Mesa de Cuba from both sides now, part 2: the west

Proof of concept: small crossover AWD on muddy backroads

Proof of concept: small crossover AWD on muddy backroads

I had actually scouted the secondary road leading to the Mesa de Cuba badlands late in the afternoon on Sunday, upon returning to Cuba, NM, after my visit to Jemez State Monument. The twin ruts of the dirt track were inches deep in water. Definitely a no-go unless I was willing to risk getting mired in the mud. (I wasn’t.)

So I almost didn’t even bother to make the return trip to the road where it intersected with Hwy 197 about 5 1/2 miles SW of town on Monday afternoon. But, having just completed an enjoyable short hike up the eastern side of the mesa, and still with plenty of water and supplies on hand to pack a trail lunch, I decided to have another look. It had rained again overnight, but we’d had an entire morning without precip since then. Maybe conditions had improved.

Battlements in the empire of dirt

Battlements in the empire of dirt

Indeed, when I arrived at the sideroad around noontime it showed only minor puddling. I took the precaution of walking out onto its surface before proceeding to drive on it. With all-wheel-drive engaged, my small high-clearance crossover got me about a mile and a half up the muddy track where I found a spot to pull off the throughway on solid ground. Then it was boots on – bipedal drive engaged.

Pygmy evergreen

Pygmy evergreen

I hiked eastward into the colorfully-banded mounds of clay, capped by red sandstone boulders and the occasional flat carapace of impermeable ironstone, father to hoodoo development beneath.

After the fall

After the fall

I quickly discovered that the apparently dry terrain was far from it; the normally dry mud-cracked features were now slick, wet mud-cracked features, limiting my travel options to the very bottom levels of the drainage. (An early attempt to work my way just a few steps up the side of one mound quickly met with a slip-and-fall worthy of a feeble octogenarian.)

Outflow

Outflow

Under these conditions, even the slightest tilt to the surface led to sliding backward progress. I soon learned which colorations of strata made for the most serious slipping concerns (the darker ones, in general), and took care to plant feet firmly when crossing those areas.

The land beyond

The land beyond

Conversely and counterintuitively, the very waterlogged-appearing beds of the drainage channels ended up being some of the easiest and least-muddy areas to navigate. It never fails to amaze me how little we can understand about a terrain without actually getting out into it.

Mesa de Cuba badlands

Mesa de Cuba badlands

I was pleased to have had the chance to get out and walk among the badlands, which after all had been the object of my trip from the planning stages. I made a wide loop around the basin following the edge of the erosion features before circling back to the road and my waiting vehicle. I glimpsed enough of the higher elevations of the interior to convince me that a return trip under more favorable (dry) conditions would be worthwhile.

Bits and chunks of fossil wood

Bits and chunks of fossil wood

Next time, for sure.

Badlands: Mesa de Cuba

Badlands: Mesa de Cuba

Gathering clouds

Gathering clouds

Cavity

Cavity

Approaching storm

Approaching storm

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