When Badlands Are Good Lands

When warmer weather finally arrives and we aren’t sure how much mud and snow might remain on hiking trails at higher elevations we are blessed with a number of nearby “badland” areas that are guaranteed to provide miles of dry, open country to explore. One of those areas is the Ojito Wilderness and we chose that for today’s hike. A very warm day was in the forecast but an advancing cold front was going to kick up the afternoon winds.

Fortunately, we got an early start and were finished by early afternoon when the winds began to get serious. After months of winter with very little hiking we didn’t pick a strenuous hike. Another advantage of the badlands is that other than some rock scrambles up and down arroyos and mesas the hiking is on the level.

There are only a couple of established trails in the Ojito but with the help of a collection of GPS tracks posted online by the ASCHG it’s possible to find your way around. Even we do get off track it’s such open country that we can eventually figure out where we are supposed to be.

For me, the best part of the badlands are the fascinating rock shapes hidden away in the canyons and on top of the mesas. I’ve collected so many photos of them over the years, but I still can’t resist trying to capture the beauty and the mystery. Our God is an amazing artist.

Life on the Range

One of the cover stories on the front page of this morning’s Albuquerque Journal caught my eye.  The picture showed a cowboy driving cattle across rangeland in the shadow of Cabezon Peak.  It was right in the area where we had hiked twice this week.  The subject of the article was a high school senior who is the son of one of the ranch owners whose cattle roam throughout the vast emptiness of the Rio Puerco Valley, one of my favorite hiking destinations.

Cabezon Peak in the distance.

I started thinking about what “Life on the Range” means to me and how different that is from what it means to others.  Because it is rare to see another human being when we are out there wandering through the eroded landscape, admiring weird rock formations and vistas that stretch for miles in every direction, I feel my spirit come alive with awe and admiration for the beautiful world that God created.  The hardworking high school senior featured in the news story says that for him, “cowboying is both his life and his way of life.”  He has college goals at present but eventually plans a life of ranching out here where he was raised.

Although we hike on public BLM land we often come across scattered groups of cows that stare at us with that look of suspicion wondering if we are going to herd them somewhere.  What is life for them on the range?  As brown and barren as the ground is, I can’t comprehend how they even survive in such “pasture.”  I was heartened in the article to read that one of the cowboy’s jobs is to dispense feed to the cattle in the form of scattered hay cubes.  So they do get fed somewhere out there.  Even so, what is their life, ultimately, except to, sooner than later, end up as a beef patty in someone’s Burger King Whopper.

And then there is the life of the poor, struggling “wildflowers” that Lee is anxious to photograph on our hikes now that spring is here.  He didn’t expect to see much on the hike yesterday and his expectations were fulfilled.  Even if a bit of greenery were to poke through the dry sand I’m sure one of those cows would eventually find it and gobble it up.

Plant life is transitory, cattle life is brief and human beings will also disappear from the landscape.  But the one enduring thing that will remain out there is the dirt and rocks.  I find such majesty and beauty in these tall, eroded spires. I’m grateful for agencies like the BLM who manage these public lands. The weather may eventually change the shape of the formations but as long as man and his machines can’t come in and interfere with the land those rocks will be there long after you and I leave this earth.

Our hike was following a track from the ASCHG web page but for lunch we went off the track and climbed a nearby rock ledge and ate in front of this “arch.” It made me wonder how long ago, if ever, another human being might have sat where we were sitting.
We found quite a bit of petrified wood on many of the slopes. How long before the dead wood laying there will become petrified wood? Most people think billions of years, but science has shown that with the right conditions, petrified wood can form quickly.

Happy Easter to everyone. He is risen and because of His resurrection we have hope that goes beyond this temporal life.