Bisti Badlands

December 17, 2018  •  5 Comments

Bisti FormationsBisti FormationsBisti Badlands, New Mexico Rock formations in the Bisti Badlands, also known for its Navajo name De-Na-Zin Wilderness

Day 3 found me here, not far from Shiprock, in the New Mexico wilderness area known for its fantastical rock formations - The Bisti Badlands.  Photographically, I have little to show for my 3-4 hour visit and 4 miles of hiking in slippery mud and snow.  I found nothing of the wind and rain eroded formations that you'll see populating Instagram or Flickr or your Facebook feed.  This area is a maze of rock formations, hills and stream beds all created through the magic of erosion.  The car park was empty when I arrived and empty when I returned so I was out there alone for my visit and could feel the detachment from... well, from all living things? Nothing but the wind moved out there.  It was rare to even hear a bird or see the ubiquitous crows.  At first it was a bit nerve-wracking but eventually a calm settled in and the quiet became softly assuring. 
I was let down by my own inability to find the iconic formations: the balanced rocks, the wings, all remained hidden.  It's my own fault as I lacked preparation. To begin with, I had a difficult time finding it, taking two wrong turns down dirt roads that, yes, led to the badlands but not the area I wanted.  The Bisti Wilderness is over 40,000 acres so more than one local road would take you there.  It's best to do the research.  I didn't. I eventually grabbed my Photographing the Southwest  book with directions and advice for finding and photographing the area (Yes, I know, I know).  Lack of preparation became even more apparent when I was a mile or so into my hike and realized I had no idea where to turn within the aforementioned maze.  The iconic formations were obviously much deeper into the badlands than I was prepared to go. 
Getting lost was on my mind.  I walked in snow when I could so I could leave tracks.  I scrubbed arrows into snow when I made a turn or crossed a stream bed.  It seems unnecessary now, once back home, but having not been there before it seemed suited to the circumstances.  Funny, but on the walk back I probably only saw 25% of the tracks I left. :-)
Adding insult to the photographic injury was during the hike back the sun had begun to melt the frozen mud and my boot treads had become clogged with slick mud causing me to walk mud-on-mud.  Thus, (see what's coming?) my left foot slipped out from under me and my rump dropped 4 feet (at 32.2 ft/s) onto the semi-frozen earth. Ugh.  I had my tripod-mounted Nikon resting on my shoulder so it bounced a bit on my right clavicle before finding its own path to the ground. 

Shoulder and camera okay? Check.
Butt okay? Sorta but I'm gonna hurt tomorrow as every joint in my body was rattled. 

Since I'm writing this from a comfortable spot in La Mesa, CA you can see I made it back in one piece. 

I have a little ritual I perform when approaching the trailhead from a lengthy hike.  a) Oh, I see the car!; and as I get closer, b) The car is unmolested, good!; then c) The car starts, Excellent! 

Yeah, a bit weird, but I bet you do something similar. 


Todd Henson(non-registered)
Trips like that may not be the most fun at the time but they always seem to make great stories afterwards. I love the photo. There's something alive at play between the clouds and the rock formations.
Jeremy Barrett(non-registered)
Worth all the effort and pain just for the image at the top, it made me chuckle your ‘return ritual’ I think we all go through that one and of course adding to that still finding the keys in ones pocket is a bonus .
Glad you got back safely :)
( I always carry a McMurdo Fast Find Ranger just in case things really hit the fan )
I think you need a chaperone.
That's a great story. You are lucky that you didn't get lost out there. From experience I know that cell phone signal is non existent in much of the U.S> West particularly in areas away from large population centers.

I've been in similar situations in very remote areas of West Central China with my wife except for one thing - the whole country has 5 bar signal everywhere and we were able to use her cell phone to navigate out. I bought a Garmin GPS that can download maps for when we return to exploring the US West and Canada so we will have some sense of direction.

Once at a trail head I do know the feeling of isolation especially when walking alone in the snow. I try to leave some sort of bread crumbs whether it is bending a tree branch (I know we should leave things as we found them but I figure if a bear or deer could do it, I wont do to much harm) and leaving rocks in a row of 3 or making a symbol in the dirt (not much experience in the snow. One time we got very lost hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Lisa wanted to go one way and I thought the way back was another way. It was neither and that gave us a very sick feeling. Fortunately we saw several other people walking way in the distance and we sort of followed them (though we were far away) and from there we found a trail sign pointing to the trail head. The hikers ahead of us weren't going there and they were too far ahead to call out to but following them we stumbled onto a marked trail with sign to the trail head where we parked the car. That time we hadn't brought along a backpack so now we bring plenty of water and fruit and jackets when we go to hike. I think we are both a lot more cautious and careful from our experience that day in Rocky Mountain Park.
Two Words: Gaia GPS Two ore words: and an extra battery pack for your phone. OK That's not two words
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