The Badlands Aren’t Just for Bad Lads

By January 27, 2020 February 23rd, 2020 Campsites, Excursions

South of Grants, the old McCarty flow spills along the valley floor and coats everything in the black popcorn that is death to all who pass on pads, paws or claws.  We found ourselves in the nearly empty Joe Skeen Campground. perched high above the flow.  Subject to stiff winds and snow flurries, we lived, loved and ate well in our Black Rock above the black rock.

BLM’s Joe Skeen Campground is perched on top of a bluff, overhanging hwy 117, which runs along the eastern border of the lava flow.  Our site was the extreme western edge, and afforded us both great vistas and two whole bars of cell coverage.

Just outside the campground, the clouds hung heavy with snow, low and fast on the eastern horizon. As the setting sun cast its golden hue thru the chaparral, I climbed into the pickup to do some exploration.

As I spun down the road to try and catch the Golden Hour, snowfall on a distant mesa caught the light and showed the panoply of sun and evening shade on the backdrop of the pinon forest.

I made it up a sandstone bluff to a fantastic promontory above the Malpais.  Snowstorms blew across the blackened plains to the north as the sun spun down its track, and I was held fast in the evening’s frozen moment of unimaginable beauty.

The next morning, Denver and I set off on a hike down to the edge of the flow.  The morning was a bit cloudy and the light snow of the day before still gathered in the rocky crags.

The border of the flow.  Dog and I picked our way to the top of the mangled heap, and, looking out over the tortured landscape, I couldn’t see how one could describe a way through it.

There was no trail on our 5 mile hike.  We just picked a spot to swoop down the 400′ cliff face then followed it back, looking for a low point to climb up the sandstone.

The way out was just above where some old cowboy had carved out his hard niche on the edge of the flow, with a hoodoo standing directly behind the cabin’s ruins.

The following day found us on the sill of La Ventana, a 300′ high sandstone arch.  Having scouted it the day before, I wanted to be there for what I figured were the few short moments when direct light from the winter sun might fall on its interior.

My mad scramble up was rewarded when I caught the light dripping into the inner sanctum for maybe 15 minutes.

The sandstone was marked with the paint of time, tide and ashfalls.  As I stepped into this rock refectory, I noticed the cold, cap-doffing wind quieted down to a respectful whisper.

I could tell from the angry Mandarin din of an approaching Chinese housewife, my Fortress of Solitude was no more.  As I clambered downslope, I paused long enough to glance from where we had come.  As the snow of Mt. Taylor glowed on the northern horizon, I realized our trail was turning south, into the Chihuahuan Desert, and its all too thorny familiarity.