From Farmington: 30 miles south, 6 miles east, and 70 million years back. This is New Mexico's "Cretaceous Park." The dinosaurs were here, they left their footprints, and we will follow them later.
The layers of mudstone, sandstone, and silt erode faster than the top layers of shale and the hoodoos are formed: sculpted rock that juts and imposes - and sometimes seems to pounce. The Bisti has been compared to a moonscape and the eerie effect is heightened on a full moon hike. High temperatures caused by oxidizing coal bakes the shale red, which is a glorious view at dusk. Footprints disappear quickly. If you want to get away from it all come to nowhere.
Here is a proposed scenario of the end of the dinosaurs: 65 million years ago an object about 6 miles across struck the earth, and among other catastrophes sent a cloud of dust into the air that blocked out sunlight around the world.
This dust was rich in iridium, an element rarely found at the earth's crust, but which is abundant in meteorites. As the dust settled it formed a thin layer on top of the limestone of the Cretaceous Period.
This limestone is the burial ground of the dinosaurs, and the thin band of iridium-rich clay that caps it seals their tomb. Above this divider the Tertiary Period begins. This is a world-wide phenomenom and the stratus may be seen in the Bisti.
If the asteroid had come into range of earth's orbit one hour earlier it would have been a different story, and some say that humans wouldn't be telling it.
If we had a brain at both ends would we know if we were coming or going? Some dinosaurs had both - and they didn't know - but they were going.
North America has just broken away from Europe and is drifting eastward, the giants are walking the earth, and North America crashes into the East Pacific Plate and overruns it. Our continent buckles upward and the new Rocky Mountains are formed.
For a cosmic moment an inland sea covers New Mexico. This is the violent segue into the Age of Mammals as the Age of Reptiles ends and it is written in the Bisti.
This area of northwest New Mexico was a coastal swamp with forests and meadowlands further in. As the inland seas came north and the river flood plains advanced the animal life was buried in the sediment.
The teeth and bones of fish, turtles, lizards, mammals, and dinosaurs can be seen imbedded in the rocks. One third of the fossils here are unique to the area.
Alamosauras sanjuanensis. Rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? The "alamo" is named after Ojo Alamo spring, which is just south of Farmington, NM, and the "sanjuanensis" is obvious: the San Juan Basin, through which this last of the sauropods waded. In South America these very same are called the Titanosaurids and also lived during the Late Cretaceous period.
Now that we have the hang of it: Parasaurolophus and Kritosaurus (duck-bill dinosaurs) and Pentaceratops (horned dinosaur) were present and the duck-bills, who were the most common, left their footprints. A relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex, 30 feet long and named Albertosaurus, left his bones.
Bisti is pronounced Bistie in English. In Navajo it is written Bis ta hi and pronounced pistxahi. One of my Navajo language "tutors" tells me that this requires a juicy mouth, which is just another way to be embarrassed while learning this language. The Navajo enjoy a good laugh. Bisti means "badlands," which makes the Anglo name redundant.
This wilderness area includes the Bisti, which Congress designated in 1984, and the De-Na-Zin, which had been separate but was joined with the Bisti in 1996 for a total of 44,600 acres. Though it is open year round, it is wise to call for conditions.
Farmington information: 1-800-448-1240