Home » 2022 Arizona and New Mexico

Bisti Badlands, NM

Tuesday, May 3, 2022 - 7:30pm by Lolo
130 miles and 3.5 hours from our last stop - 2 night stay


Hiking into the North Bisti BadlandsHiking into the North Bisti BadlandsAfter leaving Shiprock yesterday, we drove an hour and spent the night in the Brentwood Inn in the town of Farmington, New Mexico, which is the closest town to use as a base for exploring the Bisti Badlands..

From everything we had seen and read, the Bisti Badlands was an amazingly unique and otherworldly land of colorful expanses, undulating mounds, and unusual rock formations covering over 4,000 acres in the high desert of northwestern New Mexico.

Bisti Badlands was the driving force of this trip - the reason we took the route we did across northern Arizona and New Mexico. All because of some amazing photos in a Photographing New Mexico book and descriptions of its extreme remoteness and isolation - exactly the experience that my husband craves.

North Bisti BadlandsNorth Bisti BadlandsHowever, with that remoteness comes several challenges to exploring it - unmarked dirt roads, no signs, no cell coverage, no services, etc. What often looked like short distances on the map turned out to be much longer because of the lack of roads connecting two places.

So we prepped by watching YouTube videos of people that had been there, downloading dirt roads, hiking trails, camping spots, and interesting rock formations on Gaia to follow when we were there, even if there was no cell coverage.

Manta RayManta RayThen there was the biggest challenge of all, which couldn’t be solved with research or Gaia maps - the relentless spring desert winds!!, and once again the forecast was for gusts up to 50 mph, very unpleasant in a sandy environment.

We had marked down places where we could disperse camp, but had no idea if the wind would cooperate or make camping a miserable experience.

North Bisti BadlandsNorth Bisti BadlandsThere were three hikes in particular we wanted to do, each of them separated by miles of unmarked dirt roads.

Since the winds tend to pick up in the afternoon, we got an early start hoping to get in at least one of those hikes while it was still calm. From Farmington, we drove down NM 371 through wide open prairie land at the eaastern edge of the Navajo Nation. There are two areas to explore off of 371 - North Bisti and South Bisti.

Stone WingsStone WingsWe decided to go to North Bisti first. Herb had marked the Bisti Badlands Parking North in Gaia, so I was able to follow our progress towards it. We traveled south on 371 for 33.5 miles and made a left onto County Road 7295, which we followed until it came to a T. From there we just followed our tracks on Gaia for another quarter mile or so until we came to a small parking area.

After squeezing through a narrow barb-wired entrance designed to keep cattle in, we started walking east on a fairly obvious path on the flats. We had the major rock formations we wanted to see in Gaia as well, so we used that as a guide to finding them.

Conversing HoodoosConversing HoodoosMany of the formations are best seen in evening light, but you can’t be everywhere at sunset, but we did the best we could to capture them.

The names of many of the rock formations, such as Manta Ray, Conversing Hoodoos, and Stone Wings are so aptly descriptive that it was easy to know when we had found them, even without Gaia’s help.

Badlands on the way to King of WingsBadlands on the way to King of WingsStone Wings was the first named formation we came to, but the unnamed scenery was pretty awesome as well. You can see how these large wings perched on a bluff got their name, and they were very cool. Little did I know at the time though that we would see a much more impressive wing later today on the King of Wings hike.

Next came Conversing Hoodoos, two elegant hoodoos sitting side by side on bluff looking out over Hunter Wash and theoretically conversing about it.

In Search of the King of WingsIn Search of the King of WingsThe next one was my absolute favorite - the Manta Ray, although Gaia tried to tell us it was somewhere else and we wasted a lot of time looking for it. Fortunately, we took photos of what we thought was a really cool unnamed formation, which I afterwards confirmed actually was the Manta Ray. That sort of taught us a lesson to just look with our own eyes and find what was interesting to us rather than searching on our phones for named ones.

King of WingsKing of WingsAfter three and a half miles we were back to the barbed wire fence where we squeezed back through to the parking lot. It was only 10:30 and the wind hadn’t picked up yet, so we decided to implement the second hike we wanted to do in the Bisti Badlands - King of Wings.

This one and the next one (Valley of Dreams) was located in the Ah-shi-sle-pah Wilderness Study Area, an even more remote section of the Bisti Wilderness.

King of WingsKing of WingsThe directions to the Ah-shi-sle-pah Wilderness were all from the east on NM 550, but we were already fairly deep into the badlands, so we decided to navigate our way there via Gaia, which worked just fine. We went back out to NM 371, went south for about 10 miles and then turned left on dirt road 7650, which we followed for about 10 miles, before turning right onto an unsigned dirt road.

In about a mile, we came to a parking lot, but fortunately Herb had done his research and knew that there was another parking lot one and a half mile further on that could only be reached with a 4WD vehicle. This would save about a mile and a half of hiking.

King of WingsKing of WingsAs in the first hike in North Bisti, we parked by a barbed wire fence and had to figure out how to get around - or in this case, more correctly, under it. There were no “No Trespassing” signs, so we found a section that had obviously been used to get under before, took off our backpacks, and played limbo.

From there we headed across a rather nondescript sandy, grassy desert plain for about a quarter of a mile before arriving at the edge of the plateau where beautiful olive-colored badlands dropped down into a lower plateau. They were beautiful and already worth the hike.

Along the way to the King of WingsAlong the way to the King of WingsAs I mentioned before, there are no trails or signs as to where to go, so without the aid of Gaia, it would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find the King of Wings. Even with it, it was tough.

We were unsure whether we should stay on top of the Badlands or go down and wander through the washes, so we did a bit of both - constantly watching Gaia to see if we were headed in the right direction.

Hike into the Valley of DreamsHike into the Valley of DreamsUnlike our previous hike, where we navigated our way from one hoodoo to the next, the King of Wings was the only game in town. After about 1.7 miles of wandering, we arrived at the big fella, and he was certainly worth the effort.

Like most of the other hoodoos in the Bisti Badlands, the King of Wings was a large boulder balanced atop a clay pedestal. However, what distinguished it from the others is that the top boulder extends 10 feet beyond the pedestal creating what looks like a giant wing. It was pretty amazing.

Seemed like there was gold everywhereSeemed like there was gold everywhereOf course we had to take photos of us underneath the wing to give some sense of scale. Also, it was fun to wander around it, because it looked so different from each perspective.

Now that we had the tracks that we took to hike here, it was much easier to find our way back to the car.

Knock on wood, the wind still wasn’t too bad, so we decided to do the third hike we had wanted to do - the Valley of Dreams.

More goldMore goldSo back we drove to 7650, made a left and continued for 2 miles before making another left onto 7870. We followed 7870 for about 3.5 miles and then made another left onto 7022, which we followed for about 2.5 miles to the parking area.

There were actually three cars in the parking lot, the first time we had seen anyone else all day. The wind was starting to pick up, but still not the kind that sandblasts you.

And moreAnd moreThis hike was definitely easier to navigate because we could see in the distance a group of rock formations that we just headed towards.

Rather than spread apart as in North Bisti, or standing alone as in King of Wings, the hoodoos in the Valley of Dreams were all centered around a low, yellow hill where there were dozens of them scattered about. I especially liked the tall white formations with the golden tops. Oh, and there was petrified wood just lying about amongst them.

And even some petrified woodAnd even some petrified woodMany of the formations had names, but after searching for them and not finding them, or finding them and thinking the name was stupid, I gave up on that and just wandered. The one hoodoo I absolutely did want to find though was the Alien Throne, which did turn out to be aptly named.

The Alien Throne was absolutely surreal. Like other hoodoos it was formed by the erosive forces of wind and rain wearing away at the softer clay layers below a harder cap rock on top. The wind and rain must have been feeling pretty creative when they made this one.

It looked both powerful and fragile at the same time - sturdy base and cap rock that looked like it could last forever, and in between a lattice of softer white stone punctured with several windows through which you could see a bright blue sky. It was a throne worthy of the most eminent of alien leaders.

The Alien ThroneThe Alien ThroneFor now, it would have to be satisfied with me, trying my best to look like it was mine from which I was about to issue edicts to my loyal followers. Then Herb told me to get down before I hurt myself. Oh well.

On our way back to the car, we ran into a group of a dozen or so people armed with backpacks and tripods. This was the same photo tour group from Japan that we had met in the parking lot earlier. They had obviously waited for the golden hour before heading out, as that is definitely the best time to photograph these hoodoos, but unfortunately for them, they had also missed the window of calm before the sandstorm. There were going to be lots of sandy cameras later.

The Alien Throne and his friendsThe Alien Throne and his friendsOur next real destination was going to be Chaco Canyon, but since there was no place to stay near there, we headed back up to Farmington and booked another night at the Brentwood Inn.

Before checking in, we stopped for dinner at the Three Rivers Brewstillery, a fun place obviously frequented by locals. Herb had a boring hamburger but I went for the BLT sandwich, which was served with a fried egg on top of the bacon. I wondered why they offered a half size, but I soon found out when the waitress served my whole BLT. It was not only good for dinner but tomorrow’s lunch as well.

The beers were great and Herb and I toasted ourselves for our very fun and productive day, pulling off much more than we thought we could accomplish in a day - 11 miles of hiking over three separate very remote hikes through some of the most unique hoodoos we have ever seen - and we are hoodoo aficionados.

Tomorrow - Chaco Canyon!

Bisti Badlands location map in "high definition"

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