If the hustle and bustle of city living has got you wanting to get off the grid or if you’re curious what it might be like to live on the moon, you might want to take a trip to the Bisti and De-Na-Zen Wilderness Area, a free-to-the-public, year-round, little-visited section of the badlands in the San Juan Basin in New Mexico. But before you head off to your own private Burning Man, there are a few things to consider.
How to Get There
There are no signposts that direct your journey to the Bisti and De-Na-Zen badlands, so be sure to do your research ahead of time – though the most-used route is along NM 371, through Farmington. Bisti is the smaller of the two areas and comes first, followed about 50 miles further by the De-Na-Zen area. Be sure to check the road conditions before setting out as, even though the main roads are maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, they are unpaved and can become impassable with inclement weather.
Hoodoos and Spires and Cranes, Oh My!
Now, unless your dream house is a shack in the desert, you might be asking yourself, “Why would I want to travel to Middle of Nowhere, New Mexico to visit someplace ominously named ‘the badlands’?”
The geological composition of the rolling desert hills, combined with erosion caused by the elements have given the Bisti Badlands incredibly breathtaking, mind-boggling, and sometimes creepy natural rock formations you won’t be able to see anywhere else. Some are called “hoodoo”s (or sometimes the similarly ethereal “fairy chimney”), and are totem-like in shape and can range in size from the height of the average human to a 10-story building. There are also spires, similar formation with more uniform thickness, and land bridges.
If you head deeper into the badlands, past the Bisti area to the slightly more vegetated De-Na-Zin (which is Navajo for “cranes”), you’ll be able to see petroglyphs, or rock carvings, of its namesake left by the long-ago inhabitants on some of the formations.
Bring Your Compass
The Bisti is a wide-open badland formation and the De-Na-Zin is marked only with a trailhead at the parking area. So when you take off exploring, make sure to find a way to remember where you left your vehicle and supplies. The area has no major landmarks, even elevation throughout, and no major trailways. There are very few living flora or fauna in the badlands – even vegetation is limited to small bushes – due to the elements, so you’ll have to rely on your own sense of direction (or a compass) to find your way back.
With over 4,000 acres to explore, one day might not be enough. But there aren’t any water sources in the Bisti and De-Na-Zen badlands, and when this is combined with the sweltering desert temperatures, the lack of rainfall (the area averages less than 8 inches per year!), and not a vending machine in sight, you might want to rethink your plans to camp overnight. The nearest towns with accommodations are Farmington, NM (~35 miles), Bloomfield, NM (~50 miles), and Grants, NM (~100 miles), where you can rest, recharge, and refill your water bottles and a stash of granola for another day of wandering.