My vision of an other-world desert

I will always be a child, curious to see and discover this world.

“Bisti Badlands/De-Na-Zin Wilderness,” New Mexico: its enchantment of maze-like and alien-like terrain offers endless surprises and wonder around every corner. On the same day I explored this area with my travel companion, in late afternoon, I decided to return there again, but this time I explored it alone. Because there is no marked trail or map, I created my own adventure, and this time it reflected more closely my imagination of an alien world.

The strong sun started to go down. I headed randomly toward “chocolate hills,” their black and gray ash made me feel like I was on the Moon again at the beginning, until I got deep into the hills, where I saw different rock formations, looking like a castle with chocolate colors. Eventually I hit a dead end, no road anywhere, and I wondered what lie beyond the hills. I decided to climbed up the loose chocolate hills to find the answer.

I wondered what scenery was waiting for me behind these chocolate castles.

A surreal planet was waiting for me — infinite strange hoodoos were hidden behind the chocolate hills. Their up and down shapes looked like various musical notes, as though it were a composition ready to be played in this small valley. A gentle breeze blew on my face. I stood and immersed myself in this magical melody. I looked around, only the wilderness and me, amid layers of rock and a tiny mushroom hoodoos garden, towers and temples carrying a breathtaking message on this island.

The floors and layers are separated in the middle, I wondered if once a river flowed here?
The irregular hoodoos and small “elf” play the different melody together.
Incredible “cap” shapes on the rocks left marks by erosion, water and wind that carved the sandstone and ever changing shapes.

I kept hiking and exploring. Seeing a few pairs of “rock chairs” standing there, I decided to sit to enjoy this precious time on what seemed like an alien planet.

The unique rocks stand in the stillness.

My eyes gazed far away, to red and black colored hills and unknown white rocks, attracting me deeply. I chose that direction to hike, strong with a curious and adventurous spirit, not knowing my exact position as the sky began to darken. I climbed another chocolate hill again, my feet on the gray and black ash, with little grass, just uneven land, a swirl, as I got closer to red colored hills. It felt exciting, like I had discovered volcanoes.

This landscape reveals a message to me: volcanoes once screwed ash into a dry forest to become what I saw today.
The sparse grass with black ash seemed to tell me that this ancient rain forest was once fed by a river, before time and erosion entombed and exposed and froze the ground.

This place stirred so many questions for me: Had there been an apocalypse here? Are these stones aliens emerging from a subterranean slumber? What was this place like long ago? Did a river once pass through here? Did an ancient glacier carve these rocks? Was it once a green forest? It seemed these unique shapes and colors and the sparse plants were delivering a message of its past. This curiosity pushed me to keep exploring and thinking.

I finally arrived to find an even stranger rock island, and at that moment, I felt I was on an ancient ocean. Those amazing landscapes and diversity of rock formations looked like different species roaming in the ocean, big and loose rocks seemed like a huge wave hit the ocean, some small rocks looked like jellyfish, and still others looked like coral.

When I saw them, I felt that a huge wave was rising on this “ocean”, leading me to go even deeper into the area.
The water and wind created different shapes of sandstone with coral ash, nature’s masterwork.
Light golden color reflected on this “ocean”. I closed my eyes to hug the mental image, afraid to open my eyes again lest the view trickled from my memory.
I saw jellyfish and rays roaming in this ocean. What do you see?

I walked, then ran on this “ocean,” no extra things in my mind, like a pure kid encountering nothing but swimming freely in the sea, simple, innocent and true. I made a deep connection with this “wilderness ocean.” There were no humans to talk to, only a sea of “species” and uneven “ocean”, whispering to me. I came and opened a door to see another small world, wandering through this other-worldly wilderness and endless surprises, listening to the heartbeat and feeling happy and content. I experienced a feeling of freedom, the anticipation of what lies ahead, and becoming one with Mother Nature.

I felt a longing for it, as if the self which belongs to me wanted to surrender its existence and become one with it.

Around 7:45 PM, a soothing breeze caressed my hair and I began to unwind myself. I hiked back and caught one last long look of the alien landscape painted in various shades of orange and pink, and I closed my eyes. I took a deep breath and the afterimage of the landscape slowly appeared on the dark projector screen of my mind. The full image appeared in my mind: many years ago, the melting glaciers exposed sandstone, mudstone, ash, shale, coral and prehistoric fossils and petrified trees. A river delta feeding into the areas eroded all the plants. The ancient landscape through climate change and time, wind and water craved the unique rock formations, sedimentary deposits pushed upwards and then eroded away, creating this current landscape.

At sunset, the area is bathed in warm light and lengthening shadows, coaxing the imagination, a land fit for gnomes and trolls.

I also explored the north side of the Bisti Badlands. I did not spend time to find famous rocks that others always want to explore, like Manta- Ray wings, stone wings. I saw something else: countless slots and sandstone washes excavated over the millennia appear to form a giant “ruins,” extending for miles. I was in the middle of the ruins, the natural sculpted platforms and rocks with their unique colors made it more mysterious, seemingly a “little Egypt,” the ruins like the remains of ancient temples. The ruins were irregular and messy, but it delivered a powerful message, just as temples in ancient Egypt reportedly gave humans a religious power in their spirit.

The endless tiny rocks stand there, as if a compass leading me forward.
Alone I stood in the middle of what looked like ruins, its power impacted my mind. I call it “Little Egypt”.

On this adventure, I explored “King of Wings” and “Valley of Dreams” in New Mexico, too. “Valley of Dreams” was very impressive to me. There were three areas to explore, and when I arrived, I had a feeling like I was entering three different styles of rooms, with countless different rock formations standing in each room, some looking like a human brain, some like Roman architecture, some like a kingdom of mushrooms, still others looked like ice cream.

The first “room” was full of magical things.

The incredible Alien Throne stands in one of the“main rooms”: it is a hoodoo and formed by erosion from wind, rain and flowing water beating away at stacked layers of soft and hard rock. When I first saw it, I thought it looked like a Queen’s crown, calm but powerful. All the different unique rocks were around it. In that moment, I am a child, joyful to call this place “The Queen’s bedroom,” and I wanted to stay longer in her bedroom, dreaming of a white horse princess and her special valley.

“Alien Throne” at the Valley of dreams. I think it looks like a Queen’s crown, elegant and powerful.
I was in The Queen’s bedroom, full of mystery.
The “mushroom” kingdom stole my heart.

The journey into the wilderness desert in New Mexico was a mesmerizing experience that would etch an indelible memory for me. Adventures are how you learn about yourself and the world. Maybe I was like a pure kid, exploring and absorbing things, using my vision to unfold and wander into the unknown in this magical world. 

How do you envision and discover the world?

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