Monument Valley, Arizona and the Bisti Wilderness, New Mexico
There may be no landscape more visually iconic of the American West than Monument Valley. A partial list of movies filmed there: Stagecoach (1939), The Searchers (1956), Easy Rider (1968), Forrest Gump (1994), and The Lone Ranger (2013). John Wayne apparently once said, “Monument Valley is where God put the West.”
I’d visited only once before and thought this would be a good chance to get to know it better, staying this time at The View Hotel directly overlooking the Mittens. The crowds (and room rates) drop dramatically in the winter.
After checking into my room I set right out on the four mile Wildcat Trail that loops around the west Mitten. At the very start I passed a few people coming back up, but other than that I had the entire trail to myself and really enjoyed getting a different perspective on the famous buttes.
A soft layer of clouds at sunset didn’t catch much color, but it was great to watch the last light of the day gradually fade from the Mittens.
The sky at sunrise was disappointingly clear, but the lack of clouds made it possible to see the unique moment when the sun first breaks over the horizon.
I was particularly fired up about my next stop: the Bisti Wilderness in northwest New Mexico. I’d never been there before and the photos I’d seen made it look otherworldly. The BLM-administered area stretches across 45,000 acres of desolate badlands, steep hills, petrified logs, and strange rock formations. There are no trails or roads and relatively few visitors.
A bumpy gravel road led to a small parking area, where I loaded up my backpack in the early afternoon and headed out. I began by following visual directions I’d found on-line to a place called the Egg Garden (AKA the Alien Egg Hatchery, the Cracked Eggs, the Egg Factory, etc.), a group of unusual egg-shaped rocks at the base of an eroded hill.
Bisti won me over immediately. I felt as if I was exploring another planet, a real-life version of what I imagine No Man’s Sky will be like. For the first mile or so I followed a flat, dry wash that cut east, making side trips to explore quirky, twisted hoodoos of all shapes and sizes. The directions were accurate and I found the Egg Garden without any trouble.
From the Egg Garden I climbed up a ridgeline for a better view of the surrounding landscape. Everywhere I looked there was something interesting. I dropped back down and began exploring the distinct little worlds tucked between each line of hills.
As sunset approached I began walking back to my car, hoping that using distant landmarks to navigate would take me in generally the right direction. I was beat, worn out physically from hours of hiking and mentally from struggling to capture the unique beauty. I’d already decided I need to visit again, and next time I’ll camp in the wilderness so I can stay out there for sunrise and sunset.