Bisti Badlands Wilderness
One place that my wife Anne has wanted to go visit for years is the Bisti Badlands up in northwestern New Mexico. But, being that the Bisti Badlands Wilderness is located up at around 6000 feet it is too cold during much of our typical Nov-April snowbird season. This year though we made trek over to Big Bend National Park in west Texas and the timing would work out perfect for us to travel back through New Mexico in late March. Thus hit the Bisti area when warm enough to camp without freezing our pipes.
The Bisti Badlands Wilderness is a 60 square mile area of land about 35 miles south of Farmington, New Mexico and at least a three-hour drive from Albuquerque. It is very much off the beaten path to say the least. Checking out the local RV camp spots there wasn’t much to choose from short of staying in Farmington and making the 35 mile drive back and forth. I decided to visit the Farmington BLM office and see about disperse camping opportunities a little closer.
The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is a rolling landscape of badlands which offers some of the most unusual scenery found in the Four Corners Region. Time and natural elements have etched a fantasy world of strange rock formations made of interbedded sandstone, shale, mudstone, coal, and silt. – http://www.blm.gov/nm
Before we got to the office building we were greeted on the roadside by a very friendly BLM ranger whose job it was to patrol the whole North West area of New Mexico. He informed us that we could free camp right in the Bisti Badlands parking area for up to 14 days with no permit required. Awesome info, that would save a ton of driving and fuel! He told us much of the land up there is Navajo nation, Oil and Gas leased or BLM and said we were OK to hike and camp on the BLM but to not trespass on the Navajo land.
Boondocking in the Bisti Parking Area
The parking area is located off HWY 371 at around mile marker 70. There is a large BLM sign saying Bisti Badlands. From there it is approx. 2 miles of graded gravel road then a left turn and another 2 miles. The gravel road is a little washboard in places but wide enough for two vehicles to pass. It was not a problem to get our fifth wheel trailer there, we just took it slow.
The gravel parking lot is fairly small but has enough room to turn a large RV around in it. We had some RVing friends from Wyoming join us in a 40-foot fifth wheel and they had no issues. Being so far off the beaten path it’s not a very busy place. A few other smaller RVs and tent campers came and went and everyday 3-4 cars would show up with photographers and hikers out for the day.
You don’t get to see much from the parking area; the real scenic areas are a mile or two hike into the Bisti wilderness where only foot traffic is allowed. Hiking is pretty easy on the flat dry terrain, but you have to take care not to get lost out there. Get yourself off the flats and into the maze of canyons and things start to all look the same.
Hiking the Bisti Badlands Wilderness
Most folks would stay pretty close to a long wash that leads back to the parking area. We picked ourselves up a simple little handheld GPS and marked our trailer location just in case. I put up our bright yellow happy face flag as a beacon and several visitors thanked me saying they could see it from a long way in the binoculars and it helped them as a guide back to their cars. Also bring plenty of water. It is amazingly dry out there, you get thirsty quick.
There are loads of interesting sandstone formations to locate but nothing is marked and there are no official trails. We had researched a few online and had some GPS coordinates to work with. Thankfully at the entrance gate someone had posted a topographical map with location markers to the most interesting things to see. It was actually kind of fun searching for things, like a big Easter egg hunt. The area is fairly large and spread out so it took us several hikes to see most of the formations and we did not, by any means, see them all.
Cool things to See in the Bisti
We found many of the popular hoodoos and arches, mainly named after their shapes; The Wings, Ostrich, Seal, Dragon, Pedestal, Knights, Bird of Prey etc. One of the most sought after spots to locate is called the Egg Factory or Alien Eggs. These rounded sandstone formations have a most unique weathering patterns and really do appear to be alien in nature. Other interesting finds are various rock gardens and scattered petrified logs.
My favorite time to be out in the Bisti was just after sundown as dusk set in. The winds would calm down and the area would be stone silent, excuse the pun. During this last light, the sandstone formations and colored terrain took on a beautiful muted glow. What an unworldly location!
Video Highlights from the Bisti Badlands
Photos from our Bisti Badlands Hikes
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