10 May 2018

The Bisti Badlands

The Bisti Badlands is a hidden, colourful, and hilly area in the high desert which is located in the North of New Mexico. It is a maze of narrow gaps, formed hoodoos and many coloured hills with fossils and petrified wood. The word Bisti originates from the Navajo word Bis-ta-hie which means “bad land”. 

The landscape

The landscape looked completely different millions of years ago. What we now know as the state New Mexico once was a swampy coastal area with dark tropical forests. Many large conifers, palm trees and other plants grew here. The climate was warm and humid. These living conditions were ideal for reptiles. There used to be many snakes, salamanders, crocodiles and lizard species. Not only reptiles made their appearance in this area also many small mammals and amphibians, but most striking for this time period was the existence of dinosaurs. The climate started to change about 70 million years ago. The swamps made place for big rivers, that put large surfaces under water. Many fossils that are found in the Bisti wilderness still date back to this time period. 

When the water disappeared as well, there was nothing left but a hundreds of meters thick layer, which consisted of; sandstone, mud, slate and coal. The erosion process, which gave the landscape its current forms and which uncovered many fossils, started about 6,000 years ago, after the last ice age. The layers of coal played an important part in this process, their existence caused underground fires, which baked and hardened the clay layers. This is the cause for the rusty colour the landscape has nowadays. The two most important geological formations are the Fruitland Formation and the Kirtland Shale. The Fruitland Formation can be recognised by its sand stone pillars and hoodoos which were created by the erosion. The Kirtland Shale on the other hand consists of many colourful rocks and dominates the eastern part of the area. 

Bisti Badlands is has a surface of 16 km2 and is part of the large Bisti Wilderness. The area is being managed by the Bureau of Land Management. 

It is permitted to camp on the parking lot, directly next to the Wilderness area. Although you will not find any accommodations here. The closest place with motels and hotels is the city Farmington. 

Normally the Bisti Badlands are quite easy to access, you can just drive to the area with a passenger car. However, the conditions can change drastically in case of bad weather. For instance, wash outs could occur, this means that the road becomes undrivable since parts of it have been washed away. 

The wilderness area is completely fenced and starts directly behind the parking lot. When you arrive, you will see a broad path way lead east, this is the Gateway Wash. This broad wash divides the Bisti area in a northern and southern part. 

Best way to discover

The best way to discover the Bisti Badlands is by walking the Gateway wash and then taking one of the side paths and from there on explore it by yourself. There are no path ways and no fixed walking routes. Making that you have to go looking for the most beautiful spots yourself. Since this is an easy way for people to get lost it advisable to bring along a navigation device. If you do not own a navigation device, you should find a clear and distinguishable orientation point for yourself. Do take notice that this can be very hard in this area. So, if you are lost find a higher area. Often you are able to see the Bisti Badlands buildings very clearly, another good orientation point is the Gateway Wash.

Since there are no fixed routes you can take it is very hard to give an estimation of how long a visit might take. If you decide to go walking by yourself, it is important to prepare for the hike. The terrain can be hard to pass at some parts. Causing your walking tempo to be lower then you are usually used to. 

It is also possible to visit the south side if you would like to see the area without going on an adventure. The first valley on the south side, right from the Gateway Wash, can be reached within a couple of minutes. Here you can see various hoodoos. On the north side the first valley is located a bit further away. Follow the Gateway wash for about 10 minutes, until you see a fence on the left side. Walk along the fence for about 10 to 15 minutes until you reach a sharp turn. Now walk north with the fence on your left-hand side and you will walk straight to the Badlands. 

The Bisti Badlands are visited by only a couple of thousand people every year. Making the chance that you run into people very small. In the summer months it can get very hot. During the day you will barely be able to find any shadow and the temperatures rises quickly. If you do decide to walk, wear good shoes and take water and food with you. It is advisable to wear something on your head to protect it from the sun. Also try to avoid the sun during the hottest hours of the day. Let other people know you are visiting the Bisti Badlands. And definitely do not forget to take a camera, since it is absolutely gorgeous.