San Juan Basin Badlands – Mesa de Cuba

As a photographer and outdoor lover, I’m always looking for new places to explore. New Mexico has a lot of unique locations but they can be a challenge to learn about them. There aren’t a lot of information resources for my state. 

But I have learned of a few new places recently and I’m going to visit them throughout 2016. And my friend Valerie is eager to join me. She’s as crazy about photography as I am!

One of the areas I read about recently was the San Juan Basin Badlands near Cuba, NM. There are 5 unique areas to explore. I have found in the past these types of areas are best hiked during the late fall and winter months because they are way too hot in the summer.

So yesterday Valerie and I headed out to the first of the areas in the badlands called Mesa de Cuba.  There’s no signs marking the area. No trailhead markers. Just a simple dirt road with vague descriptions on hiking this area.

Most of the snow around Albuquerque has melted over the last couple weeks. So we were surprised when we got to Cuba that there were several inches still on the ground. We traveled about 60 miles north of Albuquerque and gained about 1,300 feet in elevation. I guess it was just enough to keep the snow on the ground.

The snow added to the beauty of the landscape but made for very difficult hiking. I was also hesitant to drive very far in on the icy/muddy dirt road. I really didn’t want to get stuck. Sadly my Jeep Wrangler isn’t running right now so I just had my AWD car.

But we still made the most of our outing. As soon as we got out of the car, the dogs started running around playing in the snow.

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Scarlett and her best friend Mya

The area we stopped to hike had wide open vistas with a rocky Mesa as a backdrop.

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Valerie tried hiking up on one of the hills but she quickly found it was very muddy.

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As we hiked along the base of the Mesa we found some unique formations to photograph.

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A mini hoodoo

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Scarlett and Mya had fun exploring.

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We found one ravine that we thought might be good to climb up to get some different views. I tried climbing first but the snow was deep and underneath was mud. I kept sliding back down. Valerie gave it a try and didn’t succeed either. Mya came to check on her out of concern. 🙂

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By this time we were tired of slogging through snow. So we headed back to the car. The views on the hike back were stunning.

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But of course a selfie needed to be taken before we left!

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Valerie and Kelly

Our phones will take a photo on voice command. Very handy when you hold your arm way out. Valerie and I get some fun photos sometimes because we will both have our phones out to taking pics. So when one of us says “capture” both phones will take a photo. Here’s a fun photo from this trip 🙂

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On our drive back we passed an old homestead. I can never resist taking pics of old buildings. Valerie says I will photograph anything rusty. Lol!

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On our way back home we saw the turnoff for Cabezon Peak. We’ve never actually driven to the peak before. We had the time so thought “what the heck”, let’s go!

We passed through San Luis and it had a nice little church.

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There were a lot of abandoned homesteads along the road to Cabezon Peak.

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We finally made it to the base of the peak. There’s a trail to climb it but you’ll never see me doing it. Looks way too difficult for me.

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Cabezon Peak

We kept driving along this road enjoying the views. Suddenly Valerie asks me ” How much gas do we have?”

Gas????!

I looked at the gas gauge and my heart leapt in my chest!  I told her we had a 1/4 of a tank….no….less than that! Gulp! Valerie checked Google maps and quickly realized we had no cell service. Crap!!!!!

I turned the car around and prayed we had enough gas to at least get to Highway 550. I turned the display on my car that tells me how many miles I have left in gas.  With no mapping service we weren’t sure how many miles we had to go to a gas station.

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For the next 20 miles we were very nervous. Valerie finally got Google maps going. It was going to be close! I coasted whenever I could.

When we made it to the gas station we didn’t have much left!  We can laugh about it now since all turned out well.

A fun adventure! We loved it and say we will be exploring the San Juan Basin Badlands more with the Jeep as soon as conditions there dry out.  And next time I will make sure I have a full tank of gas!!!!

4 thoughts on “San Juan Basin Badlands – Mesa de Cuba

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