Magazine article Sunset

The Hoodoos and Don'ts of the Bisti Badlands

Magazine article Sunset

The Hoodoos and Don'ts of the Bisti Badlands

Article excerpt

THE BISTI WILDERNESS IN NEW Mexico looks like Alice's Wonderland after a century-long drought. This is weird country, a desolate land of petrified wood and mushroom-shaped towers, called hoodoos, that look as though they've been melting in the sun for the last few thousand years.

In a sense, these badlands southeast of the Four Corners area have been melting, thanks to wind and water erosion on a mix of sandstone, shale, mudstone, and coal. The coal oxidizes, which heats the shale, turning the rock a vivid shade of orange.

At first, the Bisti (pronounced bisstie) Wilderness doesn't impress. From the parking lot, you wander up a barren wash for about 1 1/3 to 2 miles, angling toward the northeast. It isn't until you reach the low hills and cliffs, part of a great swamp during dinosaur days, that the Bisti begins revealing its surreal terrain.

Imagine a scaled-down Monument Valley with a sense of the absurd. The towers here are not grand monoliths--most of the rounded mounds are topped by five or six sinuous forms that resemble prairie dogs on alert. …

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