Badlands Photo


Formation Name: NACIMIENTO

Rock Type(s): Sandstone alternating with Siltstone and Shale


Time of Deposition (in millions of years ago): 65?, 64? to 58

Depositional Environment: Branching river systems and large flood plains

Common Fossils Found: petrified wood, fish scales, early mammals (e.g., primates, dog-sized early hoofed varieties)


A classic Nacimiento badland, sprawling Penistaja Mesa lies just east of Ceja Pelon. It has an extremely complex perimeter surrounded by dozens of equally complicated smaller mesas and buttes. The end result is a formation filled canyon labyrinth and miles of mesa edges carved into fantastically shaped cliffs hiding numerous hoodoo galleries. Isolated mesa tops shelter superbly landscaped natural botanical parks showcasing the incredible strength and beauty of New Mexico’s high desert vegetation. Huge petrified tree trunks decorate the canyon bottoms. And then there are the three mysterious stone cairns spaced about a half mile apart along a straight line across the very irregular mesa edge. Carefully constructed in a morterless style reminiscent of the ancient Anasazi pueblos, each is over 8 feet tall with four feet wide bases. No record of them exists in any archaeological data bases. They could be anything from markers for a pre-Colombian trade route to entertainment for bored Spanish sheep herders, but they sure add food for thought on any Penistaja mesa hike.

PENISTAJA DIRECTIONS - Turn onto highway 197 just south of Cuba and travel about 9 miles west to a right turn onto a well maintained dirt road and continue west for about 7.5 miles to another right turn onto a smaller dirt branch. A tall, light colored metal tank to the north marks this turn. You are now headed in a northerly direction for about 1.5 a miles over the top of small hill where the badlands formations appear on the right side of the road. Stop any where and walk east into the badlands.

FOR MORE INFO-- Donna Dudley, Recreation specialist at the Albuquerque BLM office, 761-8700

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A photographic tour of New Mexico’s incredible San Juan Basin Badlands.