Desert Solitaire: Hiking the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness in Northern New Mexico

Until very recently, the Bisti and De-Na-Zin Wilderness areas of northwest New Mexico were a locals’ secret. They were miles from anywhere, and you were more likely to see cow than a person when hiking around the 45,000 acres of dramatic and desolate desert.

Over the last few years, a few high profile dinosaur finds, some effective marketing, and the internet have come together to increase the area’s popularity substantially.

A little over 40 miles of patchy highway south of Farmington, New Mexico, you will cross a sea of sagebrush on one side of the road, and the giant irrigated farm fields of the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry (NAPI) on the other, until finally the road drops down and the badlands appear, seemingly out of nowhere.

The western side of the wilderness is known as the Bisti, from the Navajo for ‘a large area of shale hills.’ The Bisti is popular with day hikers and photographers, with two easily accessible, though amenity free, trailheads. Follow the southern edge of the wash to see famously unusual formations like the ‘Cracked Eggs’, and large petrified trees.

The eastern side of the wilderness, known as the De-Na-Zin, from the Navajo for ‘cranes,’ has a lower concentration of the dramatic formations found in the Bisti. It more than makes it up with a seemingly endless desert badland solitude. With a more remote trailhead, the eastern side sees only a tiny fraction of the annual visitors who visit the Bisti. If you go a mile or two from the trailhead in the De-Na-Zin, you are alone in the world.

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