Back in January, feeling emotionally exhausted after a very busy holiday and months of navigating my daughter’s increasingly irrational fears, I jumped in my car – alone- for a weekend road trip. I know I needed a change of scenery and- I suspect- felt the need to prove to myself that I was still capable of engaging with life bravely. I stopped at El Malpais National Monument – which I could only scratch the surface of without a hiking partner- on my way out to the Bisti Badlands, where I hoped to catch some of the site’s amazing hoodoos and other wind carved stones.
I had taken the long route on a narrow highway through very desolate reservation land, progressively more suspicious that I had taken on more adventure than I should have (in hindsight, the whole thing was far more reckless than brave). I arrived at the Bisti about 2 hours before sunset and had the place to myself– probably not the best scenario when dealing with trail-less trekking without cell coverage in an unfamiliar badland. Stubbornly refusing my own hesitation, I pulled together my resolve, my camera, and my backpack, then set out.
As there are no trails or markers in the Bisti, I (thankfully) had the forethought to purchase a handheld GPS device and download coordinates of key landmarks. It’s been a long time since I have gone geocaching or done any serious hiking, and I began to think I’d lost all navigation capabilities as I moved toward landmark points and found 1) nothing or 2) huge barbed wire fences obscuring any reasonable paths to my destination. After stepping over a dip in a short fence (ahem) and following horse tracks for a while, I found still more fence and no progress. As the sun began to set, I was standing in the middle of the most frustratingly barren, confusing, and overwhelming space I have been, feeling the very real fear that I needed to get the hell out of there before dark.
I let go of my hoodoo hopes and resigned myself to being present with the arid, hard-lit land around me. As I navigated back to my car, I laughed at my naivete, expressed gratitude for my ridiculously good luck, and drank in the deafening silence and strange beauty of that space.
I hope to return in the near future – by way of safer roads, with a good map, at peak season, and with a hiking partner, of course, lol – but only to augment my experience, not rectify it. I’ve grown quite fond of that afternoon’s vibrant desolation.