Day #9 of the West Trip: The Bisti Badlands are the most unnatural natural place I have ever seen.

This morning was another morning of getting up insanely early, shoving breakfast and caffeine into our mouths, and getting everything unhooked at an hour that probably bothered our neighbors. Sorry, neighbors! It was made even worse by the fact that our night was less than ideal. We did not, in fact, get all of my partner’s images downloaded on Dropbox. Not even close. We stayed until Starbucks closed, and then there was the issue of getting a Lyft back to the RV park. The girl who took us to Starbucks said there were a ton of Lyft drivers on the roads last night because it was the night before St. Patrick’s Day, and they were all out because everyone at the bars wanted rides.

This was true. There were a ton of Lyft drivers in Santa Fe.

The problem was that they wanted to be near the bars, not across town picking up two girls who wanted to be taken to the middle of nowhere.

We started to panic after Lyft drivers ignored our request for a good fifteen minutes, but finally, we watched our app as one guy drove clear across Santa Fe to come get us. At that point, we were standing outside a closed Starbucks in the freezing cold in Santa Fe, with absolutely no one we knew in the state who could come help us (Lyft, including an emergency function in your app would be great!). This guy was our savior, and we learned a valuable lesson: do not venture into cities you do not know without a certain way to get back home!

Thankfully, the ride from Santa Fe to the Bisti Badlands was rather uneventful … except for one thing: the Badlands don’t have an address. And no, our GPS did not know it existed. Neither did our phones. We got there because I looked at a website that described it as forty-five miles north of one obscure city, then onto a dirt road that had only a number, not a name, and then more vague instructions. It really was a miracle that we found it!

After we turned onto the road that led toward the city that probably no one has ever heard of, we realized that NO ONE must go that way because it was the worst road I have ever driven on. That’s saying something, since all of New Mexico consists of the worst roads I have ever driven on. They make Atlanta roads look positively pristine! The New Mexican government is investing huge sums of money into fixing the roads, but it will be a long time before this particular one is considered drivable, I think. My poor brain rattled around in my skull for hours!

When we finally turned down the unnamed dirt road, celebrating that we had actually found the Badlands, something miraculous happened. My beloved horse, Patrick, who had been my best friend since I was ten years old, died before I finished graduate school. It was a bitterly painful experience for me for so many different reasons, and I miss him every day. His birthday was St. Patrick’s Day.

I nearly jumped out of the driver’s seat when I saw something moving in the road.

“What’s that?” I asked my partner. She didn’t see anything.

I saw another shape move across the road.

“I seriously see something in the road.” I told her.

Imagine my surprise when, not one horse, but an entire herd of wild horses materialized into view.

It was so beautiful and unexpected – and on Patrick’s birthday, no less—that I almost started crying. We slowly drove up to them and stopped. They just stood there, grazing. There were a few foals who eyed us skeptically, but none of them cared about us as we rolled down the windows and took pictures, our jaws nearly on the floor and our eyes wide.

54436469_2256755387719089_7491100937696575488_n
The horses paid us absolutely no attention! 

If it weren’t for the truck that came up behind us, I probably would have stayed there all day and watched them.

When we finally parked at the Badlands, my eyes just about bugged out of my head again. Admittedly, my partner wasn’t as thrilled about the Badlands as I was. For me, the Badlands immediately got into my blood. I don’t know if it was the writer in me or if the sheer wildness of the Badlands brought me back to when I was a little barefoot kid who liked to climb trees and get lost in the woods, but my partner had to keep pulling me back into the RV because I kept forgetting things as I darted out of it and toward the wild.

The badlands are maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, but aside from that, they are totally untamed. There are no trails and no signs. Once you step into the Badlands, you are on your own. There are no Park Rangers to save you there, and there is absolutely no cell signal. None. Following our experience at White Sands, we were very respectful of this fact, and we made firm rules regarding taking pictures of landmarks and consistently looking back to make sure we remembered where we were going.

Badlands 1

What I really wanted to see out there was what some people refer to as the “Alien Egg Farm.” I’m pleased to say that we did find it. It took two miles of walking (at least, since we didn’t follow a straight path) and the help of another hiker, but we stumbled upon it by the middle of the afternoon.

Badlands 3

The walk out there was like nothing I have ever experienced before. If you write science fiction or post-apocalyptic fiction, you absolutely must see the Badlands in person one day. My pictures absolutely do not do it justice, especially since I took most of them as an afterthought as I was climbing all over things. I don’t know how yet, but I know the Badlands will be getting written into one of my books in the future. We’ve already been to some strange places, and I saw pictures of the Badlands online, but nothing prepared me for its unusual, sometimes alien and creepy, and downright strange beauty. Colors range from deep black to vibrant red, and the stone hoodoos erupt out of the ground like fields of mushrooms. The hills out there are also diverse. Some are stone, and some are this strange gray dirt that has crinkled under the sun and sometimes collapses under your feet when you step on it. That last part is particularly terrifying if you’ve climbed very high up a hill, and the fall down onto the stone hoodoos would be less than pleasant.

Badlands 2

After we found the egg farm, we were exhausted. I managed to run off and explore a little farther than my partner, but not even my excitement could push me beyond that. Today was not the day for demanding hikes, and though it was cool outside, the sun in a place with no trees is downright brutal. We dragged ourselves back to the RV around 4:30 p.m. and resolved that we were done for the day.

Alien Egg Farm
The “Alien Egg Farm” of the Bisti Badlands. 

Or so we thought.

My partner likes to compare pictures at the end of our hikes, and after I swiped to one particular picture, she grabbed my phone and asked “Where did you take this?”

I had crawled on top one of the higher hills, and I explained to her that I didn’t mention the view because it was particularly steep and difficult. I didn’t think we could do it with the camera gear. By the look in her eyes, I could tell we were going to try.

Sunset badlands 2

We waited until sunset, and then we went back out. We never did find the same spot where I took my picture, but we did get some other amazing pictures. In the end, it was well worth it to haul our stuff back out there.

Sunset Badlands

Of course, the Badlands had a few tricks up its sleeves as we were leaving. The Badlands do not consist of flat terrain. Not at all. As I was leading us back to the RV, we had to cross a dry river. It looked dry and firm, so I stepped into it.

Guess who immediately started sinking?

My partner ripped me out of the river, which started bubbling with water where my foot had been, and we decided that we’d find a different way.

The last trick came when I took my bag off. We had been setting the bags down all day, and I didn’t think anything of it until my bag brushed my leg and I felt the cactus spike dig into it. I didn’t even realize there were cacti out there. I never saw one.

Oops.

Yes, it hurt when I pulled it out.

We left the Badlands feeling utterly exhausted, though my brain was starting to buzz with new book ideas, and here’s where we had another learning experience. At least, I did. A consistent theme of my last few posts has been that the RV parks are far away. The Bisti Badlands are on Navajo land, so this was again the case. When I had researched the Badlands, everything said that Bloomfield was the closest city we could stay in.

As we passed Farmington in the dark, frustrated that we were breaking our rule about driving at night, we realized I was very mistaken. Bloomfield was another half-hour drive in the dark and on very bumpy New Mexican roads. Did I mention all of the construction zones? There were a ton of construction zones!

When we turned into Moore’s RV Park in the dark, we were insanely grateful. Now, it’s time for bed, and we have to be up early again to make it to Monument Valley. Wish us luck! We need a nap!

Moores
Thank you to Moore’s RV Park in Bloomfield for a lovely stay! 

Published by Alyse N. Steves, Ph.D.

Alyse N. Steves received her Ph.D. in Genetics and Molecular Biology from Emory University. She is also graduate of Kennesaw State University, where she received a B.S. in Biotechnology. Alyse is a published author, with her first book making its debut in August 2016 (https://www.amazon.com/Child-Humanity-Alyse-N-Steves/dp/0997921412/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1550265008&sr=8-1). Outside of science and writing, Alyse is an avid traveler who also enjoys the company of her family, friends, and pets.

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