The Bisti Badlands

In my opinion the Bisti Badlands is one of the ten most scenic areas in the West, and the best in New Mexico! It is part of the 38,305-acre Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness and is in the Four Corners area. It is less than an hour south of Farmington, NM, or 3 hours from Albuquerque. Bisti is commonly pronounced (Bis-tie). It is best visited in the Fall. If you go in the Summer bring a lot of water. Spring is windy season in the Southwest and sandstorms are common. The average elevation of the Bisti is 6,300 feet so winters will be cold. This leaves the Fall. Fall days are pleasant and days are shorter. Strong hikers can be out at both sunrise and sunset. The access road to the Bisti is gravel so the parking area is accessible after a rain. However hiking after a rain would be difficult / impossible due to the clay based soil.

There are two main washes in the Bisti. Both run east to west, with west being downstream. The northern wash is named Hunter Wash, and the southern is named Alamo or Gateway Wash. The main parking area provides access to Alamo wash so for your first trip to the Bisti you should start here. You are likely to see other people in Alamo wash which will give some comfort if you are unsure of your navigation skills. The northern wash gets far fewer visitors but provides the shortest route into the northern sections of the Bisti.

There are no hiking trails in the Bisti. If you stay in the main washes and get lost you can always find your way back to your car by following the washes downstream (west - towards the Sun in late day) till you hit the road. Then just walk along the road till you get to your car. If you choose to go into the hills on either side of Alamo wash you can easily get lost. Being in the hills is like being in a maze, there are many dead ends and you can easily lose your sense of direction. If you plan to explore the hills I suggest you bring a GPS and mark the location of your car and where you left the main wash.

If you're without a GPS I suggest you stay in Alamo wash, there are plenty of great photo opportunities right there such as the "Cracked Eggs" and the "Rock Garden". If you choose to explore the hills I suggest you visit the area near the "Bisti Wings" which is extremely photogenic with many compositions possible. You can also cross over into Hunter Wash from The Wings.

Several days are needed to really explore the Bisti. You cannot get to all the best locations in The Bisti in good light in one day.

If you only have one day I suggest you begin an hour before dawn with a two mile hike to the "Rock Garden" section. You'll need a flashlight. The "Rock Garden" lights up beautifully at sunrise. You can also get very good pictures during the "Blue Hour" - the hour or so before sunrise or after sunset. During the Blue Hour you will have soft shadows and the mudstone will pick up a beautiful blue gray color. After an hour or so at the Rock Garden visit the "Elegant Hoodoo" and what I call the "Alien Woman" section.

Following the Rock Garden area enter the hills and see The Wings which are spectacular at both dusk and dawn and even at night. When you visit The Wings make sure you do not just capture them from a distance, get up close and personal and you will be rewarded. It is not difficult to find a route down into the wash between The Wings Overlook and The Wings. Once in the wash you can climb up to The Wings from their northeast side. On the way to the Bisti Wings you will pass many other good photo ops such as Red Rock Garden, The Pedestals, and The Manta Ray. Spend the rest of the day till a few hours before sunset exploring or resting if you can find some shade (good luck!). A few hours before sunset cross to the south side of Alamo wash. Explore the southern side of Alamo wash starting in the east with the area near "Eagles Nest" looking for fossils and petrified wood. Do not remove any fossils or petrified wood. End your day at sunset with the "Cracked Eggs". Cracked Eggs is also a good Blue Hour or even nighttime shoot and you will probably meet other photographers there.

Weather

Current weather and forecasts are available at the following sources:

Weather Underground - Farmington, NM Accuweather - Farmington, NM Weather.com - Farmington, NM NWS - Bisti Badlands Point Forecast

Directions

There is no formal parking area for the northern (Hunter) wash and the BLM Site does not even mention parking there. I have indicated a possible area to park at on the map below. A high clearance vehicle is recommended. Parking at Hunter Wash provides the shortest and easiest access to The Wings, a bit over one mile over flat terrain. Hunter Wash itself is not as interesting as Alamo Wash.

For access to the Alamo Wash section go 36.5 miles south of Farmington on NM 371 till you get to road 7297 signed for the Bisti Badlands. Make a left (East) turn on this good gravel road. Four wheel drive and/or high clearance vehicles are not needed for this good road. Proceed to the junction (about two miles) and make a left, then go about two more miles to the parking area on the right side of the road. There is no water or facilities at the parking area. You are allowed to camp at either the parking area or within the Bisti itself. No wood fires are allowed. Please do not trespass on signed or fenced private property.

 

In some browsers the map above will not appear or will not appear to be centered. If so please drag on the map to center it. To view the map larger please click on the box in the upper right corner of the map.

USGS 24K Topo Maps

Two topo maps cover the entire area of interest: Bisti Trading Post covers the roads to the trailhead, and Alamo Mesa West which covers the area of photographic interest. The maps are very useful in the washes but not so helpful in the surrounding hills as the amount of detail shown won't help you avoid dead ends. The two maps and a merge map of both can be downloaded in a variety of formats by clicking or right-clicking below:

Geo Tiff/Avenza KMZ Oruxmaps KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Alamo Mesa West KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Bisti Trading Post KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Merge of both maps NA NA KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared

 


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