In the middle of northwestern New Mexico, you'll find rock formations that look like they've been set on Earth by extraterrestrials. A bunch of the hoodoos have funky names and they resemble animated creations. A "hoodoo" is basically a pinnacle of weathered rock. Walking amongst them seems as though you've been transported to another place--and time. It's not Mars and you're not in prehistoric times... It's the Bisti-De-Na-Zin Wilderness. (BIS-tie-duh-NAY-zin) Wilderness. For the record, we were pronouncing this wrong for years, so if you were too... you're not alone!
It's a fairly unpopular area and there are no signs posted about it in near or surrounding towns. The closest town is Farmington being around 45 minutes away.There are multiple trails that we knew we wanted to check out but they all required driving down dirt roads for miles and miles in order to get to the trailheads. For the most part, our AWD GMC Safari passenger van was able to go everywhere we needed it to. We were just grateful that it wasn't raining because that might not have been the case if the roads had gotten washed out!
As always, Leave no Trace. That means don't carve your name in them, don't take anything, don't damage, or climb on the hoodoos! It's a very unique place and we want it to be around for a long time! Come along and see what we did for our 48 hours in Bisti Badlands!
Bisti Badlands Trail (map)
Distance: 5.5 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 213 feet
This is where we slept the first night. We slept in the van and there were RV's and tents as well. From the car you'll see the trail map and there's an area to sign in and register your name. Then you will pass through a cattle gate that you'll zig zag your way through then be on your way! We only did 3 miles of the 5 mile loop and thought it was plenty.
First things first, once you set out on the trail from the parking lot, you will need some sort of navigation device if you plan on seeing certain formations in the area. There are a few famous rock erosions, which are more iconic than others. I highly recommend downloading the AllTrails map everywhere you go! There are zero markers on the "trail" whatsoever. Honestly, there really isn't even a trail... so be prepared to wander about!
Things to See:
A lot of these formations looks similar so it'll definitely be an I-Spy type of day. There were a few of these that we never even found because the area is so massive.
We were walking and walking then we turned the corner to a bunch of little hoodoos in this one area! It's definitely helpful to see a photo of what you're trying to find before going... otherwise I would've had no clue what to look for! Of course you can just wander around with absolutely no intention behind it, which is what I ended up doing at some points. If you have the right imagination, any of the rocks could theoretically look like an animal figure or something from a cartoon!
Okay so the cracked eggs were the most distinguishable ones out there, without a doubt! They actually looked like massive cracked dinosaur eggs! This was around mile 2 on the all trails map. This is where we decided to turn around!
Ah-shi-sle-pah Trail (map)
Distance: 2.7 miles
Elevation: 144 ft.
This trail was short and sweet! Our GPS actually told us that we were still a few miles from the trailhead when the road ended but turns out, that wasn't the case! We asked a group of people returning from the trail how long it was and they said "Two miles". That was music to my ears since we thought we were going to have to hike 5 miles each way. As it turns out, from the moment I left the car until I saw the first view of the hoodoos, my watch said I'd gone .6 miles. This was a great hike! You're free to wander around out there. Just be gentle and don't climb on the fragile hoodoos!
All in all, you'll get the most out of this trail with the least amount of hiking! If you're short on time but still want to see dramatic hoodoo formations, this is the hike for you!
Valley of Dreams Loop (map)
Distance: 3.7 miles
Elevation: 255 ft.
This is the most unique of them all! Here you'll find the most incredible hoodoo there ever was: Alien Throne. This was another spot where we didn't know exactly where our GPS was telling us to go to find the trailhead. There were so many dirt roads so we finally just picked one that went towards the coordinates and it worked out excellent! We didn't know if the van would be able to make it but we did just fine. On the last mile or so, the center of the dirt road (which was off the main road) was pretty high so a smaller car could possibly bottom out. You absolutely 100% should have a map downloaded for this one because of how remote you are!
Things to see:
Three Wise Men
Red Dinosaur Egg
Petrified Wood Turtle
Chocolate Penguin King
This was my favorite trail, without a doubt. You're in this world of hoodoos all around you and it feels quite literally like you're exploring a part of the universe nobody's ever set foot on! When we went we were the only people and it really just added to the experience.
Where to Sleep:
The first night, we slept at the Bisti Badlands Trailhead. There were people who also pitched a tent there! It's all on BLM land (Bureau of Land Management) so that means it's legal (and free) to sleep on.
There are no established campgrounds, so be aware of your surroundings if you do choose to camp. Practice leave no trace, as always!
Other things to know:
Tread lightly! These formations are millions of years old.
No motor vehicles on the wilderness areas.
Do not collect any fossils or petrified wood
There is little to no cell service
There are no facilities in the area (except for vault toilets at the Bisti Badlands Trail head)
Bring plenty of water
Pack a cooler if you plan on spending a couple of nights out there because there's absolutely nothing for dozens of miles
Watch the weather because there's a chance the roads could get washed out!
Hike early in the morning because it can get extremely, extremely hot!
I hope you enjoyed this post! There's so much to be explored in this area and you'll just love it. It's truly one of the most unique places I've ever been. As always, practice Leave No Trace and be respectful of the land you're walking on! These formations are millions and millions of years old and we want our future generations to experience these amazing things too!