Bisti Trailhead Tales

Most folks go to Bisti Wilderness to hike. Not me, not this time. Bisti is just a place to stop for the afternoon and night to avoid driving the RV in wind and rain. It’s only a gravel parking lot, but a popular trailhead. There are a dozen vehicles when I arrive, but it’s getting late in the afternoon; most people have returned from hiking and are getting ready to leave.

Two small SUVs come in together. Six German tourists. They get out quickly, unload some suitcases, take out tents and packs. They are quick to set up the tents on the packed dirt just off the parking lot. Shouldering their packs, they are on their way to the badlands.

The winds pick up a little, stirring the dust – Spring in New Mexico. And the sky darkens to the southwest – the storm that was predicted.

The young couple next to me start out hiking with their Chihuahua in a backpack.
As the storm gets closer, the winds pick up. I bring Cassie inside – it is dusty. The tents are still upright, but taking a beating. After the dust comes the rain, heavy rain. And the temperature drops. The couple with the Chihuahua are running back. Before they can get to their van, it’s hailing – pea-sized hail and then back to rain.

Although the parking lot is mostly gravel, there is some dirt. Now mud, very fine, sticky mud. It gets light in the southwest, so maybe the storm is over. I hesitate to let Cassie, my dog, out for a necessary break because of the mud. I’m glad I wasn’t driving my small, but high-profile RV in this brief, violent storm.

It’s 5PM and one solo-hiker returns to his truck. Soaked. It’s definitely cooler now and breezy. Hypothermia is a danger in this weather.

Still no sign of the six tourists – everyone else is accounted for. The man in the Maine truck camper has come out – I didn’t know if he was out hiking or in his truck. Turns out he hiked early in the morning because of the storm forecast. He’s concerned about the missing hikers. Says they were not prepared properly. It’s very easy to get lost at Bisti, even in good weather.

I have to let Cassie out – just around the gravel parking area. We still track in lots of mud.

Another storm comes through about 6:30PM. No sign of the hikers. Their tents are battered, but standing. Standing in 2 or 3 inches of mud.
The Solo Hiker and the Maine man are looking for movement on the trail out from here. Almost 8PM before we see people walking in. But they are not on the trail and head straight for their tents – not the gate. They will have to cross a barbed wire fence and a gully with running water. The loudest man is wearing only shorts, carrying his shirt. Others have jackets, one even has rain gear. The Maine man is trying to guide them to the gate, but they don’t seem to understand. They also don’t appear to be upset or frightened. They quickly disappear into their soggy tents.

I cannot imagine how miserable it is to sleep in those small tents in the mud. We all call it a night.

This morning there’s a car parked next to me – I didn’t hear it come in. It’s dark in the west and getting light in the east. It’s 6:30AM and another car arrives. A young man hops out, grabs a water bottle, a hat and a small pack. He’s wearing a long sleeve shirt, but no jacket. He’s off to explore.

It starts to sprinkle – the darkness in the west is another storm. Now rains start in earnest and the young man runs back, jumps in his car, and leaves. How early did he start his day to get here at 6:30? Normally that’s a great time to start hiking, but not today.
The rain lessens and I step out to meet the woman in the car next to me – Clara, from Arkansas, an adventurous young woman. She came in at midnight looking for a place to park for the night. She was happy to see other vehicles here. She’s a photographer and has visited many places in the area in the few days she had available. No drama here, but an interesting person to know. We will stay in touch.

We watch the six tourists emerge from their wet tents and pack them into the cars. I never saw them cook or heat water or anything. I would love to hear their version of their Bisti trip.

Time to leave – after all this was not a hiking stop, just a rest stop where watching people kept me intrigued. I don’t have a television, but this was like watching one day’s episode of a soap opera – never knowing the before or the after. Most folks come away from Bisti Wilderness with photos and blisters. Not me, not this time. I came away with stories.

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