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 The Trek: The Journals

•
Team: South
Jan Nesset
Sunday, November 17
The Bisti Badlands

Chris Nesset visits a hoodoo
Chris Nesset visits a hoodoo "village"
Courtesy Jan Nesset


A petrified log gets a thorough examination
A petrified log gets a thorough examination
Courtesy Jan Nesset

The Bisti Badlands, a BLM-administered wilderness 36 miles south of Farmington, New Mexico, is one of those places. What I mean by “one of those places” is that it is an exciting place that my wife and I can visit when the cold and snow of the Durango area just won’t do. In the heat of the summer, it’ll be the other way around.

The Bisti – pronounced “bee-stai” – is 4,000 acres of high desert wilderness described mostly by clay hills and intermittent layers of sandstone. It reminds me of the badlands of my hometown of Glendive, Montana, where my backyard public lands had miles of these clay features. We called them gumbo hills. When they get wet they turn slick like ice. In fact, in my youth my friends and I would squeal in delight as we tried like Bambi on ice to climb the gumbo hills.

But it’s dry today. It’s our first time to the Bisti so we don’t really know where to go to get started. We know that we must travel 36 miles south of Farmington on Highway 371 to a turn-off across from a historic marker. There we head east for a short distance on a dirt road to a sign indicating that the Bisti is north. Another short distance to a pullout on the far side of a wide wash and we’re there. We find a register but no trailhead, which does not surprise us because our information tells us that there are no trails in the Bisti. It’s a place to explore via curiosity and not via a pathway. That suits us just fine.

The road runs the west edge of the wilderness boundary so getting going means that we’ll walk east along the dry wash, which will be our main navigational point the entire time we’re in the wilderness. I brought a compass – just in case – but we won’t need it. Getting around this unforested wilderness is a piece of cake. Looking far ahead, we identify high black clay hills as destination points and begin walking. We’re amazed at the number of hoodoos we see clustered in the culdesacs. Chris calls them “hoodoo villages.”

Sandstone layers, broken and clumped in various stages and thicknesses throughout the wilderness, sit atop the hoodoos like hats, protecting them from the rain. They’re the reason most of the hoodoos form the way they do. As the clay erodes from rain and wind, the clay under the sandstone erodes more slowly in rain. In time, as the unprotected clay washes away, left standing are the hoodoos, many of them resembling people. The sandstone hats are amazing to themselves. Many have worn thin and delicate, creating bizarre shapes. There are so many of the wafer-thin sandstone hats that are precariously perched on the hoodoo heads that I wonder how long they’ll last. Humans, especially the selfish ones, cause me to wonder. Just one foolish person could have a huge impact on this wilderness by kicking and pushing the delicate formations, which are within easy reach.

The Bisti is also a great place to find petrified wood. It lies about in tiny and big pieces. If you’re lucky you’ll find big sections of wood. We found nice pieces in which we could easily see the growth rings. If you’re even luckier you’ll find entire logs. We did, one. The log was elevated about four feet on a skinny ridge of hard clay. It’s entire length, about 50 feet horizontally, was suspended above ground, getting there the same way the hoodoo hats get there: the exposed clay washed away but the clay under the log remained, holding it up.

Throughout the Bisti you never know what you’re going to find. Go this way and you’ll find another hoodoo village; that way a rapture’s nest high on a sandstone layer in an unclimbable clay tower. Over there, wow, look at that!

There, in the stumps of petrified trees! The stumps were amazing enough but a closer look showed a treasure. Tree sap had pooled and collected in mosaics in the stumps. Through the millennia it had turned to amber. The amber, crystallized and delicate, was arranged tightly in the petrified wood; too delicate to examine by any other means than sight. From then on our day was spent looking for these petrified stands so we could compare the remarkable amber. It varied in thickness and structure from area to area. Again, it wouldn’t take much for an irresponsible person to destroy in short order the aesthetics of these priceless petrified gems.

Because of the precious and delicate nature of the hoodoos and amber, their fate is tenuous in this age of irresponsibility and greed. Should I even write about my discoveries for fear that somebody will seek out and damage or exploit them?

Walking among the delicate hoodoos I thought of the endangered rhinos in Africa and India and how their existance is so precarious that each animal receives protection. A ranger follows the animal day in and day out to protect it from poachers. Each animal!

The hoodoos in the Bisti can be demolished with a push of a hand or a kick of a foot. Zillions of years placed those sandstone hats on their heads. But a second of shameful exuberance by an unknowing or unthinking person can knock one off. A minute would destroy an entire "hoodoo village." Although the amber crystals are too small and fragmented to be of commerical value, they're pretty, and we all know the temptation to collect pretty things. In the wrong hands it wouldn't take long for the amber to disappear.

What do we do? What can we do? As it is with the rhinos, do we post rangers throughout the Bisti? Or do we continue to trust in the human spirit to do the right thing? I can't trust all humans, so I prefer education. Go to the Bisti, take your children, explore and discover together, and teach your kids the importance of the natural processes that place hats on clay and treasures in rocks. For the good of your kids and their kids, do that.

In the late nineties a thoughtless person(s) destroyed the Eye of the Needle that overlooks the Missouri River east of Great Falls, Montana. The culprit was never caught, although catching him or her or them would not have returned the Eye of the Needle. I'm not so sure that catching them would have made us feel better, either. The Needle is (was) a white sandstone natural arch that has been around long before Lewis and Clark explored the West. In fact, the arch was described in their journals. But it's gone, forever -- destroyed for a reason that may not go beyond the thrill of the moment.

That treasure is lost. It's a glowing example of how quickly we can lose our natural treasures in the blink of an eye.

The Bisti Badlands is a remote, rarely visited public wilderness. It’s full of wonder and rich with discovery. When my wife and I return it may not be until after the birth of our first child, who gets his or her first peek of sunshine next summer. I pray and hope that our child will have the opportunity to see what we saw today.
for Sunday, November 17
North South Both




Biographical
•
Team: South
Jan Nesset
An experienced outdoorsman, Jan Nesset knows that everyone has to pitch in at camp
A native of Montana and the third of four children, Jan Nesset joins American...
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List of All Journal Entries
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Wednesday, April 28
Jan Nesset
American Frontiers: Part II: Taking Stock
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Sunday, December 1
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Canyonlands in December
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Thursday, November 21
Jan Nesset
Snow Raspberry Bounty
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Sunday, November 17
Jan Nesset
The Bisti Badlands
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Friday, November 15
Jan Nesset
Public Land Flows Through It
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Thursday, November 7
Jan Nesset
A Day At Earth Analytic's Home
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Tuesday, October 29
Jan Nesset
Slot Canyon Adventure
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Monday, October 28
Jan Nesset
Some Things Never Change
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Sunday, October 27
Jan Nesset
Back To The Wave
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Monday, October 7
Jan Nesset
The Thing About Summits
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Saturday, September 28
Jan Nesset
A New Beginning: National Public Lands Day
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Thursday, September 26
Jan Nesset
Big Day of Sneak and Salvage
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Wednesday, September 25
Jan Nesset
History-Coated Strawberry
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Tuesday, September 24
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The Last Of It
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Monday, September 23
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Dinosaurlandia
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Sunday, September 22
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Over The Edge
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Saturday, September 21
Jan Nesset
God Bless America
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Friday, September 20
Jan Nesset
Sometimes It's A Tough Life And We Get To Do It
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Thursday, September 19
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The Niche Near You
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Wednesday, September 18
Jan Nesset
Snow Day
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Tuesday, September 17
Jan Nesset
A Capitol Reef Bull's Eye
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Monday, September 16
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A Lucky Rift
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Sunday, September 15
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Riding The Hog's Back
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Saturday, September 14
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Oh Rhythm My Rhythm
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Friday, September 13
Jan Nesset
Precious Images
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Thursday, September 12
Jan Nesset
From the Hole to the Staircase
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Wednesday, September 11
Jan Nesset
Happy Days
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Tuesday, September 10
Jan Nesset
Do You Believe In Magic?
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Monday, September 9
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The Bridge Over the River Why
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Sunday, September 8
Jan Nesset
Public Lands And…Not You?
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Saturday, September 7
Jan Nesset
That Place So Special
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Friday, September 6
Jan Nesset
Just Looking To Have Some Fun – Be Dammed!
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Thursday, September 5
Jan Nesset
Do The Wave
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Wednesday, September 4
Jan Nesset
The Condors Are Coming!
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Tuesday, September 3
Jan Nesset
Fires Are For The Birds
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Monday, September 2
Jan Nesset
Back On Top
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Sunday, September 1
Jan Nesset
Perfection
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Saturday, August 31
Jan Nesset
The Wheels Have Left The Tarmac
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Friday, August 30
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Star Light
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Thursday, August 29
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The Traditional Connection
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Wednesday, August 28
Jan Nesset
Onward and Upward On Mountain Bikes
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Tuesday, August 27
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Checkerboard Kings and Queens
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Monday, August 26
Jan Nesset
Aldo Leopold As Ranch Manager
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Sunday, August 25
Jan Nesset
A Story In Everything
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Saturday, August 24
Jan Nesset
Fire In The Whole
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Friday, August 23
Jan Nesset
"Good Morning, Flagstaff!"
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Thursday, August 22
Jan Nesset
Hoping For The Best
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Wednesday, August 21
Jan Nesset
Could Get Stinky
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Tuesday, August 20
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Wheels Asunder
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Monday, August 19
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Hurt Me, Thank You!
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Sunday, August 18
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Roads Aplenty and Rocks of Pleasure
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Saturday, August 17
Jan Nesset
Of Dragons and Fire
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Friday, August 16
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Motorcycles and the Zen of Route Mechanics
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Thursday, August 15
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Puzzled
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Wednesday, August 14
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A Day Off, Sort Of
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Tuesday, August 13
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A Delightful, Light Day
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Monday, August 12
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Courage On Eagle Mountain
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Sunday, August 11
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Farewell
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Saturday, August 10
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My Aching Back In The Saddle
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Friday, August 9
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Back In The Saddle
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Thursday, August 8
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In The Saddle
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Wednesday, August 7
Jan Nesset
Shut My Mouth!
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Tuesday, August 6
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Diversity and Song
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Monday, August 5
Jan Nesset
An Unraveling
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Sunday, August 4
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A Bagged Peak
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Saturday, August 3
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Lines On A Map
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Friday, August 2
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GPS-Marriage Made In Heaven
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Thursday, August 1
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Free Wheelin'
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Wednesday, July 31
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An Excellent Start
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