In a previous post, I talked about Bisti National Wilderness, where you can wander for miles without any trails to keep you from experiencing the formations. However, after my most recent jaunt across the Wilderness, I realized that there is far more to Bisti than I thought when I wrote that post. So, in this post, I will tell you about some of the other fascinating parts of Bisti. Some of these features you will only be able to find with a GPS (unless you stumble onto it accidentally), while others are fairly easy to find even if you just follow these directions. I’ve included some GPS coordinates, but also given directions where I could.
To get to Bisti, from West Broadway Ave in Farmington, New Mexico, drive south on NM-371 for 36.3 miles to the road to Bisti. Actually, several miles before this, you will see the first access road. A sign will point down the road, but will say that there is no access to Bisti. (I don’t know what they are talking about; this is the road to the northern parking area and the Bisti trading post. However, you can’t get to the main part of Bisti by car going down this road). Anyhow, don’t take this road; go another 7 miles to the next sign for Bisti National Wilderness (CR7297), located between mileposts 71 and 72. Go left onto this gravel road, and drive 2 miles, then turn left on another gravel road and drive about a mile to the south parking area. The road is good enough to be traveled by a low-clearance vehicle, but road conditions can change quickly, so use common sense and don’t try something you don’t think you can do. There are actually two places that you could park, both on the right side of the road about a mile after your turn onto the second gravel road. The first has a signboard kiosk (no information on it that I saw), and the second has a sign that says “Bisti Wilderness Area”. We opted to park in the second parking area (GPS coordinates 36°15’43” N, 108° 15’10” W).
If you’re looking for a quick walk to some great formations, from the second parking area cross the road and walk west and a little to the right. In ½ mile or less you will come to a garden of fantastically shaped hoodoos, spires, and balancing rocks. There is quite a bit of room to wander in this area, and to enjoy the wonders of Bisti without having to walk very far. However, it is also easy to get lost, so you might want to program the parking area into you GPS so you can find your way back. You might also be ok if you have an exceptional sense of direction, and if you get lost, walk east and you will come to the road. Then you can simply follow the road back to your vehicle.
However, if you’re up to a hike, and want to see the real personality of Bisti, you will need to take a walk to the east. From either south parking area, head out east (with the road directly at your back) up the flat wash-like area between the sets of badlands. The badlands on your left are the boundary between what I consider the north and south sections of the Bisti Wilderness. For now, I’ll concentrate on the southern section, because I can easily direct you to the different destinations in this area without the aid of a GPS (although I’ll give the GPS coordinates as well for all you techy people out there).
For now, stay on the southern (right) side of the wide wash. Here you’ll find a variety of hoodoos and other formations, usually taller than the ones on the west side of the road. After exploring these, keep walking along the right side of the wash. When you started out there were orange hills on your left, but after a while these died out. About 1 ½ miles from the parking area, there will be another orange hill on your left. Keep walking until this orange hill ends, then head towards the middle of the wash. In this area is a small arch (very small!). It’s not too impressive, but it’s an interesting find. The GPS coordinate of the arch is 36°16’07” N, 108°13’34” W. In the same area are the cracked eggs, a destination well worth visiting (GPS coordinate 36°16’02” N, 108°13’26” W). From the arch, walk right towards the southern side of the wash. A little farther up the wash, near the southern side, you will find the small-ish rocks sitting on the ground. Pictures don’t do it justice, so take my word for it that these are extremely cool to visit!
After you’ve seen the cracked eggs, continue walking up the wash. After another mile or so, you will come to a huge butte in the middle of the wash with a gigantic eagle’s nest (it looks like a huge pile of sticks) on the right (south) side of it (GPS coordinate 36°16’09” N, 108°12’44” W). Now you are entering the best part of the southern section of Bisti, perhaps the best part of Bisti over-all. Wander this area, enjoying the formations, badlands, hoodoos, buttes, and spires that are so prevalent here. I’ve also heard that there is quite a bit of petrified wood in this area, even a few 30-ft. logs, but I didn’t find them on this trip. Maybe next time? Anyway, we headed left around the butte with the eagle’s nest, then over a set of badlands and up towards the northern boundary of the southern section of Bisti. Here we found a valley full of fantastic formations, and another butte with another eagle’s nest. We climbed up on the yellow badlands above the hoodoo-studded valleys and followed the ridgeline for a while, enjoying the beauty below us. I would definitely like to explore this section further on another trip.
Return by the way you came, or go into the northern section of Bisti. Unfortunately, I found it very difficult to find anything in this area, as it is much less visited than the southern section, with wildly winding washes going in almost every direction possible, and fantastic formations at almost every turn. Thus, I will only tell you about three of the destinations we visited, with their GPS coordinates. We went into the northern section near the small arch mentioned before, climbing up the badlands on the northern side of the wash. At 36°16’22” N 108°13’26 W” we found a couple of really cool arches (you can probably only see one arch at the coordinate point—from the back of the arch you can see that there are two). Another interesting point is the hoodoo garden, found at 36°16’33” N, 108°13’47” W. Here there are a whole garden of small hoodoos sticking up in a valley of rock (instead of badlands, like most of the hoodoos in Bisti). This is a very interesting destination if you can find it. Realize that all hiking in the northern area will require scrambling over and through washes and badlands. Although somewhat less interesting, another destination in the northern section are the stone wings (GPS coordinates 36°16’45” N, 108°14’14” W). I think these are named after the special hats that the Sisters of Charity wore until the 1960s, popularized in the TV series “The Flying Novice”. Anyway, the stone wings are hoodoos with weirdly shaped rocks on top of short spires of Bisti clay. From here, we hiked back to our vehicle, but decided that scrambling over badlands and washes wasn’t the fastest way to do this, so we got back to the road and hiked back up that to the parking area. Be aware that if you try hiking through the area, there are numerous fences that you may need to cross. I don’t know how far the fences penetrate into the Wilderness, but we could see them from the road.
Bisti is a place for you to get totally lost in the wilderness. I have never seen anyone out in the wilderness any of the three times we’ve visited the site, although we have seen several people in the parking areas. So if you hike here, you will likely be able to do it on your own, without any other tourists around. This also makes it less likely that you’ll be found if you are lost. My recommendation is to either take a GPS with the coordinates of your vehicle on it, or to take a compass with you. If you get hopelessly lost, you can simply travel west, and you will eventually hit the road, at which point you can follow the road back to your vehicle. Also, be sure to use sunblock (that sun is intense in New Mexico!) and bring plenty of food and water with you. The last thing you need is to get caught out in the wilderness without enough food and water to get you back to your vehicle!
Below is a map I put together to show were the various destinations I talked about above are in relationship to each other.
- Center of map
- Bisti Parking Lot (36°15’43” N, 108° 15’10” W)
- Small Arch (36°16’07” N, 108°13’34” W)
- Broken Eggs (36°16’02” N, 108°13’26” W)
- Eagle’s Nest(36°16’09” N, 108°12’44” W)
- Two Arches (36°16’22” N 108°13’26” W)
- Hoodoo Garden (36°16’33” N, 108°13’47” W)
- Stone Wings (36°16’45” N, 108°14’14” W)
Click bubbles on the map for more info.
I’ve also included a topo map of the area with some GPS coordinates. The map itself is in German, but is pretty easily decipherable. Many thanks to whoever put it on the internet in the first place!
Round Trip Trail Length: Varies. I’m guessing we hiked between 6 and 8 miles
Facilities: None. You are definitely in the wilderness!
Friday Fri Jul 21 50%
Chance of a Thunderstorm
Scattered thunderstorms. Lows overnight in the mid 60s.
Saturday Sat Jul 22 50%
Chance of a Thunderstorm
Partly cloudy in the morning followed by scattered thunderstorms in the afternoon. High 89F. Winds ESE at less than 5 mph, becoming W and increasing to 15 to 25 mph. Chance of rain 50%.
Sunday Sun Jul 23 20%
Sunshine and clouds mixed. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 86F. Winds ESE at 10 to 20 mph.
Monday Mon Jul 24 20%
Partly cloudy skies during the morning hours will become overcast in the afternoon. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High around 90F. Winds SE at 5 to 10 mph.
Tuesday Tue Jul 25 50%
Chance of a Thunderstorm
Mostly cloudy with scattered thunderstorms mainly in the morning. High 87F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 50%.