Ruins, Rocks and fantastical hoodoos – Farmington, NM
Our trek south and east is well underway, and as you read this we’re already sitting in Alabama! Yup, we’re moving along faster than usual, but doing lots of fun things as we also dodge some severe weather along the way. The fast pace and juggling of our stops has put a bit of a cramp in my blogging efforts, but I’m trying to avoid falling too far behind 🙂
Our eastward route has been mostly along I-40, and will ultimately end in Florida after we complete Betsy’s chassis maintenance and visit some good friends in the Carolinas. In the past month we’ve made stops in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and now Alabama.
I’ll pick up today’s post where I left off in New Mexico, and try to get caught up. We’re not used to moving this fast, but there’s just so much we want to see and do before settling in for the winter!
Farmington, New Mexico is in the Four Corners area, and this is where we completed our exploration of Ancestral Puebloan culture. We intended to visit two ruins sites, at Aztec Ruins National Monument and Chaco Culture National Historic Site. These sites are yet another testament to the organizational and engineering abilities of the ancient culture. Unfortunately the recent rains and road damage took Chaco Culture National Historic Site off our schedule. We’ll save that one for next time!
Aztec Ruins National Monument
The real Aztecs never lived here, and the site actually contains ruins of a 12th-century Ancestral Pueblo settlement built by people associated with Chaco Canyon to the south. The site got its name from early Spanish explorers who commonly used the term “Aztec” when naming many of the ancient sites they encountered.
Aztec Ruins contains multi-story “great houses” and smaller pueblos. We followed a trail at the West Ruin to see more than 500 rooms centered on an open plaza, many of which still had their original wooden roofs. Artifacts from here offered a glimpse into the lives of the area’s Ancestral Puebloan population.
Although it’s easy to think “if you’ve seen one ruin you’ve seen them all”, we’ve learned that each community ruin has it’s own unique engineering and building style. The fine masonry and quality of materials we saw here were evidence of advanced skills possessed by Chaco builders.
With our plans to visit Chaco Culture National Historic Site thwarted, we searched for other things to do near Farmington. I had come across Bisti Wilderness Area during my searches of the area, an interesting place 40 miles south of Farmington. We headed there on the last full day of our stop, with no idea that we were about to have our minds blown!
The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is a rolling landscape of badlands, easily accessible but somewhat hidden in the high desert of the San Juan Basin. It’s a wilderness area covering 45,000 acres and administered by the Bureau of Land Management. We thought it might be similar to badlands we’d visited previously, like the ones at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, Badlands National Park in South Dakota, the badlands in the Colorado Plateau of Utah, the desert areas of southeast California or Petrified National Forest in Arizona. But we were in for a big surprise!
We learned that the appeal of Bisti (pronounced biz-tie) Wilderness is not it’s overall size, but rather the exquisite small-scale details – the shapes, colors and textures of its rocks. This place is a WOW!
From the parking lot we got our bearings and just started walking – no established trails here! We loved that we could pick our distance and route, feeling like we were blazing our own trail and moving toward the features that interested us most. The area is large enough that we were alone amidst the colorful mud hills and endless mazes of hoodoo gardens.
We could have spent the entire day gawking at the stunning unusual scenery, and we were glad that we were able to explore for several hours before an approaching storm sent us back to the car.
Translated from Navajo language, Bisti means “a large area of shale hills.” De-Na-Zin (pronounced Deh-nah-zin) takes its name from the Navajo term for “cranes.” Whatever. This place is amazing!
From past explorations we’ve learned that the usual elements (water, wind and ice) have created the bizarre and incredibly beautiful formations in this barren landscape. The diverse and striking scenery brought solitude, as the breeze cooled us and the hoodoos witnessed our every step.
Hoodoos big and small are remnants of complete erosion of everything around them. These formations were surreal and really made our minds strain to imagine how they were formed and what the shapes reminded us of. I guess you can tell by now that we absolutely loved this place, and we highly recommend it to anyone traveling anywhere close to it. It’s mostly an easy walk, and you won’t see such diversity in such a small area anywhere else!