Updated: Mar 15
September 1st, 2019 - Ojito Wilderness Area, New Mexico
Open sky, weathered sandstone, sand, cholla, pinons, petroglyphs and buried dinosaur bones. We’ve visited the Ojito Wilderness and surrounding BLM land by the White Mesa Bike Trails several times since moving to New Mexico and are always astonished by our surroundings. Yet only recently did my wife, Stacia, and I discover that, in 1985, one of the largest dinosaurs ever unearthed--the Seismosaurus--was found here in the Ojito Wilderness, though this area was not designated as a protected Wilderness Area until 2005.
The Ojito Wilderness is now a protected area spanning 11, 823 acres in the area of San Ysidro, New Mexico, less than an hour’s drive north-northwest of Albuquerque. Once a river channel, then inland sea, the area now boasts a colorful badlands landscape with sandstone mesas revealing layers from the Triassic, Jurrasic, and Cretaceous time periods. Surely there are more fossils to be found in the Morrison Formation here, and a more recent find--a prehistoric crocodile skull discovered in September of 2018--makes that case! Either way, I’m always excited to venture out here and explore this beautiful, eroding landscape.
Getting to the Ojito Wilderness - Seismosaurus Trail
The Ojito Wilderness is somewhat off-the-beaten path, though the dirt all-weather road is fairly well-maintained. A bit of caution is necessary since there are several iffy spots on this road (that is, iffy with 2WD or AWD vehicles), one sandy wash-out in particular, where I tend to drive a bit fast through to keep momentum, my CR-V making a loud ‘cuffff’ sound as it plunges through the sand.
Our first experience driving out here was an interesting one, to say the least. The road out to Ojito road cuts through BLM land for 10 miles, and this particular stretch gets moderate weekend use as a sporadic shooting range.
Which brings me to a point of advice: if hiking (or biking) in the BLM land, make sure you know where the safety areas are, which direction people are shooting, and where it’s safe to hike. For the most-part, the south side of the road allows for shooting, while the north side of the road is a designated safety area. You’ll likely be able to hear the gunshots echoing off the mesas or through the arroyos wherever you’re hiking in this area!
The Ojito Wilderness is bordered by BLM land to the east, tribal land to the south and west, reservation land to the north, and several pockets of privately owned and other state-owned land. Knowing where you’re at is important!
There are two parking lots in the Ojito Wilderness area--the first is directly across from the Seismosaurus trail, and the second across from the Hoo Doo trail. I use the word 'trail' lightly, as this is a true wilderness area with no up-kept trails or trail markers. The route out to the Seismosaurus dig site follows some old vehicle tire tracks. This route was used during the dinosaur dig, but is now fenced off to keep motorized vehicles out.
The hike itself is relatively flat, and relatively short: approximately 0.7 miles to the dig site. Those of us with a rheumatic disease and chronic pain know all too well how everything (the length and difficulty of a hike, in this case) is relative to daily pain and fatigue levels.
I was feeling good on this particular Sunday, and on those good days a 2-3 mile hike is doable, resulting only in mild pain and moderate fatigue. It was hot for our Sunday morning outing, but we always plan for the heat on summer desert hikes and start out early, knowing that most trails offer little in the way of shade. Texie, our 6-year-old American Bulldog mix, is becoming more heat intolerant as she gets older, so on summer hikes we make sure to bring lots of water and give her some rests under the juniper trees, or wherever we can find it.
After following the tire ruts for nearly half-a-mile, the ruts end and we found ourselves on the top of a mesa with some spectacular views of the surrounding landscape, including a view of Cabezon Peak, one of the volcanic necks towering in the distance. There are no signs marking the Seismosaurus dig site, but only a large sandy area left behind from the work of excavating remains from the sandstone. Even though the dig site is pretty unremarkable, there are still some good reasons to make the trek along this path. The best reason, perhaps, is the petroglyphs on the southern edge of the mesa.
All in all, I would recommend this hike! If you're managing a chronic illness, like I am, this is a perfect short hike with lots of appeal. Plan this hike for a spring or fall day, but if you're determined to tackle it in the summer, make sure you head out early!