Part II – Trek and Photo Shoot into the Bisti Wilderness

Our home for two days and nights.

On Oct. 14, 2017, we arrived mid-afternoon to the Bisti (Bist-eye) Di Na Zin Wilderness just in time to greet two intrepid explorers returning from their own hike. The couple were very tired and covered with a film of dusty sand, but friendly and willing to chat a bit before collapsing into their truck camper. Despite my research and confirmed GPS coordinates, it’s always good to get the lay of the land from someone with details fresh in their minds.

Maura and I knew it was too late to start a long hike into the wilderness, but our new acquaintances had pointed across the gravel road. There’s a nice collection of hoodoos and other rock formations over there, they informed us, and you’ll be able to shoot them in the light of sunset and still get back before total darkness. We thanked them and gathered our gear for a short hike. The wind had come up strong with the sand and grit blowing. We tied some scarves over our faces.

Maura dressed for wind and sand.

We crossed the road and started down into a shallow wash, which extended as far as we could see through the dust. After covering a few hundred yards, the wind settled down and the sun glowed bright and yellow straight ahead of us at about thirty-five degrees above the horizon. As we advanced, a low plateau with irregular shaped rock formations appeared ahead and to our right. It rose about 10-feet-high fairly quickly.

Bisti Wide Vista
Bisti wide vista

It was fairly easy to climb to the top of the plateau using the gently rounded, step-like surfaces of the strange rock formations. Suddenly, we were in the midst of an alien world, the likes of which neither of us had ever seen. In the not-to-far distance stood many scattered flat-topped hills called buttes whose colors ranged from white, yellow and earth-toned to brilliant shades of rusty orange. But the sand castle, drippy shaped rocks that lay all about us were surreal, convoluted and prehistoric.

Magic hour shadows

At first we roamed through this wonderful landscape together. Then each finding a visual treat to be photographed, we explored on our own. Our cameras clicked, a new masterpiece seemingly appearing at every turn. As sundown drew closer, the shadows lengthened, creating new apparitions of odd shapes upon the already indescribable formations.

Back to our shiny home.

With twilight almost upon us we found each other, clambered back down into the wash to return to our Airstream. We both talked about what we had seen, the wonderment of it all and how tomorrow was sure to be a much more difficult yet rewarding trek.

To be continued…

— By John G.

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness was once a river delta that lay just to the west of the shore of an ancient sea, the Western Interior Seaway, which covered much of New Mexico 70 million years ago. A volcano deposited a large amount of ash, overlaying lush organic material. (For more details, visit  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bisti/De-Na-Zin_Wilderness.)

Petrified tree, sandstone, shale, lignite and coal deposits.

 

 

Part 1 – The Bisti De Na Zin Badlands

We've arrived! Welcome to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment.
We’ve arrived!

It was a long-time dream for me to photograph the landscapes and strange rock formations in the Bisti De Na Zin Wilderness, located in the four corners area of New Mexico. Long before we began traveling full time, I had discovered some amazing images of this far away place in a photo journal. It piqued my interest so I began researching the place, looking on topographic maps and finding other explorers GPS coordinates, because getting to the Bisti Badlands is not a walk in the park. But it is worth the journey!

Blue Swallow Motel with Maura and Airstream

Coming from Kansas City, after visiting the kids and grandkids, we usually enter New Mexico near the northeast corner, where Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico meet. We always stop in the town of Tucumcari, New Mexico, because it’s a flashback to the good old days, when Route 66 was in its heyday, epitomized by the Blue Swallow Motel.

We spend a few days there, dreaming of how things used to be, then head out on Route 40 West through Albuquerque, then a couple of nights in Gallup, NM, also on old Route 66. To get to the Bisti Wilderness and to try to keep your tow vehicle from bouncing apart,  we go North to Farmington, first passing the famous Ship Rock formation then southwest about 35 miles to the gravel road that leads to the wilderness area.

Tiny Bisti sign

There is one small sign on the highway, so you have to be alert if you don’t have GPS coordinates. If conditions are dry, the road will be passable if not rutted, potholed and very dusty. In about two miles, we spot a signpost and a small area where a few trucks and RVs are parked, but we drove further to a small, unoccupied pullover.

We backed the Airstream in as far as it would go, then stepped out into the dust and wind on the edge of the Bisti De Na Zin Wilderness.

To be continued…

— John G.

Dinner tonight: Poached Chicken with Ramen Noodles and Peanut Sauce

Here’s the very loose recipe for this dish. Serves two and can be adjusted up or down as needed.

Poached Chicken with Ramen Noodles and Peanut Sauce

1) Cut cucumbers and carrots into short strips. I also grated part of the carrot to spread the sweetness better through the dish.

 
2) In a bowl, mix a few tablespoons of smooth peanut butter, a dash (or two) of toasted sesame oil, a dash of rice wine vinegar, a dash of hot sauce (I use sriracha), a couple of teaspoons of sugar, and a generous dash of soy sauce. Stir, adding a little bit of hot water or sesame oil if the peanut butter doesn’t easily get smooth. Taste and adjust according to what you like. (If the sauce is too thin or won’t get smooth, heat in a pan and stir until smooth.)
 
3) Boil water in a pot and add a boneless, skinless chicken breast and cook until just done. It should be moist when you cut into it but not pink. The time will depend on how thick the meat is. Slice chicken in strips.
 
4) Cook ramen noodles in the hot broth as per instructions. The brand I got, purchased from the H Mart in Upper Darby, said 4 minutes. (If any of the chicken seems a little underdone, throw it into the water to finish cooking it.) Drain.
 
5) Mix hot noodles with chicken and peanut sauce. Toss veggies on top. Squeeze a hefty slice of lime juice over it all. Add extra salt or soy to taste.
— Maura C.

Desert Wanderings

Sunday, March 4, 2018,  Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico —

We lock the Airstream door before heading into the desert.

The park’s sandy landscape has a ring trail that takes you from our campsite at Desert Cove and circles around the edges of the park. When you are on higher ground facing west, you can see the roofs of cars passing on the main road. The large park entrance with its oh-so-modern digital signage is to the south and glimpses of the green-blue lake fed by the Rio Grande are to the east. To north, we can see a modern housing development atop the hills a few miles away. We are in a park, but civilization is right next door.

As we walk on the trail, our campground to the east is soon out of sight, nestled in a hollow between us and the lake, hidden from view by scrub bushes, cedars, junipers and assorted leafless shrubs and trees.

It’s 12:30, sunny and the winds are gusty, so we double tie the chin straps on our hats, just in case. We gulp some water, knowing that in the desert, it’s better to have the water in your stomach than in a bottle. The trail is a total of 3 miles, we estimate, but we don’t think we’ll travel that far.

Desert Spiral

The wide path is scattered with rocks. Water-smoothed pebbles, rough quartz pieces, and rocks in many different colors and textures marking the trial and its edges, some lying on top and others embedded in the sand. We come upon rock artwork to the right of the trail — fist-sized stones curl in a three-foot-side spiral inward and larger dark rocks echo their curve. Large rocks mark the back boundary. In the center, a large sandstone mass sits, looking like it has been carved and spiraled by wind and water and perhaps by human hands. The rocks, small and large, are unfazed by the strong winds that carry tiny bits of sand into the air and into our faces. We face away from the wind when we can.

The trail is flat and sturdy but John is lured by the washes to our left. We strike out, walking in the wide spaces between bushes with spiky branches and thorns. I’m not nervous, the way I am when blazing a new trail in a forested area. Here, I can see my feet and keep a watch out for scorpions and snakes. We see neither.

Maura stands near a group of yucca with Elephant Butte Lake over her shoulder in the distance.

This desert is full of plants. Mesquite bushes with dark bark. Spiky Mormon’s tea bushes whose green, oh-so-thin branch-like leaves that dance with the wind. Tufts of yucca with tall grey stalks adorned by dried flowers. Cholla trees with pale green tips just ready to flower and needle-thin thorns and disarmingly hairy thorns designed to protect. Dead cholla branches and trunks lie beside the living ones, looking like netted wooden tubes. Red-edged green cactus paddles studded by long thorns seem to struggle to keep a foothold in the sand.

As we wend our way through the desert, we meet up with the western path and then strike southeast again to shorten our way. It’s been about half an hour or 45 minutes, the sun is beating down, and the wind is threatening to tear our hats off. But, the desert is beautiful and alluring. The washes are flat paths that John says will lead, eventually, to the lake, so we are never in danger of getting lost. Walking too far away from the camp, however, is a distinct possibility and we don’t know what challenging landscape lies in between the trails. We use our eyes and guesses to make our way.

We come to an area that is different from the rest. The bushes and shrubs are larger and there are three or four large cedar trees among them, showing bright green foliage. It smells like an eastern forest. John says that if we were ever stuck out there, we could crawl under the low branches and escape the sun until the day cooled and we could find our way home. The washes seem to support lusher plant-life than the areas nearest our camp. Who knew?

The lake is visible as we walk the gentle downhill slope. We question how far to the left or the right we are from the campground. Who knows?

About an hour into our journey, as we walk around a stand of bushes and face east, we see a silver arc glinting in the sun yards, not miles, away. Above it, a tall pole holds a white cellular antenna. It’s our Airstream, closer than we expected from our wanderings through the desert.

We unlock the door, throw open the windows, and take off our hats. We are home.

— Maura C.

Desert Heart

 

Spiced Pulled Chicken (or Pork) Tacos

“How can you cook in such a small space?”

That’s the incredulous question I get frequently when I say we live in 170 square feet surrounded by curved walls.

The truth is, I can make anything here that I make in a kitchen, as long as I’m willing to clean up the pots and pans.

Lately I’ve been trying to reduce water use by using just one pot. That’s when I found a great recipe for pulled chicken tacos and adapted it to work for pork as well. Turns out, cinnamon, cumin, smoked paprika, red wine, onions and tomatoes along with other key flavors make a mighty fine topping for flour tortillas or even rice or pasta. Sour cream was dolloped on top (sriracha for me but none for J).

This recipe is going into the meal rotation since it makes easy and abundant leftovers.

Spiced Pulled Chicken (or Pork) Tacos
Makes about 6-8 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 onion, chopped
3-4 mini sweet red/yellow/orange peppers, chopped (or one large pepper)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin (or 2, to taste)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup white or red wine
15 ounce can chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice or apple cider vinegar
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts OR small pork loin roast, cut into 1-inch by 2 inch section sections
Flour or corn tortillas
Optional toppings:
Lime wedges
Shredded lettuce
Salsa or sriracha/hot sauce
Sour cream

  1. In a large heavy pot like a dutch oven, add olive oil, onions and peppers. Saute until onions are soft. Add chopped garlic and the spices — cinnamon, cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, kosher salt — and stir until mixed. Let cook for a couple of minutes to let the garlic soften and the spices bloom in flavor.
  2. Add wine to pan, scrape up bits from the pan bottom, and cook until wine is almost evaporated. Add tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, and lime juice or vinegar.
  3. FOR CHICKEN: When the pot contents are bubbling hot, add the chicken breasts and nestle them into sauce. Reduce heat to medium, cover pot, and let chicken poach in the sauce for about 30 minutes or until cook until the chicken no longer shows pink in the center. Remove from pot and shred chicken with two forks in a large bowl. Cook the sauce down so it is thicker and return chicken shreds to pot and heat through.
  4. FOR PORK: When the pot contents are bubbling hot, nestle pork pieces into the sauce. Reduce heat to medium, cover pot, and let the pork cook for about an hour or more so that the meat is tender and shreds easily. Remove from pot and shred with two forks in a large bowl. If needed, cook the sauce down so it is thicker. Return pork shreds to pot and heat through.
  5. TO SERVE: Heap small amount of chicken or pork, as appropriate, on the tortillas, squeeze lime wedges over, add salsa or hot sauce of your choice, and top with sour cream, if desired.

— Maura C.

On the Road Again

Airstream With Yucca At Golden Hour In Desert Cove Campground, Elephant Butte Lake State Park, NM

We started our full-time Airstreaming journey in early September 2017 and have been loving it.

Our z-shaped travels have taken us west from Philadelphia to Kansas City, MO, and Des Moines, IA, before we zipped south through Kansas to reach New Mexico. Next, we went westward to Southern California and then up to NorCal. After the holidays, we did the reverse journey.

Now we are in New Mexico, where we’ve spent a mostly chilly visit but one with lovely vistas of mountains and deserts and endless sky. Such a delight.

— Maura C.