The Bisti Badlands


Recently we hiked the Bisti Badlands. The occasion was a tour with the New Mexico Outdoor Photography Meetup.

Bisti (pronounced Bis-tie) is a Navajo word, which translates as “a large area of shale hills.” It is part of the 41,170 acre area known as the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In 1996, Congress combined the former Bisti and De-Na-Zin Wilderness Areas. De-Na-Zin (pronounced Deh-nah-zin) takes its name from the Navajo words for “cranes.” The Bisti Badlands lie about 30 miles south of Farmington, New Mexico, about three-and-a-half hours from Albuquerque.

We left Albuquerque on an unseasonably warm, sunny, winter morning. There were ten of us caravanning in five personal vehicles. We drove for almost two hours heading west on I40, until we reached Thoreau where we turned off and headed north on NM371. After another hour of driving, we turned off onto a well maintained gravel road, which took us to the parking lot. We had beautiful blue skies, without a cloud in sight. The winds were gentle and the temperature was in the 60s. A perfect day for a hike across the badlands!

Our guide, Paul McClure, led us on a long, twisting track through the badlands with plenty of stops for photography. The colors and formations were amazing. Everywhere we looked there was something else to see. We hiked for hours. We explored hoodoos and arches. We climbed ridges and mesas. We saw petrified logs up to 50 feet long. We saw the famous Egg Factory! The only thing we missed was the well-known Stone Wings.

As usual, there were no trails so it’s easy to get confused or lost. A GPS or compass is helpful and it is important to pay close attention to your surroundings. We did encounter several other small groups of people and a field trip from Farmington High School, but most of the time we might have been the only people for miles. This is a land to be hiked only in moderate conditions. The dried footprints of those who had ventured out after the last rain were mute testimony to how difficult it would be to hike this area when it’s wet. And although the temperatures were only in the 60s, it was hot. The cloudless sky and lack of shade were compounded by the reflection of the bright sun from the ground around us. We would not want to hike this area in the heat of summer or the depths of winter.

This was our first outing with the New Mexico Outdoor Photography Meetup, but it won’t be our last! Our group was an eclectic mix of backgrounds and experiences joined by a love of photography.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: The Bisti Badlands. Enjoy!

This entry was posted in New Mexico.