Bisti Badlands

Having seen so many pictures of Bisti Badlands in northwest New Mexico, I felt a great desire to see it with my own two eyes. Before we go further, I will disclose that there were no actual trails in these Badlands, nor does GPS provide easy to follow instructions to get there. In my experience, those are usually the most fulfilling trips. Perhaps I appreciate it more after putting work into it. If you're ok with somewhat vague instructions and navigating from multiple paper maps, then this is the place for you.

Hoodoos in Bisti Badlands, NM
Hoodoos in Bisti Badlands, NM

Bisti is known for white hoodoos with a flat “hat” on top, fossilized dinosaur bones and petrified logs. The hoodoos were fairly easy to find. They were to the right and left. We tended to end in dead ends when we followed a narrow canyon between hoodoos, and had to make our way back to the wash to continue further.

Petrified logs were a nice find. From the south parking lot, we followed the fence line until it took a sharp turn to the left. Then we followed the wash, probably about 2 miles one-way from the parking lot, past the red mounds. The petrified logs were to the right of of the wash, just past the “dinosaur egg” rocks. (I guess I didn't explain to my boys beforehand that they weren't actually dinosaur eggs, so there was a lot of disappointment when the truth came out. Now I'm on the hook to find some real fossilized dinosaur eggs for the boys to see. Luckily, there are some in Alberta, Canada - stay tuned.) We first came upon the petrified logs in pieces. It looked like someone had smashed one into a thousand pieces. It is truly sad that anyone would do that.

With our hearts broken, we walked on and eventually found a long, mostly-intact petrified log resting on its side on a shortened hoodoo. Keep your eyes peeled, because all around that area were petrified logs, mostly in smaller 2-3 foot portions. Some had petrified orange moss and petrified webbing within the log that looked like home to an ancient bug. The appearance was of a tree log, but touching it revealed a very hard texture, most similar to a rock. Even the moss was incredibly hard to the touch. Petrified orange moss, I suppose.

Petrified log in Bisti Badlands, NM
Petrified log in Bisti Badlands, NM

The fossilized bones were hardest to find. This area is known to have hidden dinosaur bones from many ages ago. After guessing at many many different rocks to be bone, we finally came across one large bone, which we were pretty sure was actual bone (in our untrained opinion.) I read somewhere (I know, great reference) that rocks tend to be smooth. But bone has texture, line-like matrix or foam-like texture to indicate fossilized bone marrow. Oh how I wish I had a degree in geology/paleontology. Anyway this find made it clear to us that all other fossilized “bone” we were guessing at, were just rocks. I think this is our first unguided find of fossilized bone, assuming that it is what we think it is . We found this alleged fossilized bone to the left of the fence line, after wandering a little bit near the “Rock Garden”, probably about 2 miles from the south parking lot. There is a faded map at the trailhead, it's always a good idea to take a picture of it. You never know when you might need it.

Alleged fossilized bone in Bisti Badlands, NM
Alleged fossilized bone in Bisti Badlands, NM

We did this drive/hike as part of our tour of the Four Corners Area.

Practical Information (as of April 2019):

Features: Wander about a barren landscape to find beautiful hoodoos formed by erosion, petrified logs and more
Our Hike: We wandered around the Badlands for 6 hours (including ½ hour lunch) covering about 9 miles rt though a more efficient hiker could probably get the job done in 6 miles, assuming you never veer from your intended path.
Fee: Free, free parking
Directions: UNpaved packed gravel road which was very passable with our high-clearance 2WD when dry, but probably impassable when wet. From Farmington, about 45 mins drive south of Farmington on NM 371 till you get to road 7297 (near mile marker 71) signed for the Bisti Badlands. Make a left (East) turn on this gravel road. Proceed to the junction (about two miles) and make a left, then go about two more miles to the parking area on the right side of the road. There is no water or facilities at the parking area. (Want south trailhead parking)
Website: Bisti Badlands

We had planned to go to Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wildernessbut the rain the night before had covererd the last part of the road with a lot of soft sand which we weren't comfortable driving on in our 2WD vehicle. Unfortunately, we had driven about an hour before our turn-around occurred. Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah was farther off the main highway than Bisti. We did see many wild horses roaming freely in the fields adjacent to the road.