In Praise of Place: Lybrook Badlands, Part 2
The terrain to the south, as I discover during my afternoon hike, is equally weird and wonderful. After traversing a cracked dirt mound that takes me beyond the bowl-like confines of camp and into the neighboring dry wash, I enjoy the open view to the east where a series of step-like benches culminate eventually at the overlook I visited a couple of years ago – and from which, frustratingly, I could find no feasible means of descent into this fairyland of erosional features.
South and east stretches a rim of peaks characterized by their corrugated flanks, varied coloration and low-level hoodoo battlements. Towering above a cadre of molar-like hoodoos is a most improbable cone of banded clay that rises precipitously to a point, as if recently attended by that great pencil sharpener in the sky. I’m struck by a visceral, lizard-brained urge to climb it, or at least climb up to the base of it to better grasp its significance and somehow absorb its radiating other-worldliness. But I resist.
I return to camp in time to relax with a beer and a good cigar before preparing for my evening walk up into the same terrain I visited this morning. I pack along a longer focal length zoom lens (though the trusty 16-35 never leaves the camera body, as it turns out), plus gorp for emergency energy and water – because, duh, water! I also don an LED headlamp in case I tarry too long up above and need help finding my way back down to camp.
(In fact, the route back down is problematic, even in daylight. Being a natural-born worrier, I struggle with the idea of working my way back up into the broken country this close to sundown, with the specter of a cold overnight bivouac—or, worse, a head-first tumble down a precipitous clay slope—front of mind.) As I’ve done on prior such solo expeditions, I overestimate the rapidity with which darkness can fall and spend a couple of hours waiting for it once I’ve returned safely to camp.
The air mattress I inflated earlier provides adequate cushion against the dusty ground for most of the night, and although I have my usual difficulty sleeping soundly (we’ll not go into the tribulations of advancing age and its attendant complaints) I don’t seem to mind it much. The privilege of simply being here makes up for any short-term lack of creature comforts.
During my 24 hours on site, the number of other visitors I encounter in the Lybrook badlands remains at a smirk-inducing zero. In fact, the last person I saw before turning off on this final spur road, and the first person I see again upon leaving it, is the driver of an oil tanker truck, who waves at me appreciatively as I pull to the side of the narrow track and allow him to pass.
No other visitors? That’s just the way I like it. As for you, I suggest you check out the far more well-known and routinely-visited BIsti/De Na Zin wilderness not far to the northwest. You’ll much prefer it. Trust me.