Angel Peak Scenic Area, south of Bloomfield, NM, is a bit like the Grand Canyon in that it doesn’t look like much until you actually get there. Angel Peak itself is over 7,000 feet tall, so you can see it from miles away. But from a distance it just looks like a smallish, rocky mountain.
When you get close, the plateau falls away and you see the 10,000 acres of spectacular, surreal badlands that make up the scenic area managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The area has been open to natural gas development for decades. Drilling and extraction operations are plainly visible, but the landscape is still awe inspiring. And the energy infrastructure makes the canyon itself very accessible (though driving in calls for GPS, plenty of water, and a high clearance vehicle).
Last summer was the first time I noticed a new kind of development in the area near Angel Peak. It didn’t stand out much at the time, but it was called a landfarm and seemed to involve lots of bulldozers. When I visited again in March 2013, I got a much clearer look.
It turns out that a landfarm operation, like this complex managed by Envirotech, is a place where “soil remediation” takes place. This is where contaminated soil from all over the San Juan Basin oil fields is processed by covering it with other soil. High Country News described the landfarm like this:
Don’t look for fresh produce: This is where contaminated soils from the energy industry are plowed back into the earth and treated, or, as they say, “farmed.”
The landfarm consists of several hundred fenced acres of bare dirt on the sage plain you cross to get from Highway 550 to Angel Peak on County Road 7175. There is no going around it. On a windy day the blowing dust smells strongly of chemicals.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other agencies use tebuthiuron, a soil-activated herbicide, to kill thousands of acres of sagebrush in areas where it grows in dense patches. The chemical pellets sink through the soil and, when absorbed by the plant, prevent photosynthesis.
The idea is to thin the sagebrush and maintain a balance with other native vegetation. The fields of dead sagebrush look very desolate. Read more about it here and here.