The Bisti Badlands (Deh-Na-Zin Wilderness) is a large region of intriguing shaped shale rock badlands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Bisti in Navajo means "a large area of shale hills". De-Na-Zin takes its name from the Navajo words for “cranes". This baked wonderland will amaze you.
Northwest of Albuquerque near Farmington, NM
I came across some fascinating photos of New Mexico browsing a photography site online. I had never seen any landscape on any of our drives throughout New Mexico that came close to resembling these distinct bulbous rock formations. They seemed more suited to something we imagine on another planet. They were cool and weird. Upon investigating a little more, I found out the rocks were located in the Bisti Badlands, south of the Four Corners area. I immediately mapped the route and discovered it would be about a 3.5 hour drive from Albuquerque to check out some cool rocks. Though I was excited to make a day trip out of it, I was not sure I could convince the family that the landscape would be worth a trip in itself. A few months later, I knew we were going to be near the area en route to Moab for a Spring Break sidetrack, so I managed to route us thru the Bisti Badlands. It worked out great. We also visited the Four Corners Monument that day, another one of our Sidetracks.
Upon researching the area closely, I learned we would be traveling on a dirt road as well as off of the main highway. I immediately went in mom mode and decided we would have a near full tank of gas when we ventured off NM 550 and I felt really comforted with the fact that I packed a couple of cases of water for this road trip! Let's face it - I am most at ease on our sidetracks in New Mexico when we have a full tank of gas in the car, cell phone reception, and lots of water. Shade comes in a close third. I even texted my friend as we exited Highway 550, told her where we were headed, and to come rescue us if she didn't hear from us by nightfall! I like adventures, but play it pretty conservatively as a parent.
Upon entering the Bisti Badlands, we began pointing and saying "whoa" as we spied the unique and comical shaped rocks appearing out of the desert landscape. At almost 40,000 acres, this place is huge. The kids came out of their electronics-induced road trip bliss and could not wait to jump out of the car and explore. You almost feel like you have landed on the set of a Star Wars movie. Though the roads along the badlands are maintained, they are not paved. The condition of these roads can change with weather, so use caution. Besides a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) map and small parking area, there is no visitor center and little signs of civilization here at all. You can walk in many directions to explore. It is quite possible that you will not see another visitor in this remote and quiet area. We just parked on a ridge overlooking a rock playground and let the kids loose to explore (but within earshot).
Our family of four darted in different directions claiming rocks as our own to frolic on. We had the "surfboard", "mermaid’s rock", and "bed" to name a few. The kids hopped from the rocks like frogs on huge toadstools. They played tag. They played hide and seek. They took photos. They could have stayed all day. We visited in April and though the air was still cool and fresh, the impact of being out in the vast area without any shade hits you fast. The NM sun is so intense and bright, it feels like you are beachside, only without the ocean. This is not a strenuous hike, but you will want to bring plenty of water along with you. Please be aware it is prohibited to collect petrified wood or fossil fragments which are abundant in this area.
IMPORTANT: Remember to keep track of your surroundings and look for landmarks in order to find your way back to the trail and your car! It is recommended to bring at least one gallon of water per person in warm temperatures.