Bisti Badlands, New Mexico

Bisti Badlands, New Mexico

There’s a sense of freedom in traveling with nothing more than a weekend bag, your best friend, and a car.  (Sorry, T.S.A.  Our frenzied passions had their delights, but it’s over now.)

This summer, wanderlust lured me to New Mexico and the otherworldly land forms of the Bisti Badlands.

The Bisti Badlands, part of the Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness, is a little-known destination encompassing 4,000 acres of shallow ravines, ridges, arches, slot canyons, and wondrously bizarre egg-shaped rocks, spires and hoodoos.

Fossil beds reveal that the area once was a dense rain forest with towering trees that flourished near the shores of a prehistoric swamp and receding inland sea.   The area nurtured an abundant variety of life such as dinosaurs, crocodiles, and primitive mammals.

Bisti’s geologic formations are comprised of inter-bedded layers of sandstone, shale, ash, silt and coal.  The formations were sculpted over millions of years by melting ice-age glaciers, weathering and erosion.  Today, Bisti is a high desert wilderness, both haunting and desolate, and a truly extraordinary hiking adventure.

You would think that such a wonder might be inaccessible to the average person.  In reality, it’s only 35 miles south of Farmington, administered by the Bureau of Land Management and free to enter.  Because there are no trail markers to guide you, and no facilities on-site, you’ll want to make a rough plan of your trip in advance, use a GPS or a compass on your hike, and keep your bearings at all times.

Since this was my first trip, I began my hike at the main parking lot near West-side Alamo Wash.  From there, it was only a few minutes’ walk to the formations.  While exploring the ravines, I found I needed to continuously check my bearings.  It was surprisingly easy to run into dead ends and lose my way.  At days’ end, I simply followed the wash downstream toward the sunset and found the main parking lot.



Flash floods are possible and quite dangerous, so don’t venture into the badlands if there’s any hint of a storm on the horizon.  Summertime can be brutally hot, so consider hiking in the fall or spring.  Proper walking shoes, sunscreen, and extra water are necessities.   I would add a camera to that list of necessities; the magic of this place should be shared!

If this all sounds a bit risky and exotic, well, for me, that’s part of the attraction.  The Wild West may have been conquered a hundred years ago, but this place will never be tamed.


Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness

BLM New Mexico – Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area Flickr Photo Stream


BISTI Badlands / De-na-zin Wilderness

Road 7297, off of Highway 371, South of Farmington, New Mexico

(505) 564-7600