New Mexico Badlands: Ceja Pelon in color
To put yourself in striking distance of this fabulous badland you’ll need either a high-clearance vehicle or sturdy boots and plenty of time/energy to swing them.
Ceja Pelon lies a couple dozen miles west of Cuba, NM off a series of increasingly rough side roads. It’s just west of Penistaja, another notable badland in the San Juan Basin series — in fact, the same secondary road provides access to both of them.
During five or so hours spent on site, I hiked up and down a pair of promising draws and ventured a mile up-mesa to the top of the formation. Still, I barely scratched the surface of the outer perimeter of the region. There’s a vast amount of exploration awaiting me on my next visit — and you can be sure I’ll be going back for more of this geologically fascinating wonderland.
The defining feature of Ceja Pelon is the abundance of colorful fossil wood scattered about the benches and eroding into the draws. There are chunks and sections as big as — well — tree trunks, which is, of course, what they started out as in the Paleocene, not long after the dinosaurs went extinct. The wood is weathering out of the siltstone in low lying areas, and sits exposed to the elements on the benchland between the mesa top above and the deep-cut arroyos below. You’ll often come across sections that are pedestalled — forming actual hoodoos of petrified wood.
A big thrill came as I climbed over a ridge and gazed into the valley beyond to find a kind of incipient miniature goblin valley feature, with a table of white rock being slowly sectioned off by erosive processes. The hoodoos, once fully formed, will stand about head-height to my 5′ 11″ frame. But nature still has a thousand some-odd years of work to do before they’re ready for prime time.
Turns out I processed enough images in black & white for those to be used in a separate post — so here you’ll find just the color images, including some of the notable chunks of fossil wood I came across.