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Lybrook Badlands, New Mexico

May 2019

This turned out to be one of those serendipitous places I stumbled across while doing something else. I had been checking out a topo map app for my iPad called Gaia, and was looking at what their mapping product showed, comparing it against what I knew to be out there. Doing so I came across a rather large area, straddling Highway 550, called the “Lybrook Fossil Area”.

Huh?? I had been up and down 550 dozens of times and never caught wind of anything by that name, and as far as I could tell it was in the middle of nowhere. Googling a bit turned up very little, just a few visits from photographers, some hiking GPS tracks and a very strange promotional brochure from the City of Aztec. Strange, because Aztec was about 50 miles away from this place, in a straight line. Much longer by road. It wasn’t exactly a local thing, but I was happy for the brochure.

I knew the general area fairly well, as it was on the way towards Chaco Canyon. It’s a maze oil field dirt roads, which needed to be used for access. These are usually pretty good (but not always!!) but unsigned and confusing as hell. Using the brochure and Google Earth I was able to map out routes in and out for loading on my iPad. I’m not going to offer up any maps here since to get to the Lybrook Badlands you really have to know how to do backcountry vehicle navigation or things may well end badly. You really need to be running a GPS setup, know how to use it and have at least a high clearance vehicle.

As Jeri and I headed north on 550, we eventually found the nondescript turnoff (after blowing right past it!) and headed in about 3 miles to what was described as an “overlook”. And wow, was it that!

A panorama of the spectacular view from the overlook. That’s a good hunk, but not all, of the Lybrook Badlands. A downclimb seemed rather impossible.

Another view from the overlook.

It was a helluva impressive sight. I had no idea this whole damn area was there, as the main route in and out of Chaco Canyon sorta circumnavigates it. From what I had read online, this overlook area can get extremely windy, but when we were there it was only a mild breeze.

Unfortunately there was no way to get down into the badlands below, not even by hiking. It’s pretty treacherous terrain. In order to get into the badlands proper we had to backtrack to Highway 550 head about a mile south, then plunge back into the wilderness on another unmarked dirt road. Like I said, gotta have GPS…. After a series of twists and turnoffs we reached a large graded pad containing an operating oil pump. This was the “parking area” for our first target, given the name Hoodooville.

When I had been mapping the trip out on Google Earth, I could tell Hoodooville was less than a half mile from the oil pump so I had figured it would be an easy walk. However I had failed to factor in the topography and now realized we were deep in field of mud hills and mud slot canyons. Worse, I hadn’t bother to bring my handheld GPS with the coordinates loaded in since I KNEW it was just going to be a simple jaunt. At that point my best guess was that it was “over there, someplace”. I’m used to this sort of ineptitude on my part, but it doesn’t sit well with Jeri, so I at least try and act like I know where things are. And I stay out of rock throwing range.

So we headed “over there”, wound around a slot canyon and finally crested a ridge. At that point we could see Hoodooville beneath us (reasonably close to my guessed direction) and headed down to it.

Jeri making the descent into Hoodooville in the distance. Note I’m well out of rock throwing distance as there is plenty of ammo.

Pretty impressive with a dense cluster of hoodoos covering dozens of acres. Lots of photo opportunities.

Part of downtown Hoodooville.

Jeri vainly trying to suggest an ice cream cone. Good thing we ain’t Instagrammers.

The return back to the truck was much quicker and simpler now that I knew where things were.

We relocated a couple miles to another spot that had many more hoodoos but dispersed over a larger area. To see all of them would have required a several mile hike, but we were already thinking ahead to green chile cheeseburgers so we had planned only a shorter, sampling walk.

We headed down the poor dirt track towards what was shown on my iPad as another “parking area”. Really, that’s what the online data I could find identified it as. Then, about a half mile short of our destination, the route we were on just sorta…stopped. Well, not exactly stopped, as I got out and saw it continued as two faint tracks through the brush.

Well THIS was an interesting turn of events! What I was seeing I’d normally consider cross country travel, but considering the route was shown on BLM maps, I guessed it to be fair game. I dropped the truck into 4wd and pushed on (It would be a big nope for passenger cars). After not much drama we reached what looked like a turnaround area which was in fact our “parking area”.

The hoodoos here, while more dispersed, seemed to have considerably more height than those of the Hoodoo City area.

The hoodoos are much taller in this area of the badlands.

Another hoodoo and some random moron for scale.

We wandered around a while until the call of green chile cheeseburgers became too loud to ignore and started our return out of the wilderness. Since the area was so unexpected to me, as well as unusual, we headed back to 550 via a different route, which was the route into Chaco Canyon. From there it wasn’t too long until the village of Cuba and El Bruno’s, green chile cheeseburger heaven.

The Lybrook Badlands are a really amazing place and we’ll probably make a return trip when we’re not jonesing for cheeseburgers. It seems like visitation is close to zero, probably due to lack of signage and publicity. But if you go you should have a very capable vehicle and know how to navigate on unmarked backcountry roads.