Tom Lohr lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he explores the region with his canine sidekick, Ella the Brown Wonder.
Enjoy the Middle of Nowhere
Few areas in the southwest are enshrouded in such mystique as the Bisti Badlands Wilderness Area. Falling under the cognizance of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Badlands are situated close to the middle of nowhere, has a landscape of an alien planet, and little or no direction on how to explore it. Yet, adventurers cannot resist its allure. The breathtaking rock formations and remoteness make the Bisti Badlands a bucket list item for hikers, photographers and admirers of stunning scenery.
One of the major hurdles of having an enjoyable experience is the difficulty of navigating to its most famous natural oddity. Aside from a useless sign at the end of the gravel parking lot, you are on your own to wander about and find the awesomeness that awaits. Numerous visitors end up leaving confused, dehydrated and disappointed.
Put Cracked Eggs on the Menu
Despite the popularity of the Badlands, the BLM has not installed any directional signposts to guide the uninitiated. The map they handout at the local BLM office is difficult to decipher. With the desert landscape looking bleak and bland in most directions, becoming disoriented and off course is easy.
This installment of Great Hikes is designed to get you safely to what is commonly known as the “Alien Egg Hatchery.” It is one of the most unique parts of the Bisti Badlands, most sought after by photographers and the one stop that travelers pressed for time head for first. But before you jump into your car and set a course there are some things you need to know.
Tips for a Successful Adventure
1. The Bisti Badlands are in the high desert. If you are coming from a lower altitude, you endurance and ability will be affected.
2. The desert is also hot. The Badlands can be damn hot from late spring to early fall. Early morning hikes a few hours in duration are doable, but if you want to see a good portion of the wilderness area, expect to spend a few days.
3. The closest town of size to have a hotel and grocery store is Farmington, NM, about 35 miles to the north.
4. The Bisti Badlands is not a national or state park, nor is it a national monument. It is a wilderness area overseen by the BLM. As such, there are NO restrooms, water, electricity or other amenities. When you arrive you will park in a gravel lot, and that is all there is. Bring everything you will need, and double the amount of water you think you will consume. A hydration system is strongly recommended,
5. Cell phone coverage is extremely spotty. Expect to have none in the parking lot, and only sporadic reception while hiking.
6. While I have never seen one there, rattlesnakes live in the area. Know what to do if you encounter one.
7. There is no poop fairy. Bury your feces and pack out any toilet paper. Do your business far from the parking lot or the egg hatchery.
8. During the monsoon season in the middle of summer, rain can make the trek much more difficult.
In the Desert, No One Can Hear You Scream
The Alien Egg Hatchery is eerie enough to make Sigourney Weaver shriek in terror. The rocks resemble cracked eggs that a hungry baby alien monster is sure to have emerged from. That is why it will be the one place you absolutely must visit and photograph. After you have been there once, it is relatively easy. The first time, you can get lost, and getting lost in the desert is not an enjoyable experience.
Head East Young Man
Start at the east end of the parking lot, you will see a wooden bulletin board that probably contained useful information at one time. The sun has made it mostly unreadable. From there, to your right will be the entry through the fence that surrounds most of the area.
Once you have navigated your way over the fence, look straight ahead to the east. In the distance you will see two orange mounds. Start walking towards them. Pass the mounds on their north side (keep them on your right), and keep heading mostly east but slightly north. Ahead, and to your left, you will to see the corner of a long fence line. There will be a wash between you and the fence line, if it is dry it is easiest to veer left and enter the wash and then continue dead east.
In the distance in the east, you will see two, twin, black mesas. Head toward them passing them to the north (again, to your right). Just after you pass the mesas, you will pass a gaggle of hoodoos on your right. They are very photogenic and a good sample of what awaits if you have decided to visit Hoodoo City, another part of the Bisti Badlands.
Behold the Beauty
About three hundred yards past the hoodoo gaggle, there is a slight depression behind some boulders on the right. Stop, drink and rejoice, you have reached the Alien Egg Hatchery.
If your main goal is to photograph the hatchery, it is best to journey out very late in the afternoon to catch the golden westerly light from the sunset. If you do, you will need to head back immediately and briskly to make it back to the parking lot before it is completely dark. If there is no moon, dark at the Badlands is pitch black. You can reverse the way you came, but if you get disoriented in the dusk, keep all of the rock formations on your left and stay in the wash. The wash runs directly adjacent to the parking lot. If you become severely lost, head toward the direction of the sunset and you will eventually reach the road.
Leave Bisti the Way You Found It
There are other stunning rock formations not far from the hatchery, and if you have time and feel up to it, they are well worth the extra time. Just ensure you have enough water and daylight left. The easiest to reach is the Stone Garden, almost directly north of the hatchery and across the wash.
The Bisti Badlands is a magical place with a tinge of the supernatural. It is an pristine sample of unique North American geology. Go, enjoy but take only photos and leave only footprints.