Parking is limited and there are staff directing traffic. Once full you are placed in a waiting cue. Early arrival and/or mid-week will minimize your chance of getting in without waiting.
  • Resources are limited. I don’t recall water being available but there are restrooms and picnic tables.
  • The slot canyon trail can be a bit frustrating when busy as lots of waiting for back and forth traffic. My notes indicate there were a few places a bit more challenging than expected.
  • Buying or borrowing the interpretive guide was worthwhile.



NM – Bisti Wilderness . . . in search of WOW geology

Besides stopping to share a week of adventure with Joan in Utah, my spring goal was to spend extended time in New Mexico. My map was marked with lots of options. So at 3,400 miles into this jaunt it was goodbye Colorado, hello New Mexico. 

The first point of interest was in the northwest corner of the state. Photos I’d seen of this area had me adding this to my geology WOW list a few years ago. I couldn’t wait to explore myself. 

There aren’t any trails in this area and it’s an extremely fragile area, so it’s important to walk in the water channels and stay off the features. I recommended tracking your walk as it’s pretty easy to get turned around.

So a wandering I went. Here are a few of the WOW features I enjoyed. 

Extra credit:

I found a few wildflowers. 

And a survey marker. 

Petrified wood. 

Snow? Quite a surprise I awoke to after a night of heavy wind and dust storm in my semi-protected nearby dispersed campsite. I thought it was alkali at first as I’d seen it elsewhere during my hike.

Temperature check? Yep 30 degrees. 

I finally cried uncle and said it was time to move on. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 12, 2018


  • You don’t want to be in the area during time of heavy wind. My face was sand scrubbed and my eyes felt like sandpaper after getting caught in the wind for the last couple miles returning to my car. I was bummed as I really wanted to explore more the next day but Mother Nature had other plans for the next few days.
  • Looks like smoke, but it’s dust. First time I’d ever experienced such a thing.



UT – Capitol Reef NP, Upper Muley Twist Canyon

In my opinion there’s nothing that defines Capitol Reef more than the Navajo Knobs you see along Notom Road. They really appeal to me and each time I see them, it’s a WOW moment. 

REWIND: After hiking to Upper Calf Creek Falls in Grand Staircase-Escalante, I continued my drive north on Highway 12 before turning west on Highway 24 where I found myself at Capitol Reef National Park. Although it was late in the day and I wouldn’t be able to visit, I was excited to spend the night dispersed camping off Notom Road where I could feast my eyes upon one of my favorite geologic features which I call Navajo Knobs. Last spring I spent a few days enjoying this area (link to related post). 

The next morning, the sun’s golden glow warms the knobs. But all too soon it was time to continue my travels to Moab.

This was a special day. It was time for another J&J adventure with my bestie Joan. 

After discussing several options, we decided to spend time immersed in Capitol Reef National Park. First on the list was Muley Canyon, a place I’ve dreamed of since first crossing the Waterfold Pocket several years ago. Last spring, my blog post said “one day I’d like to come back and hike the Muley Twist trails.”

Look at that beautiful monocline. During my trip last spring I took a lot of photos and wrote a bit about the geology of the Waterpocket Fold (link to related post).

If you can’t hike the fold, driving through the fold on Burr Road provides many WOW views. 

According to the NPS handout, “Upper Muley Twist Canyon cuts lengthwise along the spine of the Waterpocket Fold creating a colorful, meandering canyon. The Navajo and Wingate sandstone layers are exposed here, tilted by the uplift and folding of the Earth’s crust and sculpted by millions of years of erosion. The Wingate, stripped of its protective Kayenta cap rock, has eroded into unusual forms including many large arches. Highlights of the hike are narrow canyons, expanses of slickrock, large arches, and dramatic vistas from the top of Waterpocket Fold.”

Walking the road toward the Upper Muley Twist Trailhead, we quickly spotted the first POI, Peek-A-Boo Arch.

Second POI, Double Arch.

According to the WOW guidebook, “Strike is a geological term for the axis of the fold.”

Looking down at Waterpocket Fold, Strike Valley, and the Henry Mountains. So much yummy geology!

Those are my Navajo Knobs in the far distance. 

Looking the opposite direction. So many shapes, colors and textures. 

Soon enough it was time to get serious and start hiking the canyon. 

We didn’t get very far before we found our first distractions. 

There were many arches to be spotted along the way including this one, Saddle Arch. 

One of the most exciting finds was petrified wood. 

This photo shows how everything is tilted. 

It’s quite a transition from the wash to the rim. 

What’s easy for long-legged Joan, becomes quite a challenge for short-legged Jan. 

Made it to the rim! Joan couldn’t help but being a little overwhelmed looking at the Henry Mountains, a place she’s dreamed of visiting.

We were excited to find water in the pockets of Waterfold Pocket. 

It was a very windy day on the rim, but oh those views made every minute a joy. 

The geology is beyond words. 

What do you do when you’re in Muley Twist country? Why of course you twist and shout!

As we worked our way through the canyon, it was impossible not to imagine what it was like for the Mormon Pioneers who traveled through with their wagons. According to the NPS, “From 1881 to 1884, the canyon served as a wagon route for Mormon pioneers traveling south toward San Juan County. The canyon was though to be narrow enough to “twist a mule”, hence the name Muley Twist.” 

Adventure Dates:

  • March 24-25, 2018


  • According to NPS, “The route not an official, maintained trail. It is marked with rock cairns and signs, but carrying a topo map is recommended. Route conditions, including obstacles in canyons, change frequently due to weather, flash floods, rockfall, and other hazards. Route finding, navigation, and map-reading skills are critical. Do not rely solely on unofficial route markers such as rock cairns which are not maintained by NPS. It is extremely hot in summer and water sources are unreliable.”
  • Free backcountry permits are required for all overnight trips and can be obtained at the Visitor Center.
  • Obtain a copy of the trail handout at the Visitor Center. It has tips about the POI’s as well as trail beta.
  • Be aware of biological soil crust. 



UT – Dixie National Forest . . . in search of colorful geology

After spending a couple days exploring Snow Canyon State Park, I continued my travels northeast on Interstate 15 and on to the Silver Reef area where I spent the night and was treated to this WOWtastic sunset. 

I had an equally impressive sunrise.

These roads make me nervous after rain so I was keeping my eye on the sky and felt a little nervous about proceeding. 

With blue sky in one direction and black in the other, I decided to toss the coin and hope for luck. My goal was finding some WOW geology in the Dixie National Forest and Cottonwood Wilderness areas. Isn’t geology amazing? 

Extra credit was finding early blooms.

My luck held by forcing a turnaround a bit before I wanted. Others have dug deep ruts in the road after rains. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 14, 2018



  • Please practice Leave No Trace ethics
  • If you find trash, do your part and carry it out.
  • Be aware and knowledgeable of biological soil. 



NV – Valley of Fire State Park, Part 2

I began my previous post by saying how I avoid State Parks as I’ve had many less than WOW experiences after shelling out the entrance fee. Well Valley of Fire has given me cause to pause. I easily got my $10 worth of enjoyment and WOW on my first day (link to related post), so much so that I decided to catch sunrise and enjoy a few more hours of eye candy. I arrived early at Seven Sisters. Not sure thought I’d want to be related to this sister; I see a lot of ape resemblance. 

Two more of the gals?

I wanted to catch first light in the Park. For those who don’t hike or are limited to a short distance there is plenty to see without much effort. These photos were taken along the White Domes Drive.

I then took off wandering and found lots of colorful treats. 


The beauty of this landscape is beyond words. A photographer would be happy for a lifetime. It was by far the best $20 I’ve spent in a long time.

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 9, 2018


  • Valley of Fire State Park
  • Nice reminder of their LNT philosophy 
  • If you find trash, do your part and carry it out. 
  • Heat is a serious consideration when hiking in the desert
  • Be aware and knowledgeable of biological soil.