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

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.

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


Great Plains Ice Storm

Great Plains S.P. in OKlahoma On Our Arrival Night with Moonlit Sky.

We arrived in Great Plains State Park, Oklahoma, on the evening of November 25, 2015. It was the night before Thanksgiving. We had barely got the Airstream level and stabilized, when I had to grab my tripod and take advantage of the moonrise, the clouds and the fantastic light reflecting off our aluminum home. I took many more photographs of this scene in the next hour as the light persisted while the temperature was in the mid fifties.

Great Plains State Park, Altus, Oklahoma

You have to understand that being a photographer means never letting opportunities like this pass you by. When the light is this good, find something to shoot, even a wooden sign if you’re nowhere exciting. A rock or a bush could become a masterpiece under this great lighting.

As We Drove By A Sun Drenched Cliff, We Saw The Shadow Of Our Yukon & Airstream Driving Beside Us. (The photographer rarely touches Photoshop when editing images.)

Well, Maura made some dinner, and afterwards I spent hours on my Mac editing the best photos of our trip, so far. When my tired eyes got the best of me and everything on the screen looked streaky and out of focus, I joined M in bed and eventually fell asleep.

The Next Morning At Great Plains S.P. OK, Ice Covered Everything In Sight, Including Our 1985 Airstream. and all the trees.

Maura almost always rises before me. She shook me, and as I opened my eyes I noticed that what little light was sneaking in around the curtains was muted and gray. When we tried opening the door, it wouldn’t budge. Then we pulled back the curtains and saw nothing but a thick sheet of ice covering the glass, and the entire shell of the Airstream, freezing our front door closed! We were in for a five day extended stay at Great Plains S.P. waiting for the trailer to thaw and the roads to clear. The next evening Maura performed some culinary magic in our miniscule kitchen, sans a working oven, to prepare our first Thanksgiving on the road.  — John G.

Maura’s First Thanksgiving On the Road, In Our Airstream, In Oklahoma after the Ice Storm!