Bisti Wilderness Mushrooms

January 09, 2020

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January 2020 Viewer's ChoicePhotographer: Ray Boren 
Summary Author: Ray Boren 

Those venturing into northwestern New Mexico’s stark Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness can be forgiven for feeling like an incarnation of English writer Lewis Carroll’s (aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) beloved Alice. Hikers find themselves trekking through a virtually trailless, hoodoo-strewn desert — often encountering eroded, stone-capped formations, many of which look very much like hefty, lithified mushrooms. These, however, lack a hookah-smoking caterpillar like the one illustrator John Tenniel depicted in Carroll’s 1865 fantasy, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

In the first photograph here, taken on October 15, 2019, one such hiker makes her way through a maze of Bisti hoodoos sometimes dubbed “Mushroom City.” In a second photo, taken the previous evening, on October 14, 2019, a lone hoodoo casts a mushroom-like shadow as the setting Sun illuminates the landscape.

The Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the 45,000-acre (18,211-hectare) wilderness, set aside by the U.S. Congress in 1984 on the fringe of the Navajo Reservation, describes the combined western Bisti and eastern De-Na-Zin badlands as a fantastic landscape of strange rock formations, some bearing fossils. Weathering and erosion have carved interbedded sedimentary layers of sandstone, limestone, shale, mudstone, silt, lignite coal and volcanic ash into hoodoos and other shapes. The sediments were laid down up to 70 million years ago in a river delta that fed into North America’s Western Interior Seaway, as well as swamps and ponds.

The word Bisti derives from a Navajo language description (Bistahí) of the shale, or adobe, hills. De-Na-Zin is from the Navajo for standing cranes, depicted on a petroglyph panel. The hills, bluffs, cliffs and outcrops range in color from predominant shades of gray and tan to red, purple, black and off-white. Besides mushrooms, several miles into the badlands visitors encounter other odd, and sometimes towering, pinnacles and spires, often topped by erosion-resistant cap rocks. Some feature gravity-defying cantilevered wings. There are also arches and windows, petrified logs, alien eggs — and, as some describe it: a dragon’s head.

Photo Details: Top - Camera: NIKON D3200; Exposure Time: 0.0020s (1/500); Aperture: ƒ/11.0; ISO equivalent: 250; Focal Length (35mm): 24. Bottom - same except: Exposure Time: 0.0040s (1/250); Aperture: ƒ/10.0; ISO equivalent: 400; Focal Length (35mm): 28.