My Last Day in the Badlands

I spent about 7 hours exploring new areas of Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness and looking for Sternberg’s stump. So what is Sternberg’s stump? Charles H. Sternberg was an American paleontologist in the early part of the 1900’s. He collected in Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah and found fossils of the Pentaceratops dinosaur and other animals. He also found petrified logs and stumps. There is one stump that is named after him. There is also a hoodoo named after him where the skull of the Pentaceratops was found. I had a location for the stump but not the hoodoo. There exists a photo of Sternberg standing next to the hoodoo. I started walking along the southern hills, cliffs and hoodoos of Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah wash.


The wash is probably several miles across with badlands on either side. The wash is vegetated where there is sand but pretty sterile where clay predominates. The area must have gotten some recent rain since the grasses were green and some plants were blooming.


There were many areas of hoodoos. I’ll call this area the mushroom field. There were button-like mushrooms – sandstone caps that had fallen to the ground and more normal mushrooms with a stem and cap. A cap of brown sandstone and stems of light colored clay. This is only a small part of the mushroom field.


After walking several miles I finally found Sternberg’ stump. This is it. It’s completely exposed petrified tree stump, having eroded out of the surrounding matrix. I couldn’t find Sternberg’s hoodoo where he found the Pentaceratops skull. Maybe next time.


I noticed that there were lots other petrified tree remains out on the flat areas of the wash nearby. There aren’t too many logs like you’d get at Petrified Forest National Park only lots of piles of fragments.


I did find some really well preserved petrified stumps in situ with roots still showing apparently still in the material that covered up the stump thousands of years ago.


Towards the end of my hike I a came across a coal stream. This stream has down cut into a coal layer. Although most of the stream was dry there were damp areas that had a weird color probably due to the chemicals from the coal.


As I walked back I enjoyed the colors and hoodoos. Here again are a few photos. My walk in the wilderness was over but I will come back in the future. I love hiking around these desolate colorful interesting badlands. On this day I did meet another hiker – another photographer.


On to Taos tomorrow.





Day 2 New Areas

I discovered that Aztec Ruins National Monument was only a few miles away and since I slept in from being out late at Bisti Wilderness I decided to go there first. Aztec Ruins in noted because of the beautifully reconstructed great kiva.


The site had been looted by pot hunters and many of the stone from the pueblo had been hauled away by locals to build their own houses. Earl Morris an archaeologist with the American Museum of Natural History started excavations in the early part of the 1900’s and reconstructed the great kiva. Kivas were meeting places for religious activities. It is fortunate that this one was rebuilt so people can see what it was like.


Interpretive trails lead through the pueblo. The doorways are quite short making it a challenge to get through at least for me.


The pueblo must have been impressive when occupied. Even in the 1800’s, probably 500 years after is was completed and 400 years after it was abandoned some of the walls were 25 feet tall and some rooms had never been really disturbed after abandonment. Earl Morris stabilized what was left of the pueblo to the state it is in today.


After Aztec Ruins I went to explore an area new for me. Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah wilderness area. This is another area managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah  Navajo for gray salt. I had to travel on Navajo Route 57. This road is a mix of hard dirt, sand and little asphalt at the beginning. It is a rough road and many spots are wash board. There are warning signs that the road may be impassable during inclement weather. I can well believe that. The first 10 miles or so has lots because of the oil and gas extraction.


From the parking lot it’s a one mile walk in. Then it’s a matter of how best to get into the lower areas. I did finally find he way in. It helped that cattle use the area and they usually know the way. You just need to follow their foot. As far as I know I might have been the only one exploring the area. There were no other cars in the small parking lot.


The area consisted of clay covered hills that drop off sharply. The hills have many different colors in them. Water erosion has shaped the hills and caused the steep drop-offs at the edges.


Here the clay hills drop off to reveal chocolate colored hoodoos many of which are shaped like mushrooms. It’s difficult to get into some of these areas. The sides of the hills were too steep although I suspect if you search long enough there is a way in. There are so many canyons and passages that it’s difficult to know which one is the way in and which just leads to another dead end.


Here you can an idea of some of the interesting colors of the clay.


Lots of interesting hoodoos and balanced rocks. The clay base erodes from rain faster than the sandstone so many of the hoodoos have sandstone caps.


Hoodoos are everywhere and come in all sizes and shapes. The cap looks to be pretty heavy and this hoodoo probably won’t last too long. Things are always changing with erosion.


Here’s a couple of more hoodoos. Tomorrow I plan on coming back to search for Sternberg’s stump. You’ll have to wait to find out what Sternberg’s stump is.


















Bisti Wilderness Day 1 Continued

I went back to Bisti Wilderness in the afternoon to visit two areas of hoodoos and other formations. Behind what I call black mesa is a labyrinth of passages and many formations. Sometimes is difficult to see where you’re going and you have to climb up on the mounds which can be challenging.


Here I got up high and could see out over the central portion of the relatively flat wash between the badlands on each side. The mounds in the distance are covered in red rocks which was clay overlaying a coal layer. The coal layer burned centuries ago and the burned clay became the red rocks.


Here’s a closeup of one of these mounds and the red rocks.


Once you get behind the black mesa you can find may unique formations. Here’s a couple of images. You can wander around back here for hours finding many interesting sights.



With some difficulty I got to the chocolate hoodoo area. You have to scramble up some of the mounds or mesas to get to the where you can see them. I’ve never found a good way into them and finding your way back down is also challenging. These formations have some bands of brown in them hence the name chocolate hoodoos.


There is so many of them and so much going on it is difficult to good photograph.


As the sun was setting I left for the hike back to the parking lot. Here’s a photo looking back over to where I had been. It looks like just some mesas or hills but mixed in among them are many interesting formations.


Seventy million years ago this was a river delta region on the shores of an ancient sea. Some sediments were lain down during this period. Trees grew here and dinosaurs roamed. Later a volcano covered the area in ash. All these factors and others help make the interesting area that it is today.




Day 1 Into the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness


I arrived about two hours before sunrise and set out to explore some of the Bisti portion of the wilderness. The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area is 45,000 acres of badlands location south of Farmington, New Mexico. It is a desolate area of eroded cliffs and formations.


I started in the dark and walked out about 2 miles to the cracked egg area. Although some portions are relatively flat and open other areas have steep obstacles – bluffs, rocky hills or hoodoos that require making a detour. I usually get temporarily lost in the dark even with a GPS. An almost full moon made getting around a little easier. Here’s a flat area but hills and bluffs can be seen in the background. The sun was just rising.


Around the cracked egg area or alien egg factory that I like to call it are lots of interesting formation within an easy walk.

Egg Factory

There are many interesting hoodoos nearby.


And more.


There have been dinosaur fossils found at Bisti. I’ve never found any but there are petrified trees and stumps. Fragments of petrified trees are easy to find. Here’s a nice petrified log.


Hiked out to the “eagle” nest. It’s a large old raptor nest on the ledge of a large formation. It was probably not an eagle but a ferruginous hawk. This is about 2 mile as the crow flies from the parking lot. Longer because of many detours around bluffs and formations.


There are a lot of interesting formations and you can let your imagination run trying to think about what the formation looks like. Any guesses on this one.


I wanted to find little table I had found a few years back. It was a very slim pedestal with a flat rock on top. It appeared quite fragile and I wondered if it was still around. With the constant erosion, formations change. I found the correct spot but it was gone, probably the pedestal weathered away the flat slab fell. Ii did find other table like formation nearby. Here’s a just a couple of them.



The small one above probably won’t be around too much longer either. I did a total of 11 miles of wandering around and I was pretty tired carrying around my camera gear. I left for Farmington and breakfast around 11am. I’ll be back out for sunset. Here’s one last image at sunrise.








Into the New Mexico Wilderness Badlands

Maureen and I have been in Santa Fe. I’m dropping her off today in Taos for her retreat then I’m off to Farmington, New Mexico. Farmington will be my staging area as I explore the Bisti//Da na zin Wilderness and Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness. These are some of my favorite places for the beautiful colors and formations – HooDoos everywhere. I’ll try to post during midday each day while I’m back in the room trying to get some sleep. I’ll be out in the badlands before sunrise and will also be out after sunset. Here’s taste of what there is to see.

Egg Factory

Tuesday 1/16/2018: My last full day in Iceland. I spent the daylight hours (10:30am to 4pm) exploring the town. I won’t miss the short days, 4 hours of sunlight just doesn’t seem right. I walked about 9 miles in the downtown area. Although the sunlight is short in duration it makes up for it producing beautiful light. Since the light never gets high in the sky it always looks like early morning or late afternoon light. The light was shinning on Esja Mountain across the bay from Reykjavik. When I first arrived to Reykjavik there was very little snow on the mountain, but all the weather we experienced made the mountain beautiful.


I visited Tjornin Pond in front of city hall. A portion of the pond is kept open with warm water. This attracts waterfowl and the locals feed them. With all the feeding going on the pond is sometimes referred to as the largest bowl of bread soup. The swans are whooper swans and the geese are mostly Greylag geese.


Here’s a gaggle of Greylag geese begging on the walkway. They weren’t very aggressive, it was obvious they were used to people.


There is a lot of sculpture around Reykjavik and Iceland in general. I like this sculpture. I imagine some people feel this way sometimes going to work.


Besides the sculpture there are a lot of murals in Reykjavik. Many are permanently on the sides of buildings others are just temporary on building sites. Here a few that I saw this trip.





I’ll end the blog with one last Icelandic hotdog. It was a great trip!


Monday 1/15/2018: This is our last day as a group photography tour. It’s been a great trip even though the weather has not always cooperated. Our leaders Jack Graham (Jack Graham Photography) and Ovar Thorgeirsson ( have been great. We had a great group of people and had lots of fun. We’ve had some great Icelandic food and gotten a taste of the very unpredictable Icelandic winter weather.

We planned to photograph along our way back to Reykjavik. Our first stop was to photograph another glacial lagoon (not Jokulsarlon this time). We were hoping for a sunrise to brightly color the mountains and glacier, but the clouds were hiding the sun. This lagoon was frozen over. Here’s a panorama of the lagoon and glacier. There are some people along the shore in the lower left of the image for scale. The coldness of the image accurately depicts how cold it was.


It snowed on and off along the drive back toward the West, and the sun kept popping out providing good light and good scenes to photograph. We stopped along the road to photograph this mountain with a small pond in the foreground.


Our final stop was back near where we started near the small town of Vik. We stopped on an overlook over the Reynisfjara beach near where we had photographed on the first rainy day. The weather cooperated and we got nice sunset images. It was windy again and the ocean was whipped up with large waves.


The drive back was slow because of the snowy and icy roads but Orvar got us safely back to Reykjavik. We had a final meal together and went our separate ways. Everyone else is flying back tomorrow.  I have an extra day since Icelandair doesn’t have a direct flight to Chicago tomorrow.

Sunday 1/14/2018 Continued: The weather for far eastern Iceland looked good for viewing the Aurora Borealis. It appeared there would be an opening of clear skies over us. We went back out around 10pm, back to the glacial lagoon at Jokulsarlon. The Aurora did appear although it was just a narrow band across the horizon. The stars were spectacular – no light pollution here. Here a couple of images of what we saw.



Sunday 1/14/2018: Back to the black sand beach at Jokulsarlon. Over night the lagoon partially emptied of icebergs and the pack ice that had formed from the cold weather Iceland was experiencing prior to our trip. The ice was everywhere on the beach and high up on the beach. It’s amazing to think this glacial ice could be 1,000+ years old.


The strong wind was kicking up the surf moving the icebergs around. We had to keep an eye on the ocean because you never knew when a particularly large wave would come in and drench you or worse moving heavy ice towards you.


We made a short stop at Hof to view the old sod roofed church. There are only 6 of these old sod churches left in Iceland.


Our final stop of the day was a glacial arm coming off Vatnajokull, the largest glacier in Iceland. This glacier ends in a small lake that flows out to the ocean via a small river. Here’s the glacial tongue and the frozen lake.


Because of the rain during the previous days the ice was quite clean – all the sand and dirt was washed off. This portion of the glacier appears not to be melting as rapidly than at Jokulsarlon.


It’s almost 9:45pm and we are off to try and photograph the Aurora Borealis (northern lights). Tonight is the first clear night we’ve had where we might be able to see them. It’s also going to be really cold outside. I hope we get to see them. We’re going back to Jokulsarlon to try and see them.

Saturday 1/13/2018: The weather forecast promised a good day for photography, but weather can be very unpredictable in Iceland. Our first stop was the famous black sand beach at Jokulsarlon. Icebergs break off the glacier into a lagoon. From the lagoon the icebergs float out to sea at high tide the wind and waves drive them up onto the black sand beach. This is what the beach looked like on Saturday.


The weather held and we got some nice sunrise photos. At this time of the year the sun never gets very high in the horizon at Iceland. It just rises up low in the sky and then just moves across the horizon at that height.


You have to be very careful the waves come in and move the ice. Since this is glacier ice it is very dense and even small chucks are quite heavy and it they hit you they could break a leg. The blue ice is the denser than the clear. The large iceberg in the image is probably 8 feet tall.


This image shows the glacial bay. The glacier can just be seen in the background on the right side of the image. This particular glacier is the fasted receding glacier in Iceland. It recedes from 600-900 feet a year and supplies all the icebergs on the beach.


In the afternoon we went to photograph the mountain Vestrahorn. This is an interesting peak and we were hoping for alpenglow on the peak. It’s only during the winter that the sun is in the correct location to make the peak glow reddish. There was just too many clouds and we didn’t the alpenglow although the peak is photogenic in it’s on right with the wet black sand flats in the background.


Tomorrow we plan on going back to Jokulsarlon. It’s different every day – sometimes there is no ice.